Cat portrait
What would life be like without a cat weaving her way between your feet or curling up on your newspaper every time you sit down to do the Sunday crossword? It might be difficult for you to imagine, but for folks who’ve never enjoyed the companionship of a kitty, picturing life with one can be equally challenging.

Of course, there are many ways to prepare a first-time cat owner for bringing a feline friend into her life. In fact, we have loads of articles on the topic, discussing important aspects of cat ownership, like cat-proofing your home, teaching a kitten to enjoy being groomed and more.

But we know our readers have plenty of experience — and advice — to share as well, so we took to Facebook and asked our fans: What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer someone getting their first cat? Many of the responses are serious, and a few are tongue in cheek (like Connie Scharbor’s advice: "Get ready to lose your authority"), but truly, though this isn’t an exhaustive list, there is so much good advice that we just have to share. 

Cats Are Not Dogs

This might seem like an obvious statement, but for anyone who’s had only canines as pets, it’s a helpful distinction to make. While cats can certainly be trained, working with a cat can be quite different from working with a dog. "Patience!" Janne Kenney urges.

That sentiment is shared by numerous commenters, including Lois McGinnis, who says, "Be patient; do not expect it to act like your dog."

Mary Beth Short agrees, saying, "Let them come to you. Don’t force it."

(It’s worth noting that many dogs take some time to warm up to new people, too — and that’s just fine!)

Be Prepared to Make Time for a Lifetime

Some people might see cats as "easier" pets to have than dogs. And though some cats can be more independent than your typical pooch, this isn’t an assumption you should make. Owning a cat is a serious commitment, even if you don’t have to take her out for walks. And remember, many cats can live a long time!

"Ask yourself one question: Am I ready to give my time, my money and my commitment to love and care for this pet for as long as it lives?" Susan Holt Stanley says.

Keep in mind that the amount of care needed can vary from feline to feline. "[B]e prepared to care for them when they are sick," Cat Jeffers-Goodwine says. "I have a diabetic cat that I have been treating for 10 years. He is now 16. Are you willing to make that kind of commitment?" 

Nora Coombs echoes this, saying, "I first warn them of the expense of a pet. They need food and vet care, and that can be more than some people can afford. I also tell them it is a lifetime commitment, not ’til they get bored with the pet."

Be honest about the kind of time you’re willing to give your new cat on a daily basis. "When you come home from work or school… or wherever you’ve been, always say hello and pet your cat. Kitty has waited all day for you and misses you, so don’t ignore it when you walk in the door," Marilyn Rundle says. "[It] only takes 10 minutes or so to give scritches and kisses."

And if you’re not ready for the responsibility just yet, "[D]o not get one," Aimee Sirisky says (along with many other commenters).

Prepare for Changes in Your Home

Life with a cat means your daily activities (and your house itself) will never be quite the same. "Put away anything that matters. They are curious and mobile," Shirley Ramsey says.

Speaking of that mobility: "Don’t freak out when you realize they can go EVERYWHERE. They jump; they climb. And especially if you had a dog first, cats do things dogs would never do," Bev Kerwin says. "They are all different, but with the two little devils I have now, I have accepted the fact that I will never put up a Christmas tree again!"

You’ll want to be on your guard, especially at first. "Kitty-proof your house! … They get into everything!" Pat Sherrer says.

Kelly LeBrun recommends, "Never buy new furniture." In a similar vein, Lori Meyer notes, "You will never again prepare or eat a meal in peace."

Get a Cat for the Right Reasons

Why do you want to add a feline to your family? "Don’t get a cat because they’re ‘solitary’ animals," Iris Schwartz warns. "They need attention and affection."

"Pick your cat based on personality, not appearance," Marcia Landefeld adds. "I have seen countless mismatches because someone chose a cat because they liked the way it looked, or it reminded them of their deceased previous or childhood pet." 

You should also be prepared to care for and love your cat even if her personality isn’t exactly what you’d envisioned. "Understand not all cats are cuddly. Some remain a little aloof," Linda Windstein says. "Let them decide how they want to act."

Care for and Love Your Kitty the Right Way

Whether you end up with a cat who you can hardly keep off your lap or one who prefers to hide under the bed for much of the day, there are plenty of things you’ll need to do for her. For one thing, be sure to introduce her to your home in a way that builds confidence. 

"Start off in a confined area till 100 percent litterbox trustworthy; the kitty will feel more secure, and you can bond faster," Ken Schoenebaum says. "Too many people bring home a cat or kitten and immediately turn them loose in their home expecting perfect behavior."

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of litterboxes: "Keep the litter pan super clean and buy one of those large cat trees," Carol Gillilie says. Lorraine Alexander agrees, saying, "Just love them and keep the litterbox cleaned each day. They are very clean by nature."

And keep in mind that cats can take some time to come out of their shells, so don’t lose heart if yours is not a social butterfly right off the bat. "If you’re adopting an adult cat, give them possibly many months to acclimate to your home and the people there," Darlene Marie says. "Mine had been a stray and hid the first few months. Now, three years later, she is my best buddy, a real sweetheart."

Finally, remember that all cats should receive proper vet care — even if getting there is a bit challenging. Rita Jackman is one of several commenters who suggests getting the cat microchipped, and Victoria Crissman says, "Do your homework. Read up on cats before getting one. Not only basic care but also body language, how to detect illness/injury and psychology."

And don’t forget this sweet piece of advice from Michele Davis, who says, "Love him or her a lot and take lots of photos. Time goes by so fast."

More on Vetstreet: