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How can I be a responsible cat owner?

Owning a cat brings joy to many thousands of Australians. Cat owners also have responsibilities to help their cats live happy, safe and healthy lives.

Microchipping, identification, and registration

A microchip is a small electronic chip that can be scanned by a microchip reader to show a unique number. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and consists of a coating which protects the internal electronics and avoids the animal’s body from reacting to the chip. The chip is inserted under the skin in the back of a cat’s neck using a needle.

The microchip number is linked to a database with details about the animal and owner, so that when the chip is scanned, the owner’s details can be identified. This helps to reunite lost cats with their owners quickly and is also used to prove ownership. See this article for more information about why microchipping is important.

Cat owner contact details should be registered with your local council, and updated if any details change. You can do this here. Microchipping is mandatory in most Australian states and territories (please see this article to find out more about the regulations in your state/territory).

Information about what to do if your cat does go missing can be found here. External identification (collar and tag) should also be placed on your cat, where this is safe and tolerated by your cat. Ensure that any collar used is a quick release type, to help avoid your cat getting hooked on something by the collar or getting a leg stuck through the collar.

In some jurisdictions, it is necessary to register your cat with the local authority so it is important to check this.


Desexing involves surgically removing the ovaries and uterus of female cats, or surgically removing both testicles of males, to prevent unwanted breeding. This must be done by a qualified veterinarian. In addition to preventing unwanted litters. Other benefits of desexing include reducing the risk of mammary cancers and uterine infections; reducing aggressive behaviour; reducing the likelihood of a cat roaming and, consequently, getting lost or injured; and reducing the likelihood of marking behaviours such as urine spraying. See this article for more information.

There is no benefit in allowing female cats to have one heat or litter before they are desexed . Pre-pubertal desexing is recommended, before cats can reach puberty at about 16 weeks of age. For more information, please see this article.

Please see this article for information about laws and regulations surrounding desexing your cat in your state/territory.

Health and wellness care

A check-up by your veterinarian at least annually is important to keep preventative health care measures up to date (e.g., vaccinations), monitor your cat’s health, and help pick up any problems early so they can be addressed.

Your cat’s weight will also be monitored during these visits, to ensure they are not underweight or overweight, as both can be a sign of or lead to health issues.

Dental care is important in preventing painful dental disease in cats. It may involve brushing your cat’s teeth with a pet toothpaste and toothbrush if they allow this, providing specially formulated dental food to help reduce tartar build up, giving them dental treats, or having their teeth cleaned professionally under general anaesthesia, as recommended by your veterinarian. See this article for more information.

It is important that you cat is vaccinated by your veterinarian to reduce the risks associated with cat flu (feline herpesvirus and calicivirus) and enteritis (feline panleukopaenia), both of which are contagious and can make your cat very ill. In some circumstances, you may need to consider vaccination against other diseases for your cat; for example, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). See this article for more information and seek advice from your veterinarian about the most appropriate vaccination program for your cat.

Flea prevention is important as fleas can cause significant discomfort, can cause an allergic reaction, may also transmit diseases such as tapeworm, and can also cause anaemia (as fleas feed on your cat’s blood). See this article for more information. Depending on where you live, you may also need to protect your cat against ticks and, in particular, paralysis ticks. See this article for more information.

Worming prevention is also important in avoiding diarrhoea and other worm-related problems such as anaemia from a heavy worm burden.

Another important component of wellness care is grooming. See this article for more information.

Prompt and professional veterinary care is vital if your cat becomes ill or injured. This can be expensive and ensuring that you have a plan in place to cover expected and unexpected veterinary costs is important; pet insurance is one option you may want to consider.

Healthcare and wellness activities (like giving tablets, cleaning ears, trimming nails, travelling to the veterinary practice) can be stressful for some animals and their caregivers. Cooperative care practices can help to overcome this and facilitates animals being active, willing participants in the husbandry and veterinary care they need.

You can teach your dog or cat to participate in regular husbandry procedures using reward-based training and animal-friendly interactions.


Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they are dependent on the nutrients that would be provided by a diet based on consuming prey animals​. This means they cannot be healthy or survive without the specific nutritional components in such a diet (for example, specific amino acids, the essential fatty acid arachidonic acid, and preformed vitamin A)​. A high-quality commercial cat food tailored to their age and needs is important to ensure they have a balanced diet. Your cat should have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

See these articles for more information:

Keeping your cat contained to your property

Keeping cats contained in an environment that meets their physical and mental needs helps them thrive rather than just survive and strikes the right balance between cat welfare, safety, and longevity, while also safeguarding the welfare and survival of wildlife and reducing community impacts from roaming cats.

Cat containment must be implemented in a way that safeguards cat welfare. Contained cats must be provided with an environment that is optimised to meet the cat’s physical and mental needs, allows and encourages the expression of normal feline behaviours, minimises stress, and promotes good health and welfare (see the RSPCA Australia Safe and Happy Cats guide for more information). Cats should have choice and control in their lives, this includes choice about how or if to interact with the environment, people, animals, and objects in it.

Effective steps must be taken to mitigate stress experienced by cats and to assist them with the transition to containment including seeking veterinary or behavioural advice where necessary.

Contained cats do not have to live totally indoors. Ideally, all cats should have the benefits of access to the outdoors in a safe escape-proof contained outdoor environment, as this helps to provide a more complex environment that increases the cat’s opportunity for choice, activity, and stimulation, which has significant benefits for the cat’s physical and mental well-being.

See these articles for more information:

An optimal environment

Meeting your cat’s environmental needs is essential for them to be as physically and mentally healthy as they can be. This includes ensuring that they have choice about where they rest, play, and toilet, and opportunities to engage in normal behaviours like stalking, pouncing, climbing, scratching, hiding, retreating, and exploring. It’s vital to provide an optimal environment to minimise negative experiences and promote positive experiences for your cat, as well as to promote their good physical and mental health and well-being. Addressing these core needs can help reduce unwanted behaviour, and encourage safe, appropriate, and social behaviours.

Having good understanding of normal cat behaviour will help you to help your cat live a good life and safeguard their welfare.

See the Safe and Happy Cats guide for more information.

Positive interactions

It is vital to give your cat appropriate opportunities to express cat‐specific behaviours that are rewarding to them, and which include choice, control, and positive challenges. This helps your cat to experience good welfare and avoid negative experiences (e.g. frustration) and the development of abnormal behaviours.

Part of this is to make sure your cat has feline- and individual- appropriate opportunities for positive interactions with other animals, humans, and the environment (e.g. early introduction of suitable socialisation and reward-based training). This helps to facilitate your cat experiencing good welfare and developing behaviour that is appropriate to their lifestyle as a companion animal.

See the Safe and Happy Cats guide for more information.


It is important that you are prepared to transport your cat safely and in a way that minimises stress. This can include using cooperative care practices, using reward-based training, and animal-friendly interactions to train your cat to voluntarily enter their cat carrier and be comfortable being transported.

Planning for care when you are unable to provide care for your cat yourself

Sometimes you may be unable to provide care for your cat yourself (e.g., if you are away for work, on holiday, or in hospital). In this case, it is necessary you to make suitable provisions for the ongoing care of your cat; for example, a cat-sitter, taking your cat to stay with a trusted person, or having them stay in a suitable boarding facility. While it is difficult to think about, you should also consider what would happen if you were permanently no longer able to look after your cat – including if something happens to you or if your circumstances change.

Planning for emergencies and changes in circumstances

During a natural disaster such as a bushfire, extreme weather (e.g. storms, floods, or heatwaves), or an earthquake, it may be necessary to evacuate from your home. It is important to have an emergency plan in place which includes your animals.

It is also important to make a plan for the ongoing care of your cat, should something happen to you which restricts your ability to look after your cat.

See this article for more information:

What preparations should I make for my pets in case of an emergency?

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Updated on May 9, 2024
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