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12 Dangerous Mistakes Cat Owners Should Never Make

Think kitties are low-maintenance? There are a few things to know about caring for a cat.

Little cat playing on the bedLucky Business/Shutterstock

Removing claws of an outdoor cat

Because of dangers such as other animals and cars, outdoor cats often live less than five years, compared to indoor cats, who live closer to 18 or 20 years, according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Mobile, Alabama. Help your outdoor cat protect itself by keeping its claws intact, says Ashley Rossman, DVM, a veterinarian with Glen Oak Dog & Cat Hospital. “They need their weapons,” she says. If your pet ends up getting into a fight with another animal, it could get critically injured if it doesn’t have a way to scratch.

Beautiful tabby cat sitting next to a food bowl, placed on the floor next to the living room window, and eating.Impact Photography/Shutterstock

Leaving food out

A whopping 60 percent of American cats are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. There’s one main drive, says Virginia-based veterinarian Katy Nelson, DVM: leaving a bowl of food out all day. Especially if your kibble brand is high in carbs, your cat will be tempted to overeat. “I put it to my clients like this: if you put an entire cheese pizza from Ray’s Pizza in New York City out on the counter and left me to my own devices, I can almost guarantee that that entire pizza would be gone by the end of the day,” she says. “Whether my body needed it or not, carbs are just not all that filling.” Tack on months or years of eating like that, and it’s no surprise your cat might carry some extra weight. Not only is this bad for your cat, but leaving pet food out could also be making you sick.

Cat eating dry food.Melinda Fawver/Shutterstock

Sticking with dry food

Especially if your cat can’t handle having its food out all day without over-eating, you might want to consider dishing out wet food for mealtime. “It has better water content, which is better for the kidneys,” says Dr. Rossman. Talk to your vet about how much and how often you should feed your pet. Speaking of your furry friend’s diet… what does catnip do to cats?

female veterinarian medical doctor with catTom Wang/Shutterstock

Avoiding the vet

Even seemingly healthy cats should get a checkup at the vet at least once a year, so don’t let your cat’s fear of crates keep you from keeping up with its health. Your vet might notice kidney disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, or other conditions that you might miss. You should also notify your vet if your cat is displaying these signs of depression. “All of these diseases may show zero or very subtle clinical signs until the disease has progressed significantly,” says Dr. Nelson. “Trust me, it’s worth the trouble to take them in to find a small problem while it’s still small.”

Cat eating from a bowl on white wooden planksVladeep/Shutterstock

Serving high-carb food

Sorry, vegetarians, but you might need to put your personal beliefs on hold for your cat’s sake. Cats are true carnivores, and their systems aren’t designed to digest plant-based food, says Dr. Rossman. She recommends a grain-free, meat-based diet for cats so they can get the protein they need. If you’re concerned about animal rights, consider a brand like Open Farm, which uses ethically sourced proteins. In addition to plant-based food, there are also 11 other foods you should never feed your pet.

ingredients for pet food holistic top view on wooden background279photo Studio/Shutterstock

Making your cat an unbalanced meal

If you want to know exactly what’s going into your cat’s body, think twice before prepping its food yourself. Home-cooked meals often don’t offer your cat all the nutrients it needs, so use a site like balanceit.com for recipes you can feel good feeding your pet, says Dr. Rossman. In addition to using vet-approved recipes, it’s important that you know why you should never feed your cat milk.

Female veterinary doctor giving injection for cute kitten. Focus on syringeMaria Sbytova/Shutterstock

Skipping vaccinations for indoor cats

Almost every state requires pets to have rabies vaccines unless the vet says there’s a medical reason not to, and just because your cat never ventures outdoors doesn’t mean it’s safe from diseases like rabies or leukemia, says Dr. Nelson. Your cat might make a dash outside, and even supervised kitties could catch Feline Leukemia just by going nose to nose with another cat, she says. “I’ve had clients who found a bat in their house (got in through the attic) and the bat tested positive to Rabies,” says Dr. Nelson. “The cat had to undergo a mandatory quarantine period at the owner’s expense, and the owner then had to go through post-exposure vaccinations themselves, total tallying around $5,000.” For your sake and your pet’s, follow your vet’s vaccination advice. If your cat is on edge, these factors might be making it cranky. 

White kitten visiting vet for check upElnur/Shutterstock

Not protecting against fleas, ticks, and heartworm

Just like with vaccines, you can’t assume your indoor cat is safe from pests. If you bring in ticks or even mosquitoes, your pet could be exposed to Lyme disease, heartworms, or even the plague, says Dr. Nelson. “Doors open and window screens aren’t foolproof,” she says. “Simple monthly preventive medications can be lifesaving for your indoor kitties.”

Fluffy ginger tabby cat walking on old wooden fencelkoimages/Shutterstock

Not providing shelter

If your kitty will be roaming free at night, it will need a weather-appropriate shelter to keep it safe from the elements, especially on cold winter nights. It’s also important to know how to keep your pet how to keep your pet safe during natural disasters. “Build some kind of shelter for them that has some warm insulation,” says Dr. Rossman. “And have heated water bowls because water can freeze.”

cat lies on the window in winterGermanova Antonina/Shutterstock

Brushing off health issues

Chronic vomiting is one of the most-ignored cat health symptoms, says Dr. Nelson. “I’ve heard so many times from my clients that ‘oh, she’s just a puker…always has been,’” she says. “As if a human that vomited on a regular basis wouldn’t find that appalling!” A throw-up problem could be a sign of anything from treatable hairballs or food intolerance to heart disease or kidney failure, she says. In addition to monitoring your cat’s vomiting, be on the look out for these 11 warning signs your cat has cancer. If the vomiting is consistent, bring your kitty to the vet for a diagnosis.

cute ginger kitten peeking out of a wicker podAlexandra King/Shutterstock

Ignoring behavioral changes

Even vomiting might seem obvious compared to some of the other subtle health symptoms your cat could display. Pay attention if your pet seems to be hiding or whining more, or if its appetite has changed. These could be some of 15 signs your cat is mad at you. “Cats tend to be pretty stoic,” says Dr. Rossman. “If your cat is behaving in any way that’s out of the ordinary for him or her, that’s a sign you should let your veterinarian know.” The vet can do blood work to make sure its organs are all functioning properly so that you can catch the problem before it spirals out of control.

beautiful tabby cat eating grassDenis Val/Shutterstock

Decorating with plants

Those lilies might look beautiful on your coffee table, but they won’t be so pretty if your cat eats them. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists hundreds of plants that are toxic to cats, and bringing them into the house could be a danger to nibbling kitties. “If you’re going to buy a plant, check to make sure it isn’t toxic,” suggests Dr. Rossman. In addition to not being able to digest all plants, there are at least 17 other things your cat wishes it could tell you.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.