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Cat Parenting 101: 5 Essentials to Have in Your Home

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

An orange tabby cat plays with a blue toy.

More young people than ever are choosing to forego traditional parenthood in favor of becoming cat parents, treating their pets like their literal babies (as they should). This cultural trend is clearly reflected in economic trends – last year, Americans spent $136.8 billion on their pets, a 10.68% increase from 2021. Now that’s a lot of Catnip!

Still, with so many options out there, it can be hard to know what you should be buying for your furry babies. Everybody has different – and often quite polarized – opinions about how to provide enrichment, which type of bowl is the best, and what litter box you should buy.

That’s why Cat Lovers’ Academy is here. We’ll take the guesswork out of things by telling you about the essential items all cat parents should have in their home. We’ll also provide some general guidelines that you can tailor to your cat’s unique personality and needs!

1. Cat Food Bowls

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the way you feed your cat can have a huge impact on their physical and behavioral health. Lots of pet parents don’t realize just how many options are out there, so let’s break it down so that you can find something that best fits your cats’ needs!

Whisker Fatigue and Elevated Bowls

When cats eat or drink out of bowls that rest on the ground, they’re forced into a position where their mouths are lower than their stomachs, making them work against gravity to swallow.

Similarly, the walls on these bowls brush against cats’ whiskers when they’re eating. Cats use their whiskers to help navigate the world, but they can get overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Whisker fatigue can cause a lot of stress to your cat, leading to frustration around feeding.

Shallow, elevated bowls can combat these issues by allowing your cat to sit in a more comfortable position when eating, leading to reduced stress, vomiting, and choking.

Food Puzzles and Automatic Feeders

Even though they’re cute and fluffy, cats are natural predators. In the wild, cats typically hunt for their food, eating multiple small meals throughout the day. This is why most cat experts don’t recommend free feeding – without opportunities to “hunt” their food, cats can develop stress behaviors like aggression, house soiling, and overgrooming.

Food puzzles can help to make meal time more enriching by making your cats work for their food. Similarly, automatic feeders can be used as a tool to deliver many small, scheduled snacks throughout the day, mimicking the small, frequent meals cats might eat in the wild. Check out this resource for more tips to add food puzzles into your cats’ feeding routine!

2. Cat Water Bowls

When it comes to hydration, cats have the deck stacked against them. Because they evolved from desert dwellers, cats have a naturally low thirst drive. Combine that with the fact that they’re inefficient drinkers – for each lap of water they take, only 3/100 of a teaspoon actually makes it into their mouths – and you’ve got a recipe for dehydration, UTIs, and kidney disease.

Luckily, water fountains are a great way to combat this issue. Unlike traditional water bowls with stagnant water, fountains deliver flowing, filtered water that entices cats to drink more. We particularly recommend the PETKIT Cat Water Fountain because, like an elevated bowl, it lets cats drink in a comfortable position.

3. Litter Boxes

When it comes to litter boxes, there are so many options out there. From automatic cleaning to hooded boxes, the most important thing is that you choose something that is specialized to you and your cats’ unique needs.

That said, be sure to have the same number of litter boxes as the number of cats you have, plus one extra to reduce territorialism in multi-cat households. You should also be sure that litter is scooped daily, keeping an eye out for any abnormalities in consistency or frequency of urination and defecation. Following these tips will help you to spot health issues early and avoid problem behaviors, like urination outside of the litter box.

4. Cat Toys, Scratching Posts, and Beds

Have you had issues with furniture scratching, counter surfing, or late-night shenanigans? This could mean that your cat is bored and in need of some enrichment. On top of making sure that meal times are enriching, there are some simple ways that you can enrich your cats’ environment!

Cat Toys

There are tons of toys out there, and you should try out a variety to get a feel for your cat’s play style and preferences. Maybe they like batting mice and balls around the house, maybe chasing a teaser toy is more their speed, or maybe they go crazy for a good catnip toy. Whatever the case, Cat Lovers’ Academy strongly suggests that every cat parent equip their home with two essential toys: the Cat Catcher and a Ripple Rug. The Cat Catcher can turn even the most resistant cat into a playful ball of fur, and the Ripple Rug is perfect to practice stalking and pouncing on prey. Pro tip: pair the Ripple Rug with a teaser toy so that you can use the long stick to entice your cat under the rug.

Scratching Posts

Though furniture scratching can be frustrating, cats actually have a physiological need to scratch. Cats scratch to maintain claw health, to stretch their little bodies, to relieve stress, and to mark their territory. So, instead of scolding them for scratching in inappropriate places, it’s a better idea to provide them with more appropriate options. Try to have scratching posts in high traffic areas, like stair landings and hallways. We’ve also found that having flat cardboard scratchers in every room can work wonders. If your kitties are having trouble switching over, entice them to use scratchers by sprinkling some catnip or silvervine.

Cat Beds

After a long day of playing with toys and scratching on their new posts, your kitties are bound to be tired. Make sure there are lots of soft beds to curl up in, and make them even more comfy by placing a K&H Heater Pad underneath.

5. Cat Carriers

Whether for vet visits or for when emergencies strike, it’s important to have a way to get your cats from point A to point B. You should have at least one sturdy and ventilated carrier for each of your cats, and they should be kept within easy reach in case of a fire or other disaster.

Most cats don’t necessarily like being confined to a carrier. But, with a little work, you can make the carrier into your cat’s safe haven. We recommend making carriers regular fixtures in your home by putting them in common spaces, which will give your cats the chance to explore and get comfortable at their own pace. When your cat is spending time in their carrier, reward them with high-value treats to build a positive association, and if your cat needs a little extra help, try spraying calming pheromones inside. For more tips for acclimating your cat to their carrier, check out this helpful site.

Still Wondering If You've Got All You Need?

If you’re still feeling lost, that’s okay! Cat Lovers’ Academy is here to answer all of your questions and more. Jessica Bartlett is a science-based cat behavior expert with over 14 years of experience working with cats. She has a certification in advanced feline training from the Animal Behavior Institute and coursework in Applied Animal Behavior under her belt.

If you’ve been dealing with problem behaviors or want some guidance on introducing a new cat into your home, Jessica offers virtual behavior consulting services that you can access from anywhere. Check out Cat Lovers’ Academy to learn more about Jessica (and meet her kitty family), take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her cat behavior consulting services.

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