Experts reveal 13 things you should never do to your cat

Business Insider US

Allow your cat to come to you for affection and learn to understand when it wants to be left alone.
Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Cat owners know that every feline has its own distinct personality, but there are certain guidelines that pet owners should be aware of. 

Insider consulted with veterinarians and veterinary technicians in order to highlight a few things that cat owners sometimes get wrong. 

From exposing them to harmful houseplants to accidentally training them to scratch humans, here are a few of the worst things you can do to your furry friend:

Never force attention on your cat.

Veterinarian Wendy Hauser told Insider that pet owners should never force a cat to socialise or cuddle when they are not in the mood. 

"Cat owners should not force attention on cats. Though cats enjoy human attention, they like it in smaller doses than dogs, and on their own terms. Owners should respect this basic need of their feline friends and never force attention on them, such as holding them against their will," said Hauser. 

Don't bring plants into your home before checking that they are safe for cats.

"Never bring plants or flowers into your house without first checking to be sure they are not poisonous to cats. Lilies, which are often found in flower bouquets, are highly toxic to cats and consumption of any part of this plant can lead to kidney failure and death," veterinarian and author Ruth MacPete told Insider. 

Lilies are so toxic to cats that even sipping the water in a vase containing Lilies can lead to kidney damage.

Don't let your cat play with yarn or string.

Animal nutritionist with PurringPal and former veterinary technician Jaimee Alsing told Insider that yarn is an unsafe toy for cats. 

"Ingesting yarn or string can cause what veterinarians call a linear foreign body. Intestines become scrunched and knotted as they attempt to pass the yarn. This results in the death of sections of the intestines that must be surgically removed," said Alsing. 

Toys that have been certified as cat-safe are a far better option for feline fun. Consult your vet if you're unsure about the appropriateness of any of your pets' toys. 

Owners should not teach their cats to "hand play."

Whether it's a laser pointer or a light cord, cats love to bat at things that move their way.

But during playtime owners should avoid using their own hands as lures. 

"Owners should never 'hand play' with their cats. This is because cats are hardwired to chase and hunt prey. When humans teach their cats that hands are appropriate objects to be hunted, the outcome is generally unpleasant and potentially dangerous for both the human and the cat," said Hauser. 

A more appropriate way to play with your cat is to use an inanimate object (usually a toy) as the go-between.

Never directly punish your cat, whether you plan on tapping their butt or using a loud sound.

Longtime dog owners who adopt a cat for the first time may be shocked to learn that training a cat to behave isn't as straightforward as with their canine cousins.

For starters, Hauser told Insider that directly reprimanding your cat could have unwanted consequences. 

"Cats should never be directly punished, verbally or physically. Where some owners will clap their hands, stomp their feet, or jingle coins in a can to teach a dog that their behaviour is unacceptable, this method will backfire with a cat," said Hauser. "Cats are highly sensitive to loud noises and raised voices, finding them scary. They can perceive the person making these noises as a threat, and will begin to avoid them."

If your cat is displaying behaviour that you find unacceptable, it might actually be perfectly healthy behaviour that simply needs an appropriate outlet.

For example, cats who are constantly leaping onto countertops and tables may benefit from having a cat tree or dedicated high perch so that they can see what is going on around them.

And cats who like to scratch may stop destroying the furniture if given a scratching post or a toy they can sink their claws into. 

Avoid feeding your cat only dry food.

Alsing told Insider that cats are adapted to live in dry environments and can get all of their water from their food if they are served the right diet.

And since cats do not have a strong urge to drink water when they are thirsty, keeping them hydrated using food is super important. 

"Even cats who seem to drink a lot of water don't drink nearly enough. Chronic dehydration too often leads to tooth decay, bladder stones, and urinary tract infections. Many health issues can be prevented simply by adding a daily meal of wet food to your cat's diet," said Alsing. 

There is also a common misconception that feeding cats the occasional portion of canned food will lead to obesity since a higher portion of the calories in canned food come from fat. But Alsing explained that wet food is actually lower in calories than the same volume of dry food because of canned food's higher water content. 

Don't "free feed" your cat.

Veterinarian Gary Richter with Rover told Insider that "free feeding" you cat by allowing it to graze on food whenever it desires can lead to obesity. 

"Make sure to only provide the appropriate quantity of hard food and wet food your vet recommends to avoid weight issues," said Richter. 

If your schedule doesn't allow you to return home for regular feedings, you may want to consider purchasing an automatic pet-food dispenser that will release pre-portioned amounts of dry food at timed intervals throughout the day. 

Cats tend to like the sweetness of milk, but you should avoid indulging them with a saucer of the stuff.

Richter told Insider that most cats are actually lactose intolerant, so giving them cow's milk can cause significant health issues. 

"Milk is not necessary for cat nutrition and though you may think you're giving your pet a tasty treat, many cats will suffer stomachaches or other related problems when given dairy," said Richter. 

Stick to water for hydration or offer your cat a small, low-calorie pet treat if you want to give them something special. 

Never give your cat animal bones to chew or eat.

Contrary to what cartoons often depict, house cats have no business gnawing on fish skeletons or any other animal bones.

"Bones pose a serious danger to both cats and dogs. Poultry bones, in particular, are very dangerous because they can splinter and get stuck in a cat's throat, stomach or intestines," said MacPete. 

Make sure any fish or meat you are giving your cat as a treat is completely free of bones, and call your vet immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested a bone and is showing signs of distress. 

Unless your veterinarian has given you a medical reason for doing so, do not shave your cat.

Although cats with lion-like haircuts are oftentimes pretty cute, Richter said shaving a cat isn't exactly healthy. 

"Cats' hair helps them self-regulate their body temperature to remain warm in the winter and cool in the summer, so there is no reason to shave your cat. Shaving actually lessens their ability to regulate their own body temperature," Richter told Insider. 

There may be instances where your vet advises you to shave some or all of your cat's fur for medical reasons, but it isn't advisable to give your cat a closely cropped hairdo purely for aesthetics. 

Do not give your cat medication that's meant for humans or for dogs.

Medications that are safe for humans and dogs can do more harm than good when administered to cats. 

"Never give your cat any medication without first checking with your veterinarian. Some medications may be safe for us or even your dog but could be deadly for your cat. And it's not just prescription medication; over the counter medications can be just as deadly," said MacPete. 

For example, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many painkillers for humans, is highly toxic to cats

You really shouldn't leave your cat alone for more than 24 hours.

Many people opt to adopt cats over dogs because they are under the impression that cats essentially take care of themselves. But even though cats are generally more independent than dogs, they're not self-sufficient loners. 

"Some people think if they leave out enough food and water, cats are OK on their own for multiple days. In reality, someone should be checking in on your feline friend at least every 24 hours," said Richter. 

If you can't arrange for a friend or relative to swing by your place while you're away, it's often possible to arrange overnight supervision or scheduled playtimes with a qualified pet sitter.

Don't disregard your cat's changes in behaviour.

It's often up to owners to decipher clues about their cat's condition based on physical and behavioural changes. 

"Two of the least-recognised feline diseases are both horribly painful: dental disease and arthritis. When cats have these conditions or experience other pain, they change their behaviour. They may stop eating, become reclusive, stop interacting with the family, and even become aggressive," said Hauser. 

If you notice your cat's behaviour has changed dramatically, schedule an appointment with your vet to determine if there is a medical reason for your pet's personality shift. 

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