Caring For Your Cat
Understanding your pet's needs
Whether you own a pet or are thinking of getting one, there are lots of important things you need to know and do to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Cats are very popular pet animals; there are approximately eight million cats kept in the UK .
There are different breeds and varieties of cat, varying in size, body shape and temperament. The majority of cats owned in the UK are non-pedigrees.
Typically, cats live for fourteen years, but many live for much longer.
Understanding cats' needs
Cats retain much of the biology and behaviour of the wild cats they originated from. This means they have very complex needs so looking after them well can be challenging. Being aware of how wild cats live can help you understand your pet cat’s needs better, so why not check out our Cat Factfile to learn more.
Your duty to care
Owning and caring for a cat is great fun and very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and a long-term commitment in terms of care and finances. If you own or are responsible for a cat, even on a temporary basis, you are required by law to care for it properly.
Read more about the Animal Welfare Act and your duty of care to your animals.
The five welfare needs
There is no one 'perfect' way to care for all cats because every cat and every situation is different. Cats are now increasingly kept as indoor-only pets, whilst many are given access outside or even live outside permanently. It is up to you how you look after your cat, but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all its needs.
Read our expert reviewed pet care information to find out more about the needs of cats:
Environment, Diet, Behaviour, Company and Health and welfare.
 Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) pet statistics 2009. PFMA provide statistics on the UK pet population and pet food market.
Make sure your cat has a suitable place to live.
- A cat must be able to avoid things that scare it. If unable to hide, your cat may suffer.
- A cat needs regular easy access to an appropriate place to go to the toilet.
- Living in a cold or wet place, without shelter, can cause a cat to suffer and become ill.
- Cats are athletic animals. They need the opportunity to run, jump and climb and often feel safest when high up.
- Cats are territorial animals and become very attached to places. They are naturally frightened of unfamiliar places and smells; they prefer to stay in their familiar home.
- Cats are intelligent. If a cat is bored, and doesn’t have enough to do, it may suffer.
- Cats are inquisitive. If there are hazards within their environment they may easily injure themselves.
Things you should do
- Provide your cat with a comfortable, dry, draught-free, clean and quiet place where it can rest undisturbed.
- Give your cat regular access to a suitable place where it can go to the toilet, outside or in a litter tray, which is separate to where it eats and sleeps.
- Make sure your cat has constant access to safe hiding places where it can escape if it feels afraid.
- If more than one cat shares a living space, provide sufficient extra resources (e.g. toys, beds and hiding places) and give them enough space that they can get away from one another if they choose.
- If your cat doesn't go outside, make sure it has plenty of activities it can do and enough space to exercise, climb and play indoors. Read more about keeping cats indoors.
- Make sure your cat can reach a safe high place where it can climb and rest, e.g. shelves, cupboard top.
- Ensure the size and temperature of any place you leave your cat (including your vehicle) is appropriate.
- If you have to take your cat to a new place, use a secure cat carrier and introduce your cat to it gradually. Putting familiar smelling items in the carrier and the new environment can help the cat feel at ease.
- If you are going away, try to find someone to care for your cat and meet all its welfare needs within its familiar home, or if boarding your cat, try to ease the move by taking familiar items along too, e.g. your cat’s bed and toys.
- If you move house, your cat may try to get back to its previous home; keep it indoors for at least one to two weeks after you move, and make sure that it seems settled before letting it outside.
- Make sure that where your cat lives is safe, secure and free from hazards.
Make sure your cat has a healthy diet
- Without water to drink, a cat may become seriously ill within hours.
- Cats need a well-balanced, meat-based diet to stay fit and healthy - cats cannot be vegetarians.
- Cats have very specific dietary needs which typical human food does not meet, and some human foods are poisonous to cats, e.g. onions.
- An individual cat’s dietary needs depend upon its age, lifestyle and its state of health.
- Cats naturally eat several small meals per day.
- How much a cat needs to eat depends on its diet, its bodyweight and how active it is.
- If a cat eats more food than it needs, it will become overweight and may suffer.
- Many cats will not eat if their food is placed too close to their toilet site.
Things you should do
- Provide your cat with constant access to clean drinking water; cow’s milk is not a substitute.
- Make sure your cat eats a balanced diet suitable for its age, health status and lifestyle.
- Feed your cat every day, preferably splitting the daily ration into several small meals throughout the day (unless advised otherwise by your vet).
- Read and follow the feeding instructions relating to any cat foods that you buy.
- Adjust how much you feed your cat to make sure it does not become underweight or overweight.
- If your cat’s eating and drinking habits change, talk to your vet, as your cat could be ill.
- Position your cat’s food and water well away from its litter tray (if you provide one).
Make sure your cat is able to behave normally
- Cats that are frightened or in pain may change their behaviour or develop unwanted habits e.g. aggression, spraying indoors, disappearing or avoiding people.
- The way a cat behaves will depend upon its age, personality and past experiences.
- Cats are playful animals and many enjoy playing with toys and with people. Play can be a fun way of allowing your cat to be active.
- Signs that your cat may be suffering from stress or fear can include high levels of grooming, hiding, sleeping hunched or altered feeding or toileting habits.
- Cats sleep for many hours of the day, but when awake they are active and need opportunities to exercise.
- A cat that is scared and cannot escape and hide may become aggressive.
- Cats naturally use objects to scratch, to mark their territory, strengthen their muscles and sharpen their claws.
- Cats naturally spend much time ranging and hunting for food within their home territory.
- If your cat’s behaviour changes it could be distressed, bored, ill or injured.
Things you should do
- Make sure your cat can reach all the things that it needs (bed, water, litter or outdoors) without having to pass things or other animals that may scare it.
- Make sure that your cat has constant access to safe hiding places where it can escape if it feels afraid.
- Make sure your cat has opportunities to exercise each day to stay fit and healthy. If it doesn't go outside, provide suitable indoor activities to keep your cat active. Read more about keeping cats indoors.
- Provide your cat with safe toys and regular opportunities to play with friendly people and by itself.
- Be observant. If your cat’s behaviour changes or it shows regular signs of stress or fear, seek advice from a vet or clinical animal behaviourist.
- Never shout at or punish your cat, it is very unlikely to understand and can become more nervous or scared. If your cat’s behaviour becomes an ongoing problem, seek expert advice.
- Add interest to your cat’s meal time by hiding dried food or using a puzzle feeder.
- Provide your cat with a sturdy scratching post which is tall enough for it to use fully stretched, especially if it doesn’t go outdoors.
Make sure your cat has appropriate company
- Many cats enjoy and benefit from human company but prefer to interact with people on their own terms.
- If cats are treated well as kittens they can learn to see people as friends and companions.
- Most adult cats will only be friendly to cats with whom they have grown up and may not accept new cats into the home.
- Cats who are friends will groom and rub against each other, and may may even choose to share the same bed.
- A cat may suffer if it cannot avoid other cats it doesn’t like.
- Obtaining a second cat is often not the best way to meet your cat’s needs; many cats are happier living without other cats.
- Cats who are not friendly to one another do not like to share resources (e.g. food, water, litter, bed) or to pass each other too closely.
- Introducing cats in a patient, careful way can increase their chances of living together happily.
- A cat may suffer if it is left without company and nothing to do for long periods of time.
- Unless introduced early in life, cats will usually be scared of other animals, such as dogs.
Things you should do
- If your cat likes people, provide regular contact, even when you are away.
- Think very carefully before getting a second cat, and if you do, seek advice on the best way to introduce them.
- If you have cats who are not friends, make sure that they can avoid each other at all times and that they can access everything they need (e.g. food, water, outside, litter, bed) without having to pass one another. Read our FAQ on keeping lots of cats.
- When you are away, make sure your cat is properly cared for by a responsible person.
- Never leave your cat unsupervised with another animal or person who may deliberately or accidentally harm or frighten it.
- Don’t force your cat to interact with people or animals that it doesn’t like, and make sure it can avoid them. Seek advice from a clinical animal behaviourist if this becomes a problem.
Health and Welfare
Make sure your cat is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
- Cats feel pain and have similar pain thresholds to people.
- Individual cats show that they are in pain or suffering in different ways.
- A change in the way a cat normally behaves, or in its daily activity pattern, can be an early sign it is ill or in pain. Read more about cats' behaviour.
- Cats are vulnerable to a range of serious infectious diseases and other illnesses.
- Road traffic accidents are the most common cause of injury and early death of cats.
- Cats that are insecure or stressed may become unwell as a result.
- Un-neutered female cats can produce up to 18 kittens a year and are more likely to suffer uterus infections and cancers later in life.
- Un-neutered male cats are more likely to fight and to be lost or run over whilst roaming.
- Fighting increases the risk of injury and can spread diseases.
- Some breeds of cat have been selected for exaggerated physical features which can cause them to suffer and reduce their quality of life.
- Certain breeds are particularly prone to inherited disorders and diseases.
- A cat which can be easily identified (e.g. via a microchip) is more likely to be reunited with its owner and to receive prompt veterinary care if injured.
Things you should do
- Check your cat for signs of injury or illness every day, and make sure this is done by someone else if you are away.
- Consult a vet promptly if you suspect that your cat is in pain, ill or injured.
- Ask your vet for advice about things you can do to protect your cat’s health, such as vaccination, treatments to control parasites (e.g. fleas and worms) and neutering.
- Get your cat neutered, unless it is intended for breeding and provisions have been made to care for both parents and offspring. Before allowing cats to breed, seek the advice of a vet to ensure they are suitable for breeding in terms of their health and personalities.
- Before deciding to buy a cat, make sure you find out what health and behaviour problems it has, or may be prone to, for instance as a result of its breed, how it has been bred and how it has been cared for. Always check with a vet if you are unsure about anything.
- Try to minimise stress in your cat’s daily life, by so doing you will decrease its risk of certain illnesses.
- Take your cat for a routine health check at your vets at least once each year.
- Only use medicines that have been prescribed for your individual cat. Human and dog medicines can be very dangerous to cats.
- Ensure your cat’s coat is kept in good condition by grooming it regularly. If you are unsure how to groom it properly seek advice from a pet care specialist. If your cat changes its grooming habits, you should seek advice from a vet as your cat may be ill.
- Make sure your cat can be identified, ideally via a microchip (ask your vet for advice), so it can be treated quickly if injured or returned to you if lost.
- Consider taking out pet insurance to ensure your cat is covered if it needs veterinary treatment.