20 Common Mistakes of New Cat Owners


Review our list of the 20 most common mistakes of new cat owners.

Aside from getting a cat on impulse, new cat owners often make many other common mistakes once they have their new furball at home. Check out our top 20 list and see if you’re providing the best environment and care for your cat, or find out where you can improve.

1. No Parasite Control

There are many pests that can plague cats, and prevention is key. While most pet owners are familiar with fleas, other pests such as tapeworms, mites, hookworms, roundworms, ticks and even heartworms can affect cats. Heartworm treatment options are limited — if not a death sentence for cats — and are not as treatable as with dogs. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to humans, so talk with your veterinarian about preventive care based on your location and cat’s habits (indoor versus outdoor cats, etc.).

2. Not Spaying or Neutering Your Cat

Even indoor cats can get outside, and it could take just one excursion for your furry friend to deliver a surprise bundle of kittens nine weeks later. I think we can all agree kittens are adorable, but unless you have the means to provide proper care for all of them, you’re contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.

Kitten season isn’t just a myth; it happens every year at every shelter, and cats and kittens are left looking for homes when prevention could have avoided their fate (not including the ones that continue to reproduce as strays or die on the streets). Do yourself and your cat a favor and have them fixed. Cats can become pregnant as early as 4 to 6 months of age, so don’t delay in discussing the procedure with your vet.

3. No Litter Box Training

Contrary to popular belief, not every cat is born with the instinct to use the litter box, and stray or feral cats may not be familiar with it at all. Some cats may need training to associate waste with this location, and others may avoid using the litter box due to other health issues. Work with your vet to rule out medical or behavioral issues and start training.

4. Ignoring the Claws

A cat’s claws are sharp and can grow to painful lengths without scratching posts or regular trimming. This can be painful for the cat and even you, so it’s best to implement a grooming regimen as early as possible. Not all cats enjoy having their nails clipped, but I have found the best success with waiting until the cat is tired or just woken from a nap (and working fast helps; just watch out for the quick).

Declawing is not recommended and is even considered illegal in some areas. Besides the legal issues, declawing a cat can be extremely painful and lead to problems later in life. It really only takes a few minutes once per week; if your cat is truly resistant, check out groomers in your area that can help.

5. Buying Cheap Food

Just because “Purr Paw Chow” is on sale for $1 per bag doesn’t mean it’s good for your cat. Check the ingredients and make sure the food you offer your cat is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. A lack of necessary nutrients and high-carb diets can cause myriad health issues and obesity in cats, so think twice before grabbing the cheap chow. Owners explain conditions such as loose stool, excessive shedding, renal failure, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), vomiting and urinary infections as a result of their “cheap” food choices.

6.  I Can Clean the Litter Box Once a Month

Cats are very clean animals, and they appreciate a clean area for their waste. You’d probably thumb your nose up if your bathroom offerings were saved for days and weeks on end, and just like the cat, you’d be looking for a different — and clean — place to do your business.

Check the box at least once per day for accidents and contributions, and keep it clean and fresh. Sudden changes in the type of litter you use can also throw a cat off balance, so try to introduce it gradually as your cat gets adjusted to the new texture and odor. Your cat and your house guests will thank you.

7. Cats Don’t Need Grooming

While cats spend a majority of their time cleaning themselves (next to sleeping, of course), there are still areas that need attention from you. In addition to keeping the claws trimmed, expect to spend time at least once per week checking and cleaning the cat’s ears and teeth, and brushing the coat. Some cats may even need a bath if they get into a puddle of mud or other substance that sticks to their coat. Keeping the cat clean and groomed with these methods will reduce ear mites, dental problems, dander and the amount of fur ingested by your cat.

8. Vaccinations Are Optional

While it is true vaccinations come with risks and benefits, some are required by law depending on your location. For example, rabies vaccinations are not required in England because they do not have a risk of rabies in that country. In the United States we do encounter rabies, and almost all states require rabies vaccinations. Check with your vet and local laws to determine if the vaccine is required every year or once every three years.

Other vaccinations are considered necessary and may include distemper, herpes and other viruses. Additional vaccines are available for other conditions, such as leukemia, bordetella, chylamydophila and the feline immunodeficiency virus.

9. Ignoring Illnesses and Injuries

Cats, like most animals, can recover from minor injuries. But how do you separate the minor from the major? When cats become sick or injured, it is always best to have them examined by your veterinarian. Some minor injuries or illnesses can turn serious, while others may just need to be monitored. Don’t take the chance that you know best; be proactive to provide the best quality of care for your pet. Catching major illnesses early can also be cheaper and bring better health benefits for your cat.

10. Endless Food

If you’re one of those people who worry about the cat always needing food readily available so you fill the bowl every time it’s empty, you might be providing too much kibble. Cats can become overweight not by choice but because, quite simply, there’s always food available. Read the labels and check with your vet to determine the right amount of food to provide for your cat. Obesity is a serious problem for all pets, and by regulating the food intake of your cat, you can ensure a healthy weight and reduce future health issues related to obesity.

11. Cats Belong Outdoors

Several beliefs about feline behavior fuel the desire for people to let their cats roam free, but are they all true? While cats do have a predatory instinct, they can derive the same pleasure from chasing an indoor toy and satisfy their curiosity by exploring the house. Another reason to leave cats outdoors is to reduce spraying because they’re not neutered. Allowing an unaltered cat outdoors is just asking for kittens, so get your cat fixed and don’t add to the overpopulation problem.

Other dangers exist outdoors aside from the stalking behavior or “thrill of the kill” you think your cat needs. Dogs can bite, cars can hit, raccoons can transfer rabies, the weather can get extreme, the neighbor doesn’t clean up an antifreeze spill or your cat could get locked in a building while exploring; the possibilities are endless. If you feel the need to allow your cats outdoors, please make sure to have them spayed or neutered first, as well as keep them updated on vaccines. While I firmly believe cats will have longer, happier lives indoors, I know there are others who have both outdoor and indoor cats and enjoy giving them that freedom.

12. Cats Can Eat Anything

No, they can’t. Several foods, plants and other items are toxic to cats and can cause illness or death. Giving cats the wrong medications, medications designed for dogs or even human medications is a leading cause of death among our household pets. Always use medications and products specifically designed for cats and review the link above from the ASPCA on cat toxins. See Dr. Deb’s article “Got a Cat? Poison-Proof Your Home.”

13. The Other Pets Won’t Mind

Are you sure about that? If you have existing pets, you should spend the time to properly introduce and socialize them with your cat. Some small animals and rodents may be considered prey by your new feline addition and need to be regularly secured and supervised. Some breeds of dog have high prey instincts and cannot be trusted with cats, so do your research and find out if adding a cat to your household is a good idea. Even if your dog doesn’t attack the cat, the cat can attack the dog (we’ve all heard of cats shredding a dog’s nose with their claws, so take precautions to keep every pet safe).

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From Around the Web

  • Jen

    Great article! We see a lot of owners come in to the vet because their cat is urinating outside of the litter box and they say they are ready to give them to the shelter because they can’t take it anymore.. We always ask how often they scoop the litter, dump the litter, and wash box. So many people have said they have never washed the box! Yuck! That’s like us walking into an out house with in bare feet!
    And so many people free feed their pets, hence the overweight pet population?

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ David Deleon Baker

      Ha… “walking into an outhouse with bare feet.” Pretty much nails it right there.

  • Ernie Dogs

    Good guidance!

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ David Deleon Baker

      Thanks Ernie. Glad you like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jane-Broyles/100000176474282 Jane Broyles

    Having lived with cats for more than 25 years I guess it is no surprise that I have made most of these mistakes ;) But with the exception of inside vs outside ( don’t we all really want some freedom ?) I try to see the world from my cats’ perspective. I feed them what is appropriate for their species ( not mine ) ; I keep their potty areas and bedding clean but free of toxic chemicals and fragrances ( and I pass by all those “fresh scents” that humans prefer but cats actually find annoying ); I keep them inside because inside is the only truly safe place for them to be. We spay and neuter to prevent hormones from making “us” want what we can’t have. The cats that want attention get it, the ones that don’t are given plenty of space. Well, I admit that I do check in with our “loner” cat every day just “to make sure” she doesn’t want to snuggle. I pretty much bend over backward to keep them happy and feeling loved – as long as what they want is healthy and safe ;)

    • http://www.petsadviser.com/ David Deleon Baker

      Jane, you sound like an amazing pet owner. Your cats don’t know how lucky they have it, right? I have a loner cat too. I think she appreciates me checking in with her, and she’ll come to me (on her own terms) when she wants attention, which is more and more these days. My biggest pet peeve — cleaning that litter box. I’ll confess I don’t get it every day.

  • abbyowner

    Lacoste has given us the best list I have seen in many years of cat-raising, a real keeper.I would add that kibble diets almost ruined two great felines of mine, and I hope the trend towards more wet diets is emphasized in every advice list. once you see that lithe and active ten year old cat with a marvelous coat you will never look back on dry food again. Freeze-dried treats are OK, I hope.


    I’ve made my fair share of these mistakes over the years and I can still forget. I try to keep my two cats healthy, clean, inside, spay/neutered and clean the litter box daily. Gotta love ‘em! They’re my responsibility!

  • Carol

    As a pet sitter I often look after Cats and found the above really interesting – I always meet my customers before taking on any job to find out what is normal behaviour for their cats and their routine, food is often a tricky issue with quite often lots of large cats to deal with!

  • j3ssic4

    I have a 1.5 yr old cat. I adopted him when he was just 10 weeks old. I am happy to say that I didn’t make any of the above mistakes BUT that was because I did A LOT of research before bringing my baby home. I did so especially because it had been years since I’d had a cat and I have an 11 year old dog that I so wanted the cat to get along with.
    I am happy to report that they got along well almost immediately (although at first we kept them separated when we weren’t home to make sure no fur went flying when we left the house). It is so cute to see them play with each other and I think the cat keeps my dog more active.
    The funniest thing though is everyone who visits tells me my cat acts like a dog. Ha ha. I guess she learned it from her “big sister!”