Caring for Kittens: A helpful guide for new cat owners
Have you recently adopted (or are considering adopting) a kitten? Congratulations! It’s a big responsibility, but the experience is full of rewards. Much like children, if you provide proper care and training when they’re young, they will be more likely to grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
But adapting to life in a new home can be stressful for kittens and their owners alike. Here are some tips to start things off on the right paw and to help you provide the best care for your cat.
First things first: the best age for a kitten to be adopted
Kittens should remain with their mother and littermates until they are at least eight weeks of age. Until then, kittens need their mother’s milk and their littermates’ body heat to regulate their internal temperature. A warm water bottle under a blanket may help compensate for the absence of their mother or littermates, but this is a last resort if the kittens have been abandoned or are without their mother. If you’re trying to care for a newborn kitten without a mother, this requires a special set of considerations not covered in this article. Please consult your veterinarian for specific advice.
Bringing your kitten home
Once kittens are over eight-weeks-old and have received a clean bill of health by a veterinarian, they are ready to be adopted. Take time to get your house ready before their arrival by blocking off potentially dangerous areas and ensuring all the windows and doors to the outside are closed.
Make sure your new kitten has plenty of toys (balls, crumpled paper, boxes or paper bags) and a scratching post. Buy a break-away collar with an identification tag, including their name and your phone number.
Microchipping is a more reliable, permanent form of identification where a microchip about the size of a grain of rice is inserted by a veterinarian between the kitten’s shoulder blades. When scanned, the chip identifies an ID number unique to your pet. This number is linked to a database with your name and contact information. This database can be easily updated if you move or change your phone number. All veterinary hospitals, humane societies and SPCAs have a microchip scanner, and the first thing they do with a lost pet is check him or her for a microchip.
A microchip allows your kitten to be quickly reunited with you, even if their collar falls off. Inserting a microchip is safe and easy. We typically do it at the time of a spay or neuter but it can be done anytime. Be sure to ask for a microchip when your kitty is spayed or neutered, or contact us to make an appointment.
Supervising your new kitten
During early days, keep a very close eye on your kitten. It’s easy for a kitten to get into mischief, become stuck, or be accidentally stepped on. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start them in one room so they can gradually get used to their new surroundings.
Leaving your cat alone at home
Kittens younger than four months should not be left alone for more than a couple of hours. Most kittens can handle up to five hours after four months, but it’s still advisable to keep a close eye on them.
Feeding your kitten and keeping them hydrated
Feed your kitten an energy-dense, highly-digestible diet from a shallow plate they can easily access. Consult your veterinarian about what food they should eat and how often. It may be a combination of dry kibble and wet food, but be sure it is formulated for kittens. We can recommend a good food for a growing kitten so be sure to ask us what’s best for a growing kitten!
Always have fresh water available and check it throughout the day for cleanliness. Cats often prefer to drink away from where they eat, so consider placing their water bowl away from their food dish. Do not give your kitten milk as it can cause diarrhea.
Training your kitten to use the litter box
The good news is kittens generally use litter boxes by instinct. However, you can help reinforce good habits by placing the kitten in the litterbox after meals and play sessions. Make sure the litter box is cleaned frequently. Cats are notoriously clean animals, and they hate a dirty litter box. If it is not cleaned, they may refuse to use it.
Socializing your kitten
Socializing your kitten means exposing them to as much as possible early in life: grooming, loud noises, their carrier, car rides, as well as people and other animals. This must be done carefully so as to not overwhelm the kitten.
Gradually introduce your kitten to new people, taking precautions around children and other pets. Talk to children about how to properly interact with the kitten. It’s vital that children do not play roughly with the kitten, and they understand they need to respect the kitten’s space.
Make sure all animals in the household are up-to-date on their vaccinations before introducing them to the new kitten. There will likely be some disagreements at first, so tread lightly and don’t try to force a friendship until they are both ready.
Spaying and neutering your kitten
Between four and six months of age, your kitten will reach adolescence (sexual maturity). Avoid unpleasant habits such as territorial spraying by talking with a veterinarian before your kitten reaches this stage. To prevent unwanted pregnancies and help control the pet population, make sure your kitten is spayed or neutered.
Make preventive care a priority
As a pet owner, you want your kitten to have a long, happy, and healthy life. We want that, too. Schedule your kitten’s first vet appointment within a week of getting them.
For your convenience, Kenmount Road Animal Hospital offers complete kitten packages to give your kitten everything they need. During your first visit, we’ll closely examine your pet and make arrangements for all the necessary vaccines and immunizations, including feline leukemia, rabies, and distemper. We can help protect your kitty against fleas, worms, ear mites and more, keeping them healthy and loved.