A female first-time cat owner's hand scratching the chin of an orange and black tabby cat

Ultimate First-Time Cat Owner Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Raising a Cat

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Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Have you just made that big leap into cat parenthood? Being a first-time cat owner is an exciting time, yet also a bit daunting if you don’t know the first thing about caring for a cat.

 I have a beautiful nine-year old male Persian kitty, named Lucky. Although I had long been wanting a cat before I got him, as a first-time cat owner, I had to give myself a crash course on cat parenting when I finally did.

The challenge was not knowing where to start, as there are so many aspects to taking care of a cat. So, I’m sharing here what I’ve learned from caring for him. With these first-time cat owner tips, you can skip all the confusion and research and get right into starting your beautiful journey with your cat.

Table of Contents

Cat-proof Your Home

As a first-time cat owner, you should make sure that your new kitty will be safe in your home before you get them. It’s important that they feel secure as they adjust to their unfamiliar environment and that they’re kept safe from things that may harm them. This also gives you the assurance that you’re able to properly take care of your new kitty.

Keep toxic plants out of your cat’s reach

Cats love to chew on leaves and plants of all kinds—it’s just part of their curious nature! However, some plants can be harmful to cats. Examples of these include lilies, azaleas, poinsettias, and others. Do a quick search on whether the plants in your home are toxic to cats and get creative on how you can keep them away from your new fur baby.

Safely store human food

Although some cats wouldn’t touch human food even if it were their last option (Mine won’t!), you won’t know this about your cat until you’ve had time to observe them, so to be safe, it’s best for you to safely store all your food.

Some human foods and ingredients are toxic to cats, so you wouldn’t want your new kitty to accidentally ingest them.

RELATED: What Foods Can Cats Eat That Humans Eat?

Keep electrical cords organized and out of your cat’s reach

Some cats love to chew anything, including the electrical cords around your home. To ensure that your cat doesn’t get to them, either bundle them up in a cord protector that they can’t chew or tape the cords to the side of the appliances.

Tie up or loop long curtain or blind cords

Long cords from your window treatment can get wrapped around your cat’s neck and become a choking hazard, so be sure to tie them up off the floor. Alternatively, you can opt for cordless options instead.

Secure high or tall shelves

Cats love to climb. They will climb anything as long as they have even the smallest space to land on. As such, be sure to secure your shelves to the wall so they don’t fall or topple over.

Also remove any valuable and fragile items from them, as cats do love to knock things over.

Safely store all your cleaning supplies

Keep all your cleaning supplies in a closed cabinet, as chemicals can be harmful to your cat’s health. Also, make sure to thoroughly rinse the sink or tub after cleaning it, as some cats like to drink the water there.

Likewise, do not use chemicals that contain phenols or pine oil around cats or to clean their food and water bowls or their litter boxes.

Keep your trash bins properly covered

Being the curious troublemakers that they are, scavenging the trash bin for anything interesting might make them ingest something toxic. To prevent this, either keep the trash bin out of their reach or be sure to use trash bins with lids.

Keep all windows and doors closed

When you bring a new cat home, they’re going to be scared or confused in the beginning and might attempt to escape. Unfortunately, at this time, they won’t know the way back home yet.

Even if they do, it’s always safest for them to stay indoors.

Put away your craft supplies

As a first-time cat owner, one thing you should know is that no matter how beautiful and expensive the toy you buy for them is, your cat will always prefer the yarns, ribbons, threads, beads, and plastic or paper bags.

To keep your cat from accidentally swallowing or getting tangled in any of these, be sure to safely store your craft materials after use.

PRO TIP Remove the handle from paper or plastic bags so your kitty doesn’t get tangled in them if they choose to investigate what’s inside.

Be careful with essential oils and diffusers

Some essential oils are toxic to cats, so do a bit of research if you’re an essential oil enthusiast. Also, do not use diffusers with open tops, as your cat might be tempted to take a sip of the oil.

Other things to keep out of your cat’s reach

Here are some other things to keep away from your cat:

  • Moth balls
  • Candles and flames 
  • Fireplaces (Keep them screened)
  • Medication
  • Holiday décor

Consider setting up your cat’s own space

This is crucial, especially if you have other pets in the home or if you got your cat from a specialty pet store or shelter. They’re usually accustomed to living in a confined space, so they might feel overwhelmed and scared of transitioning to an entire home in the beginning.

It would help for you to set up their food and water bowls, bed, toys, and litter box in a bathroom, bedroom, office, or even a small room so that they can easily find everything they need while they are getting used to their new home.

PRO TIP It would be helpful if you could bring some of their favorite things from the shelter or pet shop where you got them (e.g., towels and toys), and place these in their room. Your new cat will feel more comfortable and secure with familiar scents, which will help them adjust more easily to their new home.

Set up safe places where your cat can retreat and hide

Cats can get distressed from too much activity, so make sure they have places where they can retreat when they need some peace and quiet.

Examples would be their cat bed, inside a cardboard box, high places like window ledges, and the space under the furniture.

You can also give them a cat tent or install a cat window perch. Alternatively, you can drape a blanket or sheet between two chairs to give your cat some privacy.

Help Your Cat Adjust in Their New Home

Most first-time cat owners think bringing a cat home is as simple as making sure they have everything they need.

On the contrary, cats get distressed by changes in their environment and by being faced with new and unfamiliar things and people. They will need some time to adjust before they become comfortable in their new surroundings.

Allow your cat to slowly adjust to their new home

Your new fur baby needs time to adjust to their new home. For the first two to three days, let them stay in the space you prepared for them. They might not eat or drink much at this time. They might also be aggressive when you first bring them home. But as long as they regularly eat, drink, and use the litter box, then there’s no need for concern.

You can also use a calming diffuser or pheromone spray to help your cat feel calm and less anxious as they adjust to their new home. It releases an odorless mist that mimics feline pheromones, communicating to your cat that the area is safe.

For round-the-clock soothing, you can try using a calming collar.

Give your cat short but frequent visits

During this adjustment period, visit your cat frequently for short periods of time. Sit on the floor and let them come to you. Resist the urge to pet or pick them up. Sitting at their level will make them feel less intimidated.

Their body language will indicate when they’re ready to be touched or petted.  Respecting their boundaries will allow you to earn their trust.

Allow your cat to explore the rest of your home at their own pace

Don’t force your cat to explore. It may take them a few weeks to relax in their new home. During this time, just be sure to leave their food, water, and litter box in the same place so they know where to find them.

Gradually spend more time with your cat

Rather than focusing all your attention on your cat while you spend time with them, your cat will feel more comfortable when you stay around them while also doing other things like reading, cleaning, or watching TV.

Also, gradually introduce your cat to the rest of the family.

Provide for Your Cat’s Daily Needs

Here are the supplies you’ll need to ensure you’re able to provide for your kitty’s daily needs.


There are various schools of thought when it comes to the best food for your cat. Some say it’s best to feed cats raw food, as this is what they naturally eat in the wild. Others claim raw food contains salmonella and other bacteria that would be harmful to your cat; hence, they prefer to cook it before feeding it to their cat.

On the other hand, others claim that manufactured cat food may be best for your cat because it’s made to contain all the nutrients a cat needs, which may not all be present in the raw or cooked food you prepare.

It’s up to you to decide which type of diet is best for your cat. Over time, you can also see the type of food your cat likes and take that into consideration when deciding on the proper diet for them. However, as a first-time cat owner, it may be best for you to seek your vet’s advice, especially if your cat has certain health conditions.

To start with, though, you can ask the breeder or shelter what food the cat has been eating and if they can give you a starter portion so that you can gradually transition them to new food. Suddenly changing your cat’s diet can make them sick.

Just make sure that whatever food you choose to give them is of high quality.

Many cat diseases are caused by the food they eat, so it’s best to get them started on the best food you can give them right off the bat.

For store-bought cat food, some of the brands vets trust are Purina Pro Plan, Fancy Feast, and Hill’s Science Diet.

PRO TIP If your cat doesn’t eat the food you give them, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your kitty. Cats are finicky, so they tend to be picky eaters.

What not to feed your cat

Do not feed any of the following to your cat, as these are toxic to them: grapes and raisins, alcohol, chocolate; raw eggs; onions; and garlic.


Give your cats treats to aid in training or to reward good behavior. You can also use them with a treats-dispensing toy to mentally stimulate your cat.

For good oral health, give your cat dental treats to keep their teeth clean and avoid the different types of cat dental diseases.

Food and water bowls

Your kitty should have their own food and water bowls. Opt for a wide, shallow dish. Some cats’ whiskers are sensitive, and they hurt when your cat tries to push their face into narrow openings. Also, choose bowls that are weighted to prevent them from tipping.

Another option is an ergonomic feeding bowl, which is basically an elevated bowl that allows your cat to eat without having to bow their heads too low, thus protecting their spine.

If you’re worried about not being around during your kitty’s mealtime, a couple of options are gravity feeders and waterers and automatic feeders. The former will dispense food and water as soon as your cat makes space in the bowl by consuming them. They will also keep dispensing food and water until they run out. This is a good option only if your cat doesn’t overeat.

Automatic feeders, on the other hand, allow you to schedule when you want them to dispense food and how much food you want them to dispense.

Cats also love water fountains. They prefer drinking from moving water since still water in the wild can be stagnant and dirty. In this regard, if your cat likes to drink from the toilet or faucet, then getting them a water fountain ensures they always have access to clean water.

Of course, all cats are different, so you may have to figure out what works best for your kitty.

Also, be sure to clean their dishes daily.

PRO TIP Do NOT put your cat’s food and water bowls near the litter box, as they do not like to eat in the same place where they relieve themselves.

Cat Litter

There are many types of litter, but according to Prudent Pet Insurance, the most popular type is the clumping clay litter. It clumps feces and urine, so you can easily pick it up.

Another option is Pretty Litter, which can help you monitor your cat’s health. The litter changes color to indicate common cat diseases, such as cat urinary tract infections, so that you can bring your cat to the vet right away and keep any health condition from getting worse.

When choosing cat litter, some of your considerations will be what the cat litter is made of, whether you want a scented or unscented one, and whether you want lightweight or regular litter.

PRO TIP Cats have a strong sense of smell – 14 times better than humans’! They’re averse to strong scents and fragrances, so you may want to stick to the unscented type.

Being the finicky creatures that they are, your cat may not like certain types of litter, so you may have to try out a few to find the one that works for your kitty.

Ultimately, the right cat litter is the one your cat likes to use, can control the odor to your satisfaction, minimizes tracking, is easy to carry, and is easy to clean up.

Litter box

Litter boxes come in different styles and sizes, and the right one for your cat will depend on the size of your home or apartment, where you’re going to put it, and what your cat’s needs are.

The following are some of the styles of litter boxes you can choose from:

Self-cleaning litter box

A self-cleaning litter box has a mechanism that rakes the dirty litter after your kitty uses the box. Although this can make cleanup easier, these litter boxes are expensive, and some cats get frightened by the mechanism.

Top entry

A top-entry litter box is ideal for cats who like privacy when using the bathroom. It’s also the best at controlling litter tracking.

Open top, sifting tray

An open top litter box works well for cats who like an open box. It also allows for easy cleaning; you simply have to lift the top tray and scoop the clumped urine and feces at once.

Front entry, covered or hooded

A covered litter box is a good option if you want to “hide” the litter box and if you want to minimize the odor. It also keeps the litter from getting out of the box.

It’s great for cats that like privacy and that do not get scared of the hood.

High-sided, open top

A high-sided litter box is great for cats that aren’t comfortable with enclosed spaces. At the same time, the high sides ensure that the litter stays in the box.

Front entry, rimmed

A rimmed litter box has even higher sides that enable privacy and litter control, but its open top is something some cats prefer.

Plain plastic box

A plain plastic litter box is the simplest option, but it also requires the most upkeep.

If your new fur baby is a kitten, then they will need a small litter box, but you’ll have to buy a cat-sized one as they grow bigger.

How many litter boxes do I need?

You should have one litter box for each cat, and one extra. This means that if you have one cat, you should have two litter boxes. If you have four cats, then you should have five litter boxes. This way, if all the litter boxes are in use, are dirty, or are inaccessible to your cat for whatever reason, they have one more litter box they can use.

How much cat litter should I put in the box?

Make sure to put in litter that is about two to three inches deep. Too much litter will spill to the sides as your cat covers their waste. On the other hand, putting in too little will not enable it to absorb all the urine, causing it to smell awful and, in turn, deterring your cat from using the litter box again.

How often should I clean the litter box?

Cleaning your new fur baby’s litter box is something you’ll have to do at least once a day. Cats are clean animals, and they will refuse to use a litter box that’s dirty.

Cleaning Supplies for the Litter Box

Here are the supplies you need to ensure your kitty’s litter box is always clean:

Litter box scoop

Choose a litter box scoop that’s big and sturdy to make sure you can easily remove the clumps of poop and urine from the litter box. There are also ergonomic options to make the task more comfortable for you.

Litter mat

A litter mat can minimize litter tracking. It can help catch some of the particles that may fling out of the box as your cat covers their “treasures” or those from your kitty’s paws as they come out of the box.

Litter box liner

Litter box liners can make cleanup easier, especially if you use non-clumping or natural litter that needs to be completely replaced every day.

Cat litter box filter

Covered litter boxes usually have a place for litter box filters, which help absorb odors.

Cat litter deodorizer

Cat litter deodorizers can further break down the odor in your cat’s litter box. You can choose one in either powder or spray form. You can sprinkle the former on the litter or simply spritz the latter without worry of the litter clumping.

Odor neutralizer

Unlike deodorizers that temporarily fix odor problems, odor neutralizers eliminate and neutralize all odors on contact so that they do not return.

Cat litter waste bags

While you can use the plastic and paper bags you have around the house, it’s still good to have some waste bags on hand for your convenience.

Keep Your Cat Comfortable

Cats spend between 12 and 16 hours a day sleeping, for periods of about an hour at a time, so it’s important for you to give them something comfortable to lie on.

Cat bed or soft blankets

Kitties love fleece cat beds or blankets that they can make biscuits on and that will keep them warm. They also tend to move around as they sleep, so it’s important that you give them a large enough bed.

A low-heat heating pad or self-warming pad is also a great option to keep your kitten or older cat warm, especially during the winter. This mimics the warmth provided by the other cats or siblings they may have snuggled with before you got them.

An oval foam lounger bed that has high sides can help your kitten feel safe and surrounded. For older and bigger cats, a cat cave bed gives them a sense of security, especially if they’re the type that likes to hide.

Cats like sleeping in various locations, so ensure they have comfortable places to take naps throughout your home.

PRO TIP Cats get stressed out by loud noises or being surrounded by many people, so be sure to place the bed in a quiet place where your cat can feel safe and comfortable.

Cat carrier

If you have yet to bring your new kitty home, then you must get a cat carrier to transport them safely. Even if the shelter has one you can borrow, it’s still better for you to get one of your own, as you will need it whenever you take your cat to the vet or whenever you need to travel with your kitty.

Choose a cat carrier that is safe, sturdy, has plenty of ventilation, and provides easy access for you to get your kitty in and out.

I personally prefer a bubble backpack-style cat carrier because it frees up your hands while you carry your cat, making it ideal for when you’re hiking or traveling. It also allows your cat to stand and change positions, which is helpful, especially if they must stay in the carrier for prolonged periods.

In addition, I like the one with the clear or transparent side so that my cat can see the environment around him while remaining safe.

There are more styles and options you can choose from, including a hard-sided carrier with a swing door and a soft-sided carrier with a shoulder strap.

PRO TIP It’s best to choose a cat carrier that allows you to put the cat in from the top rather than from one of the ends.

Keep Your Cat Active

Exercise is important for keeping your cat healthy. Since they will be confined indoors most of the time, you should provide ways for them to remain active and have outlets for their energy.

Scratching posts or pads

Cats have a biological and instinctual need to scratch to shed the outer covering of their nails, at the same time keeping their claws sharp. In the wild, this ensures they’re ready to ward off any predator that may come their way.

Scratching also helps them mark their territory, as their cute toe beans have scent glands. Moreover, scratching allows them to express their emotions.

According to the ASPCA, the scratching post should be at least three feet high. It should be stable and sturdy so that it doesn’t wobble when your cat uses it. It should also have a rough covering, such as tree bark, burlap, or sisal.

Alternatively, you can try cardboard scratchers that you place on the floor.

Scratching posts and pads not only ensure your cat’s well-being, but they also protect your curtains and furniture from your cat’s claws.

PRO TIP Do NOT declaw your cat. As much as you’d like to protect your furniture and avoid getting scratched, declawing your cat is an inhumane solution, as it will leave them in pain for the rest of their life. How would you feel if all your nails were removed? In addition, they use their claws to make sure they can easily climb up or down something. There have been many times when my cat has been able to keep himself from falling because he was able to dig his claws into something.

Cat tree

Cats love to climb and stay in high places. A cat tree allows them to have a good view of their surroundings. It also allows them to get the exercise they need. Additionally, some cat trees have cubbyholes where they can hide, as well as soft surfaces or beds where they can take naps.

PRO TIP Some cat breeds need more exercise than others. Be sure you provide them with different ways to stay active, even when staying completely indoors. Aside from cat trees, wall-mounted cat shelves are another way for you to give your cat some simulated outdoor fun while adding decorative flair to your space at the same time.

Cat toys

Cats enjoy toys that mimic hunting behaviors, such as interactive puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, and feather wands.  Smart cat toys that move and provide different textures and sounds can also keep them engaged.

Try a variety of toys to see what your cat likes.

Do NOT give your cat toys with small parts that can be torn off, such as pompoms, beads, or bells.

PRO TIP Do NOT use laser pointers. Although you see a lot of cat owners using laser pointers on the internet and although it seems funny, using these toys with your cat is quite mean. Cats find them frustrating, as they will never be able to catch them. It can even lead to an eye injury or discomfort. Likewise, it can cause vision damage if the wrong type of laser is used.

Keep Your Cat Healthy and Looking Good

Although cats do a pretty good job of grooming themselves, grooming them regularly allows you to monitor their health and bond with your kitty. It ensures that their coat remains healthy and free of matted hair. It also prevents hairballs.

Here are some of the grooming tools you will need:

Cat shampoo

While cats are capable of “bathing” themselves, you may need to give them a bath occasionally, especially if you let them go outside. Even if they stay indoors all the time, you will still want to keep them clean, especially if you allow them to sleep on your bed.

Have a bottle of cat shampoo on hand for these instances. Do not use human shampoo on your kitty as this can dry out their skin.

Cat brush

Ideally, it’s best to brush your cat at least three times a week, especially if they’re long-haired, to help with shedding and tangles.

There are many options for cat brushes and combs, but I personally prefer a self-cleaning brush, as it’s easier to clean and it does a better job at keeping the hair from flying all over the place compared to other cat combs and brushes.

Cat nail trimmer

According to the American Humane Society, it’s best to trim your cat’s nails every two weeks. This will prevent them from scratching and causing damage to your furniture.

Cats are all different, so if your cat doesn’t like a cat nail trimmer, then a cat nail grinder is another option you can look at.

Considerations for Your Cat’s Long-term Care

Collar and ID tag

Even if your cat always stays indoors, you never know when they’ll be able to slip out for an adventure. As such, make sure they wear a collar with an ID tag at all times. The tag should have your name, address, and telephone number on it.

Having your cat wear a collar lets other people know that the kitty is not a stray and will allow them to return your beloved pet more quickly to you.

Choose a collar with an automatic release, so that it disengages when your cat gets caught on something like a tree branch.

PRO TIP To ensure that the collar fits properly and doesn’t irritate your cat’s neck or affect their breathing, check that two of your fingers fit between the collar and the neck.


Microchipping your kitty gives you peace of mind, especially when you let your cat go out of the house. A collar with an ID tag can be easily removed, but a microchip is permanent. You can even integrate it with a microchip cat flap, a device that scans the microchips of cats passing by so that the cat flap opens only for your kitty.

Just be sure to update the contact details associated with the microchip whenever you move or get a new number or email address to ensure you can always be reached if your pet does go missing.

Pet insurance

While pet insurance isn’t something your cat will need immediately, it’s something you should consider for the long term.

Your fur baby will need regular checkups to make sure they stay healthy. Despite doing your best to take care of them, they are bound to develop health conditions that would require veterinarian care.

Having pet insurance can help you with all those vet bills and give you the peace of mind that your kitty will have access to all the vet care they would need.

It’s best to get coverage for your kitty as soon as possible. These insurance plans don’t cover pre-existing illnesses, so the sooner your pet gets insured, the more health conditions you’ll be able to get help with in the future.

Final Thoughts

Being a first-time cat owner is an exciting yet intimidating experience, but with this guide, you should now be able to confidently take the steps to start providing care for your new lovebug.

  1. Make your home safe for your cat
  2. Help your cat adjust to their new home
  3. Provide for your cat’s daily needs
  4. Keep your cat comfortable
  5. Keep your cat active
  6. Keep your cat healthy and looking good
  7. Consider your cat’s long-term care needs

With everything set up, you can now focus on simply loving and enjoying your cat. Talk to them, play with them, cuddle and snuggle with them, provide for their daily needs, and keep them healthy.

It may take some work and require you to make adjustments to your lifestyle and daily routine, but the love, joy, and happiness you get in return will make it all worthwhile.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the essential steps for cat-proofing my home to ensure their safety?

Cat-proofing your home involves removing or securing potential hazards. Ensure windows and balconies have sturdy screens; keep toxic substances and small objects out of reach; secure electrical cords; and block access to areas where cats can get stuck or injured.

Eliminate any plants that may be toxic and use childproof latches on cabinets containing hazardous items. Regularly inspect your home from a cat’s perspective to identify any potential risks.

What are the potential hazards and toxic substances I should keep away from my cat?

Common hazards and toxic substances for cats include certain houseplants (e.g., lilies, poinsettias), human medications (e.g., acetaminophen, ibuprofen), cleaning products, chemicals (e.g., antifreeze), and certain foods (e.g., chocolate, onions, garlic). Keep these items securely stored and ensure your cat is safe from anything that might cause harm.

How do I create a safe and comfortable space for my cat, such as a designated sleeping area or hiding spot?

Provide your cat with cozy bedding, comfortable resting areas, and a designated space that they can call their own. Cats appreciate quiet areas where they can retreat and feel secure. Consider providing hiding spots like enclosed beds, shelves, or cat trees where they can observe their environment from a safe vantage point.

What should I feed my cat and how often?

Feed your cat a balanced diet that includes high-quality, commercially available cat food. Feed them based on the food packaging guidelines, typically split into two or three meals per day. Avoid feeding them a solely human diet as it may lack essential nutrients.

How can I prevent my cat from scratching furniture and other household items?

Provide your cat with scratching surfaces, such as scratching posts or pads. Encourage and reward your cat for using these surfaces. Additionally, you can use deterrents like double-sided tape or citrus scents on furniture to discourage scratching. Regular nail trimming and providing alternative outlets for scratching will help redirect their behavior.

How do I groom my cat and keep their coat healthy?

Regular grooming is important to keep your cat’s coat healthy. Brush your cat’s fur gently to remove loose hair and prevent matting. Some cats may also need their nails trimmed regularly, their ears cleaned, and their teeth brushed.

Featured Image Credit: Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash

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