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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.

Pet 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 [1].

There is no benefit in allowing female cats to have one heat or litter before they are desexed [1]. Pre-pubertal desexing is recommended, before cats can reach puberty at about 16 weeks (this is also sometimes called Early Age Desexing or EAD). Please see this article for information about laws and regulations surrounding desexing your cat in your state/territory.

See these articles for more information:

Health care

An annual check-up by your veterinarian is important to ensure your cat is healthy. 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.

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 panleucopaenia), 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). 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). Depending on where you live, you may also need to protect your cat against ticks and, in particular, paralysis ticks.

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

See these articles for more details:


Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they require meat in their diet for them to be healthy. 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 indoors

Containing your cat to your property prevents unwanted litters of kittens, cat fights, diseases, and other injuries such as being hit by a car [2]. Containing your cat also reduces the risk of them hunting native wildlife [2]. If you would like to allow your cat outdoors, a fully contained outdoor enclosure or enclosed yard with cat-proof fencing is recommended [2]. Providing enrichment will ensure your cat is entertained and stimulated while indoors (see ‘Enrichment’ below) [3].

See these articles for more information:


There are many kinds of enrichment available to keep your cat entertained and stimulated.

These include:

  • Toys: for example, wand toys, balls or stuffed mice toys.
  • Puzzle feeder toys: these allow your cat to forage for food and encourage problem solving [4].
  • Opportunities to scratch and get up high: cats love heights and scratching, so providing scratch posts or getting crafty and making a cardboard tower will keep them happy [4].
  • Ensure you also spend quality time with your cat.

See this article for more information:

How can I keep my cat safe and happy at home?

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?


[1] Reichler IM (2009) Gonadectomy in Cats and Dogs: A Review of Risks and Benefits. Reproduction of Domestic Animals 44:29-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0531.2009.01437.x

[2] RSPCA Australia (2018) Identifying Best Practice Domestic Cat Management in Australia (accessed on Oct 17, 2019)

[3] Jongman E (2007) Adaptation of domestic cats to confinement. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 2:193-196. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.09.003

[4] Miller K & Watts K (2017) Environmental and behavioral enrichment for cats. In Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff, First Edition; Weiss, E., Mohan-Gibbons, H., Zawistowski, S., Eds.;

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Updated on April 22, 2020
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