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Bringing Home a New Kitten

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Are you thinking about bringing a new kitten home? 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!

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 they mature.

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 pet problem.

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 strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) offers 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.

man kissing the head of a Bengal kitten

How to Adopt a Kitten

Each shelter or rescue may have a specific adoption process, but it’s typically fairly simple. You may have to fill out an application, which can include proof of age, residency, and 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 provisions. 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 pay a fee to the shelter or rescue and help with any veterinary costs that may have been incurred during your kitten’s stay.

Kitten Development

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 soft 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

Bringing a kitten home from the shelter is an exciting and sometimes nerve-racking process. Once you get your kitten home, then what? 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 at 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.

small tabby kitten wrapped in a colorful wool blanket

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. They 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 familiar 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
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

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

It would be best if you stocked 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.

Kitten Beds

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.

Litter Boxes

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.

Teething Toys

Kittens, much like human babies, explore the world 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.

Cat Carriers

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 them to explore. Put a blanket or towel inside to make it more inviting, and place a treat inside for added encouragement.

You want your feline friend to see the carrier as a safe and pleasant space. This will make trips to the veterinarian easier for 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.

gray british shorthair kitten asleep on the floor next to a rainbow-colored ball

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.

Bringing Home a Kitten: Checklist

There’s a lot of information to keep in mind and remember when bringing home a new kitten. All of this information can prove to be a little overwhelming or difficult to remember. In order to make sure you have taken all of the proper steps before your new four-legged friend is brought home, try making yourself a checklist of the essentials. Feel free to use this checklist as a great place to start.

  • Check into property rules about cats
  • Find shelter, rescue, or humane society to adopt from
  • Buy necessary supplies, i.e., food, bowls, toys, collar, litter box, litter, brush, bed, cat carrier, treats, scratching post
  • Cat-proof home. Remove toxic plants, put away breakables from shelves, hide electrical chords
  • Set kitten up with a local veterinarian

In no time at all, your new kitten will feel right at home in their new environment, and before you know it, this little kitten will quickly become your best bud.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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