General Cat Care

Food and water

Cats must be provided with appropriate quantities of nutritious food and access to clean drinking water.

Food and water bowls should be kept clean. Owners should ensure that cats maintain normal body condition by feeding portion sizes that are appropriate for the size, age and fitness level of the cat. Significant health problems can be caused by both over and under feeding. Following de-sexing, the amount of energy a cat requires drops by 10-15%. The food intake should similarly be reduced to avoid weight gain.

Shelter and housing

The environment in which a cat is kept should be well ventilated and situated so that extremes of hot and cold are avoided. Cats should have access to a hygienic comfortable place to sleep. The area in which a cat spends most of its time should allow for freedom of movement. If a cat is confined indoors, suitable enrichment should be provided to enhance the environment (e.g. climbing frames and scratching posts). If litter trays are used, a general rule of thumb is to provide one more litter tray, than there are cats; the litter tray must be cleaned regularly.

Health care

Owners should follow a preventative health care plan that includes vaccination, parasite control and annual health checks to support their cat’s health. Breeds of cat with long hair also require regular grooming to prevent discomfort, coat and skin problems.

Veterinary care must be sought without delay if a cat shows signs of being injured or unwell. These signs include being reluctant/unable to eat or move, lameness, excessive scratching or licking at a part of the body, frequent head shaking, development of a rash, dribbling, hair loss, weight loss, vomiting and changes in toilet habits.

Mental health

Understanding the psychological needs of a cat is as important as the physical well-being of the cat. Signs of mental stress in a cat include inappropriate house soiling and aggression. Cats in multi-cat households, those that live with dogs or have young children in their family more commonly exhibit these signs. Ideally a cat should have access to an area away from these potential stressors, so that the cat can withdraw to a "safe place" whenever it desires.

Cats that are kept entirely indoors should also have their environments enriched (e.g. climbing frames, scratch posts, and toys) to compensate for possible limitations of an indoor environment.

Permanent identification

Registration on the owner’s contact details on the New Zealand Companion Animal Register (NZCAR) and microchipping a companion cat provide an excellent means of permanent identification. This ensures that there is a direct link to the person responsible for the cat, allowing it to be returned if lost. A registered microchip will also allow for an owner to be swiftly located so that emergency care can be given if the cat has been found injured and taken to a veterinary clinic or shelter.

Owners should update their details if they change, and consider providing a second contact outside of the usual region, as this is helpful in disaster management situations, when entire communities or cities may be evacuated.

Identification discs attached to quick release collars are also recommended to facilitate repatriation of lost cats in the first instance.


De-sexing of both male and female companion cats that are not intended for breeding, before puberty is an effective tool to prevent overpopulation and unwanted cats. The procedure can also improve an individual cats’ welfare by reducing risks associated with straying such as road traffic accidents, cat fights and infections (Root Kustritz, 2012). De-sexing should be actively promoted and made as accessible as possible by all groups associated with cats.

Emergency and disaster planning

Emergency and disaster planning for a companion cat owner should include having:

  • at least seven days of pet food, water and required medications
  • a crate or carrier, to facilitate moving cats in the event of an evacuation being required
  • a litter tray so the cat can be contained inside away from danger and available in the case of the need to evacuate at short notice.

Microchipping and registering cats on the NZCAR facilitates swift repatriation if cats become separated from their owners during a disaster.

Further information on disaster planning and downloadable disaster information packs for pets are available from the Ministry of Primary Industries and the World Animal Protection websites.

Alternative care arrangements

It is part of responsible ownership, that suitable arrangements are made to ensure the companion cat’s welfare if an owner is not available for a period of time (such as when on holiday) or is unable to continue to care for the cat. Prior arrangements are useful as they may be required at short notice due to unexpected illness or bereavements.