So, you’ve popped into the pet store and bought the all-important scratching posts and litter trays for your new cat. But before you roll out the red carpet for your new fluffy family member, it’s a good idea to know a little more about their needs.

Making sure they are happy is one of the most important – and most rewarding – aspects of being a cat owner, and, while many first-time cat owners say they learn through trial and error, it is still useful to read up on what to expect.

From setting routines to engaging in playtime, here’s how you can prepare for your new cat.

What you need to do first

Although cats are highly independent creatures, there are a few things which you, the owner, will need to do before they join your family. One of these is making sure your cat is neutered.

The Blue Cross recommends that cats are neutered at around four months old before they become sexually mature. There are added benefits too, such as a reduced risk of breast cancer in females, and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) in males. It also means they are less likely to walk into busy streets (whilst looking for a mate) and be stressed when they are indoors.

We asked our online community how they look after their cats. Here’s what they told us:

“Have it neutered/spayed, get it chipped (making sure you register it and change the details if you move), and get a good insurance”

Karen Staples on Facebook

“Have them chipped make sure they’re spayed or neutered; its healthier for your cat and prevents some cancers”

Pam Anderson on Facebook.

What to feed them

As a new owner, it won’t be long before you’re attuned to your cat’s feeding schedule. If you’re unsure at first what their preferences are, give them the choice of both wet and dry food to see which they enjoy most. If, on the other hand, you have adopted a cat, they will likely already have a feeding routine in place, so make sure to check in with the previous owners about their favourite food, and when they are typically fed.

If you opt for dry food, remember that it is more calorie-dense than fresh wet food, so it should only be given to your cat once a day. In contrast, if you’re opting for wet food, you should feed it to your cat at least twice daily. Just a note: don’t be fooled by their constant baying for treats – just stick to your routine and they will soon get used to their new feeding time.

If you cat was recently neutered, you may notice a change in their eating habits. For instance, neutering reduces the amount of energy a cat needs, meaning they require less food. This is something to bear in mind when you are deciding on portion sizes. If, for any reason, you need to introduce new foods to your cat’s diet, make sure to do so gradually, as sudden changes can cause tummy troubles.

Here’s how our Facebook followers keep their cats happy and healthy:

“Buy the best food you can afford. Separate the water bowl/fountain from their food (water is contaminated by bad food in the wild)”

Karen Staples on Facebook.

“Talk to them and try to put routines in place so they get used to telling the time”

Pam Anderson on Facebook.

“Feed quality food and plenty of fresh, clean water”

Richard Williams on Facebook.

How to play with them

Not only will toys help to keep your furry friends amused, they’ll also help to promote exercise. But before you leave them alone with their prized feathery mouse, don’t forget that cats get the best mental stimulation when you get involved, too.

Whether you’re dangling a fluffy fishing rod or catapulting a ball of string, any play that you and your cat share will help to strengthen your bond, so don’t forget to set time aside for playtime. Just remember that kittens and adult cats require different levels of exercise. Young cats, for instance, are very excitable and need around ten play sessions a day, while older cats only require around three to four sessions a day.

If, when you introduce your cat to its new home, you notice their favourite game is “hide and seek”, don’t be discouraged – lots of cats find solace in confined spaces when they move into new surroundings. To make sure they’re comfortable, free up some space under beds and behind sofas before they move in; this way, they can easily spot a “safe place” to calm down in.

Our online community told us how they keep their cats preoccupied:

“Toys, such as softballs, catnip treats, and feathers on sticks are good, but the main thing is showing love to your furry friend”

Pam Anderson on Facebook

“Paper bags are fun to play in and washing baskets are great for sleeping in. If they have biscuits instead of food, have a throw & always find time to cuddle them”

Sarah Damon on Facebook

Remember, however, that not all materials are suitable for cats to play with:

“Never leave plastic bags or anything with elastic around, as it can tie around their necks. Cotton or strings can also be swallowed and get caught up in their insides”

Susan Cotes on Facebook.

What are your top tips for looking after cats? Get in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter to share your thoughts.