Are you thinking about bringing home a new kitten? It’s so much fun to welcome a purring furball into your family, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. From stocking up on needed supplies to choosing the best kitty food, there’s a lot to think about.
These kitten care tips can help you start your little one’s life off on the right paw.
Before You Adopt a Kitten
Careful thought should go into the decision to adopt a kitten. For instance, make sure you’re ready for a long-term commitment. A healthy cat can live to be 20+ years old. This means providing food, shelter, healthcare, and love for the life of your cat, which hopefully will be lengthy and healthy!
Careful thought should go into the decision to adopt a kitten.
You should also talk with your landlord to make sure you’re allowed to have a kitten if you live in a rental home or apartment. You don’t want to invest in supplies and bring your kitten home only to find out they’re not welcome.
If you live in a condo, townhome, or neighborhood with a housing association, check and see if there are any guidelines on pets.
Remember too that kittens don’t stay cute little balls of fur forever. They grow into what can be large cats with all different types of personalities—from attention-seeking cuddlers to strong-willed loners. You’ll need space in your home to accommodate a growing cat as well as an open mind when it comes to accepting your feline’s character traits, which can change as he or she matures.
Where to Adopt a Kitten
Once you’ve firmly made your decision to adopt a kitten, take a trip to your local shelter or animal rescue. You can feel good about adopting from these places since you’ll be providing an animal in need a loving home and helping to ease the homeless pets problem we have in this country.
Speaking of overpopulation, you should get your kitten spayed or neutered. These procedures avoid unexpected litters and provide important health benefits. They can also eliminate unwanted behaviors associated with mating, such as yowling when they’re in heat and running out of the house in search of a partner.
For boy cats, neutering prevents testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and some hernias. For girl cats, it reduces the risk of breast cancer and prevents infections of the uterus, which are not uncommon in cats.
Our friends at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) offer a national database that you can use to search for adoptable cats and kittens available at shelters near you. If you live in the New York City area, you can also visit the ASPCA’s shelter on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
How to Adopt a Kitten
Each shelter or rescue may have its own specific adoption process, but it’s typically fairly simple. You may be asked to fill out an application, which can include proof of age and residency as well as pet ownership history. Some places have a 24-hour waiting period before you can bring your kitten home to give you time to think more about your decision and make sure you’re comfortable with it.
You may also need to sign a contract that shows you agree to certain provision. For instance, that you:
- Are committed to spaying or neutering your kitten
- Can provide appropriate housing, food, and medical care
- Have spoken with all members of the family and that they are all on board with the adoption
- Understand that the kitten may be taken back by the shelter if mistreated
- Will pay any associated costs for adopting the kitten
The cost of adopting can be less than buying from a breeder or pet store. Typically, you’ll be asked to pay a fee to the shelter or rescue and help with any veterinary costs that may have been incurred during your kitten’s stay.
Once you bring your bundle of furry joy home, you’ll need to help your kitten get socialized. Kittens who were orphaned or separated from their mama cat and littermates too early may not know how to interact well with others. Kittens learn a lot from their moms and siblings, such as how to engage in social play and how to act around other animals.
To help socialize kittens, you should:
- Pet and engage with them often
- Give them items to explore (paper bags, boxes, etc.)
- Offer them kitten-safe toys
- Expose them to other pets in the house (gradually and always with supervision)
- Play music and make noises to help get them used to everyday sounds
- Reward good behavior with lots of praise and attention
- Avoid yelling or scolding (and never hit) – you can try using a “kitty time out” where you ignore your kitten or try redirecting your kitten’s attention to help correct unwanted behavior
Remember to be patient and loving with your kitten, but avoid completely coddling your feline friend. Exposing your kitten to a wide variety of experiences, such as walking on different types of flooring from smooth hardwood to cushy rugs or hearing different noises from doorbells to vacuums, can help your kitten grow into a well-adjusted and well-behaved cat.
What to Do with a New Kitten
Kittens love to play! Playtime can help them burn off energy and keep their minds active, which can promote healthy brain development.
Pick up a few kitty-safe toys for your kitten to play with your local pet store. Some of the best toys are ones that jump around and look alive, so your kitten can stalk and attack them, rather than your ankles.
You can also get creative and make some safe toys from everyday items around your home. For instance, Ping-Pong balls are fun to swat around, and empty paper bags without string handles are great for darting in and out. With a kitten, you should avoid using your hands or fingers as play objects. This can result in unwanted biting or scratching behaviors, not to mention scratched up hands and fingers.
What to Feed Kittens
Growing kitties need a healthy diet, so stock up on a brand name kitten or cat food. If you’re not sure which type to pick, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.
Kittens also go crazy for cat treats, but don’t go overboard since treats can contain a lot of fat and sugar. You can also offer your kitten healthy pet-safe fruits and veggies. Be sure to cut them up into small bits or cook them until they’re soft to help avoid choking.
How Much to Feed a Kitten
You should talk to your veterinarian about your particular kitten’s nutritional requirements. Some cat parents prefer to keep dry food out for their felines to nosh on whenever they like while others prefer to give meals at specific times. For set meal times, you can follow these guidelines:
- Little kittens 6 to 12 weeks old: 4 meals a day
- Older kittens 3 to 6 months old: 3 meals a day
- Adult cats: 2 meals a day around 8 hours apart
Any canned food leftover in your cat’s bowl should be thrown out after about 30 minutes. Also, make sure your kitten has plenty of fresh water on hand around the clock.
If you have a kitten who is snubbing the food bowl or not eating enough, you can ask your veterinarian for tips on managing the situation. He or she may suggest offering your finicky friend chicken or turkey baby food for a little while, or adding warm water to the kitten food.
Keep in mind that loss of appetite can indicate an illness. Cats and kittens may mask or hide symptoms, so it’s good to be on the lookout for this and other signs your cat is sick. Contact your veterinarian If you notice anything concerning.
Is Milk Bad For Cats?
A kitten or cat lapping up a saucer of milk is a common image on TV and in the movies, but the truth is you really shouldn’t give dairy products to your kitty. Most cats are lactose intolerant, which means they lack the enzyme that breaks down the lactose in milk. This can cause issues such as:
- Tummy upset
While some cats may be able to tolerate milk without major stomach problems, it’s best to stick to safer treats, like bits of tuna, cooked chicken, or store bought goodies. You can also try cooking up a treat in your kitchen, like these easy to make Baked Tuna Hearts for Cats.
Supplies for a New Kitten
You should stock up on kitten essentials before bringing home a kitten. The shelter or rescue may provide you with a new kitten checklist, but here are some items you definitely need and tips on how to choose them.
Kittens can be a rambunctious lot, but even those balls of seemingly non-stop energy, need time to rest. You can set up a warm place for your kitten to sleep, like a cozy kitten bed. Line it with a soft blanket or towel, and be sure to wash any bedding frequently.
Your kitten will obviously need a litter box. Place it somewhere that’s easy to access and, at least, semi-private, such as a laundry room or bathroom. You should scoop out the litter box at least once a day, and clean the entire box once a week. Kittens may not use a litter box if they deem it too messy.
Most kittens know to use the litter box instinctively. If your kitten needs a little help, you can try placing your furball gently in the litter box after meals or play sessions. Never force your kitten inside, and offer lots of praise when your kitty takes the hint.
Kittens, much like human babies, explore the worlds with their mouths. They may also suffer from teething pain and pressure as new teeth erupt through soft gums. For both of these reasons, you should provide your kitten with safe teething toys. Kitten teething toys can also strengthen jaw muscles and help keep your kitten’s teeth clean and healthy.
You may need a cat carrier to take your kitten home for the first time, and you’ll need one for future visits to the veterinarian for vaccines, check-ups, etc. While there are various types of cat carriers, including ones designed like luxury handbags, the best choice is typically a medium sized plastic box with an opening at the front and a handle at the top.
You can help your kitten get used to the cat carrier by leaving it out for him or her to explore. Put a blanket or towel inside to make it more inviting and place a treat inside for added encouragement.
Remember: Never to force your kitten inside the cat carrier.
You want your feline friend to see the carrier as a safe and pleasant space. This will make trips to the veterinarian easier on both of you!
Other essential kitten items include a food dish and water bowl, sturdy scratching post, collar and ID tag (even for indoor only kitties in case they get outside), and a comb or brush. While kittens groom themselves, they still need regular brushing, which promotes a healthy coat and can reduce shedding as well as those yucky hairballs.
Kitten-proof Your Home
You’ll want to make your new kitten’s home as safe as possible. For instance, store cleaning supplies and human medications out of paw’s reach, tape or hide electrical cords to avoid tripping and keep your kitty from chewing on them, and remove any potentially harmful plants, like Lilies. It can help to get down on the floor and see the world from your kitten’s perspective to address possible hazards.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to kitten-proof your home, you can’t always keep your little pal safe. Their energy and curiosity have a way of getting them into trouble. That’s why it’s important to enroll your kitten in a cat insurance plan and get coverage started when your furball is young and healthy. A plan can also help you manage the costs of common cat illnesses, like diabetes and hyperthyroidism, and wellness care from vaccines to spaying or neutering.