Iíve only written briefly about my cats so far, but Iíd consider them a major part of my immediate family. After bringing them along on a 1500-mile move to a new town, that relationship feels even more apparent. While nearly everything else has changed, they help make this place feel like home.
Morty and Francis are the first pets Iíve had since leaving my childhood home a decade ago, and if you had told me then that I would be living with two cats, I wouldnít have believed you. I was always in favor of dogs. Even fish seemed preferable to many of the cats Iíd had the chance to meet, with their fickle attitudes.
Yet watching these two grow from scrappy kittens has allowed me to see their personalities develop all along the way. And even if I donít always appreciate their behavior ó like when they occasionally decide to jump from a high dresser onto my sleeping body in the middle of the night ó Iím happy they are in my life. Iím glad I have the chance to share my home and get to know these little individuals.
Having pets as a child or a teenager was a much less thoughtful process for me. Food, water, and maybe some playtime seemed to be all that mattered. However, as an adult, I feel responsible for so many more elements that will influence my petsí lives, and while I canít always tell whatís going on in their minds, I want them to be as satisfied and fulfilled as possible.
If you have cats or dogs in your life, here are some tips for keeping them happy and healthy.
Be Cautious of Toxic Substances
As you probably know, animals are naturally curious. When we bring them into our homes, they will likely investigate anything they can stick their noses in or get their mouths around. Unfortunately, there are many foods, plants, chemicals, and other substances that can be extremely toxic and even lethal if ingested by your pets.
Many well-intentioned pet owners accidentally poison their animals by bringing these toxic elements into their homes or sharing a piece of food they didnít realize could be harmful. Thatís why it is important to do some research before bringing home a new houseplant or giving your pet a treat that wasnít specifically designed for them.
I like keeping plants around my home in order to help purify the air as well as contribute to a natural, calming aesthetic. After a beloved spider plant had been chewed nearly to the roots by my cats, I was fortunate to discover that the plant is listed as non-toxic for cats. As a new cat owner, the idea that my cats would eat houseplants hadnít crossed my mind, and I was extremely lucky that I only lost a plant that day.
Since then, Iíve done my due diligence to find cat-friendly flowers and plants. These include flowers like roses, asters, and snapdragons as well as herbs like basil, dill, parsley, and rosemary. Common plants cat owners should avoid in their home and gardens include aloe, amaryllis, azaleas, lilies, tulips, and Spanish thyme. Many of these plant restrictions are common between cats and dogs, but you should always double-check a reputable resource before bringing new plants into your home.
Some pet owners are happy to share food with their dogs or cats regularly or as a special treat. While itís impossible to deny the joy this might bring your animal friend, you should be careful not to expose them to something their bodies canít properly process. This includes things like alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, citrus, coconut, grapes and raisins, milk, and raw meat.
At the very least, these can cause uncomfortable digestive issues in your pets, and in the worst case scenario they can cause organ failure and death. As with plants, always check if a food is safe before sharing. Your pets may seem like they really want some of what youíre having, but itís your responsibility to know better.
Of course, your pet might also come into contact with harsh chemicals in your home. Your dogs or cats might find their way under the kitchen sink where you keep your cleaning supplies, or they might decide to drink water from the toilet soon after a cleaning.
To prevent this, aim to keep cleaning supplies and other toxic chemicals well out of reach of your pets, perhaps in a cabinet that shuts firmly. Your pets will likely surprise you at some point with their ability to access places you didnít think possible, so some overkill can be helpful in securing these chemicals. You could also switch to all-natural cleaning products that arenít toxic to pets.
If you notice abnormal symptoms in your cat or dog ó such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, or irregular heartbeat ó and you suspect they might have ingested a toxic substance, itís important to identify the toxic substance and call a pet poison hotline immediately.
Consider the Space You Live In
Does your dog or cat have access to the things it needs to be a happy, fulfilled animal? Cats are often easy to please, whether they are allowed to roam the neighborhood or spend their entire lives indoors. However, the matter of your living space becomes a bigger issue with many breeds of dogs that need to go outside, play, hunt, socialize, and take care of bathroom business.
An ideal home for a dog might have a doggy door that leads to a wide open yard or perhaps a vast expanse of land out in the country where they could run, play, and chase the local wildlife without having to worry about traffic or large predators. Well, for most of us, that isnít possible. However, itís entirely possible to keep your pets safe and healthy in an apartment. By making a few adjustments, you can give your pet everything it needs while staying in nearly any living space.
The first challenge to tackle is the lack of space many apartments offer. While there is probably plenty of space for indoor needs like a dog bed and bowls for food and water, your dog needs enough space to really get moving in order to burn off excess energy and avoid becoming overweight.
Because of this, youíll need to take your dog on more frequent and longer walks. This is especially true for large, high-energy dogs. You should aim to take two walks per day for 30 minutes to an hour at a time. If your city has fenced-in dog parks, these can offer your dog a chance to run free, play, and socialize with other dogs.
If your dog canít access a yard without your help, youíll need to make arrangements to offer plenty of potty breaks. This can sometimes be difficult if youíre away from home during the day for your job. If you know youíll be gone for an extended period of time and wonít be able to come home to let your dog out, you might consider hiring a dog walker or asking a neighbor to help out.
As a general timeframe, your dog may need to do their business every 4 to 10 hours. Keep in mind, accidents may happen. Although this may be frustrating for you, itís important not to punish your dog. Your dog is likely already very stressed about the incident. Itís your responsibility to make sure it has the care it needs.
If your apartment is on an upper floor, you may have a balcony. If your pets can fit through the railing, they shouldnít be allowed to access these areas unsupervised as they could fall through and get hurt or wander off and become lost. You could also install chicken wire or some other sturdy barrier to prevent them from falling through.
In general, cats tend to be lower maintenance pets. They may spend less time vying for your attention, and in some cases may spend a lot of their time alone, napping, exploring, or entertaining themselves. However, they need external stimulation too. You could invest in a number of catnip toys, balls, and puzzles that contain treats. A cat tree with multiple levels is also a great investment to allow your cat to have a space of its own to climb and lounge.
If you own a cat or have been on the internet, you probably know cats are fascinated with paper bags, boxes, and other containers. Itís fine to let your cat explore these as long as there isnít a chance the cat will harm itself. For example, if you leave an empty bag or box on a counter, the cat might accidentally tip it over the edge. Plastic bags also pose a risk as your cat could suffocate.
Like dogs and other animals, cats also need exercise in order to stay healthy. A chubby cat may be cute, but obesity can cause serious health problems and disrupt your petís quality of life. If your cat doesnít exercise on its own, using a laser pointer is a great way to get it moving around the room.
Having multiple pets can also help with this. Morty and Francis are each otherís best workout buddies. At least once a day, they get into play-fighting matches, chase each other around the house, or sneak up on each other. Itís a good way to ensure they have some company when Iím not at home, and itís a pretty fun to watch them turn wild.
Maintain Your Petís Routines
While your cat or dog probably couldnít tell you the exact time or day of the week, they do understand when things like feeding times and walks generally happen. Once you establish patterns regarding these things, itís important to maintain them as well as possible. If things change too often your pet may become stressed and nervous, which can lead to a weakened immune system, digestive issues, and behavioral problems.
So far, weíve talked about keeping up with potty breaks and exercise, but just like humans, regular sleep schedules can also have a major impact on your petís overall health. Investing in a bed for your pet is a good first step toward helping them to establish a nightly routine. Going to bed at a similar time will also solidify a sense of normalcy.
Aside from simply looking out for your pet, itís also important to create habits that are realistic to your own needs. Take it from me: sharing a bedroom with cats can be disastrous. When my girlfriend and I first took Morty and Francis home as kittens, we kept them in the bedroom for a week to allow them to adjust to the new space. For that week, I slept on the couch.
Because cats are nocturnal, they tend to prowl around and play at night. This means cats might walk, run, and jump on you while you sleep, or else theyíre likely getting into some sort of mischief by knocking things off of shelves or learning how to open cabinet doors. However, as Iíve found, sleeping with your cats doesnít have to be a nightmare.
Initiating play sessions in the morning and evening will help tire out your cats so they have less energy in the middle of the night. If you play with your cats before bed on a regular basis, they will begin to take this as a cue to begin winding down for the evening. Giving your cats a treat or scheduling their evening meal before bed is another way to encourage them to settle down.
These strategies will also help with establishing bedtime routines for dogs. Giving them a snack, a brief play session, and a potty break just before going to sleep will teach them to expect bedtime each night.
Bringing a pet into your life can be a rewarding experience for you and the animal. Itís likely youíll make tender memories and witness a level of humor so honest humans alone could never reach. Of course, youíll also experience some mishaps along the way, but thatís just part of the journey. If you can be proactive in keeping your pets healthy and giving them the care and stimulation that they need, you can have a wonderful life together.