Raising a kitten is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, but it’s also a big responsibility.
The following guide will help you start caring for your new kitten the best start in life and avoid any potential problems later on.
Caring For Your New Kitten On The Way Home
You will need a secure plastic or plastic coated carrier that is easy to clean and opens front and top in order to transport your kitten safely for trips to the vet as well as the trip home. Encourage your kitten to enter and exit the carrier voluntarily using enticing food treats and toys. Some kittens may prefer to enter the carrier via a top door if available.
When you travel put something warm and soft in the carrier that smells familiar to the kitten and drape a familiar smelling towel or blanket over the carrier, particularly if the carrier has a more open design, as this will add to the feeling of security for the kitten. Secure the carrier in the car so that its base is as level as possible and does not move around. Provide small and tasty food rewards in the carrier so that your kitten perceives travelling in the carrier as a positive experience. If your kitten is travel sick then speak to your vet for advice and avoid food treats during the journey. Gently speaking to your kitten and providing a toy in the carrier can be an alternative reward. When you lift the carrier place an arm under the carrier to avoid swinging the carrier or accidently bumping it into doorways etc.
Kittens may feel a little vulnerable when you first bring them home as your home is a totally new environment for them, with many new sights, sounds and smells. Providing safe, quiet areas will help your kitten settle.
Choose a quiet safe room where you can start caring for your new kitten for the first week or two to adjust gradually to their new surroundings. If you have other pets keep them out of this room until the kitten has settled in and you are ready to make controlled introductions.
Provide a bed with high sides to keep out draughts, a low front for easy access – a small cardboard box can be ideal! If you have something comforting from the kitten’s previous home, then put this in the bed. Position the bed where your kitten has easy access to it. It is important to set the routines that you intend to establish for the future from day one. For example, if your kitten is not going to be sleeping in your bedroom in the future, having a space for your new kitten to sleep in your bedroom can set an undesirable precedent! Remember, cats are naturally active at dawn and dusk.
Kittens learn where to toilet very quickly. Often kittens will have learnt from their mother so all you need to do is provide a litter tray and litter and place your kitten in there from time to time (after they have eaten or woken up is a good time). Give your kitten a litter tray of their own even if you have another cat in the house.
Remember as your kitten grows they will need a larger litter tray! When choosing a new type of litter, cats generally prefer fine-grain clumping litter. Cats do not like using dirty litter trays and of course they can be a source of infection, therefore the litter tray must be kept clean and emptied regularly. The litter tray should be located where your kitten can easily find it away from food and water, busy areas of the house or areas where dogs or small children may be able to interfere with it.
When you start caring for your new kitten it should be fully weaned. Kittens have small stomachs and need to be fed little and often, e.g. kittens aged 8-12 weeks need at least 4 meals a day, whereas kittens over 6 months need at least 2 meals. It is important for your growing kitten to receive everything it needs to stay healthy and grow. Cats are obligate carnivores – they cannot thrive or survive without meat in the diet.
When you first take your kitten home, try to feed it on the food it is used to as a sudden change of diet can cause stomach upsets. If you want to change to a new diet, do so by gradually mixing a small amount with the kitten’s usual food over a period of 3-7 days. Fresh clean drinking water should be available at all times.
Kittens are small and can be hurt or scared by rough handling or being dropped. Always support the kitten with two hands as you pick it up – one hand under the kitten’s rear end and the other under the front legs. Hold the kitten close to your body so you can prevent it jumping from your arms. Children handling a cat should sit on the floor and adults must explain that the kitten is not a toy.
It can be overwhelming for a kitten if they are handled a lot when they first arrive home – go at your kitten’s pace rather than forcing interaction. For the first few days handling should only take place when the kitten initiates it. Handle the kitten throughout the day for short periods of time, rather than providing continuous physical contact.
Most cats enjoy being groomed and for some long-haired cats it is a necessity. Grooming also provides the opportunity to give your cat a quick physical check. It is a good idea to get your kitten accustomed to being groomed from an early age – be briefand gentle. Ensure the tool you use initially is very soft.
Use rewards, such as a tasty treat or praise, to create positive associations with grooming.
It is also a good time to start good teeth cleaning habits. Take things slowly and gently, keep sessions short and positive and use rewards as you go. Start by getting your kitten used to their mouth being touched and progress to getting them used to the pet toothpaste taste and a brush in their mouth. Finger brushes are good to start with as they are easy to control.
Vaccinating your kitten helps to prevent it against several serious and/or life threatening diseases. The initial kitten vaccine course is often started at 8-9 weeks of age with a second injection 3-4 weeks later; a 3rd vaccine at 16-20 weeks of age may also be required to ensure proper protection. A first booster vaccine should be given 12 months later.
The most common intestinal worms are roundworms and tapeworms. Check with the people from whom you are getting your kitten if they have treated the kitten for worms and what treatment they have used. Ask your vet to advise what product is suitable.
Fleas are very common and large numbers can cause serious problems in small kittens. Talk to your vet about suitable treatment. Never be tempted to use a dog product on your kitten as some dog products are very toxic to cats and fatal on small kittens.
After giving any preventative treatment medication, it is a good idea to give your kitten a reward to help them learn that tablets or spot-ons are nothing to fear and often mean something nice is on the way.
From the age of 5-6 months kittens reach sexual maturity and are therefore capable of breeding and producing kittens themselves. There is no medical or behavioural benefit for a cat to have a litter of kittens before neutering. Neutering not only prevents unwanted pregnancies but also curbs unwanted behaviour associated with sexual maturity (e.g. male cats wandering further and getting into fights) and reduces the risk of certain diseases. It is now recommended that kittens are neutered before they reach sexual maturity at around 4 months of age and that your kitten does not go outside until it is neutered and vaccinated.
Identification is an important part of caring for your new kitten in case it goes missing. This can be via a collar with an identification tag – make sure the collar is a snap-open safety collar and fit it properly (loosening it as your kitten grows!). Microchips are a good way to permanently identify your cat. Information and your contact details are kept on a central database; it is imperative that you update this information when you move! Ask your vet about when they advise to insert the microchip.
Caring for your new kitten is also giving it space to explore! If your kitten is going to have access to the outside try and make the garden as safe as possible by blocking obvious holes in fences. If you are concerned about risks for your kitten beyond your garden consider creating an enclosure or using cat-secure fencing around the garden. If you are intending to use a cat flap teach your kitten how to use it. For the first trips into the garden choose a quiet time to let the kitten explore whilst you are there. Teaching your cat to come when you call their name will help when you need your kitten to come in, such as in the evening. Reward your kitten when they come in with a treat.