The late, great Charles Dickens once exclaimed, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” Of course, a kitten’s wide eyed, floppy gait is absolutely irresistible. Could anything on earth be sweeter?
Whether your kitten is a first pet or a new addition, adding a new member of the family is always an exciting time. Kittens are cute, cuddly, and incredibly curious, and if you’re anything like most families, you’re probably scrambling to catch up on kitten care.
To make the process easier on you, we’re sharing five essentials you need to know to raise a happy, healthy kitten.
Provide a Welcoming Space
Like any animal moving into a new space, your kitty will be curious, confused, and excited. As much as it’s tempting to let her roam free and explore, she’ll adjust better if you limit access at first. Providing a smaller, secure area to explore for the first few days (with all of her kitten essentials) will help your kitten to not feel overwhelmed or fearful and will allow her to become comfortable with the new place.
Before bringing your fur baby home, check the room she’ll be confined to and remove anything that isn’t safe for your kitten or that she may destroy. For example, furniture you don’t want ruined, cleaning products or plants that could be hazardous, or wires that she might chew. Also look for any dangerous hiding spots she can squeeze into and block those off.
Prepare for a “slow release” plan for your new friend—keep her confined in her safe space until she’s clearly comfortable and feels secure (a few days to up to a week), and then gradually allow her to explore more areas of the home.
Essential Kitten Supplies
Of course, having the right tools always makes the process easier when helping your new pet to adjust. You should be sure that you have the following ready for your sweetheart’s arrival:
A shallow litter box
A cozy bed
Shallow food and water dishes
A scratching post
Kitten safe toys
Grooming supplies (shampoo, brush/comb)
Collar and ID tag
Kitten Proof Your Home
Once your kitten begins to explore more open areas of the home, make sure your home is safe for his curious play. Put away or cover up anything that could possibly hurt him—electrical cords, cleaning supplies, medications, poisonous plants, and the like.
Feeding Your Kitten
Within the first few weeks of life, a kitten’s weight can double or even triple. Your pal will need a lot of food to support this amazing growth and all of his cute kitten antics.
A kitten’s high energy needs make it harder to get enough calories in one meal. Because of this, most kittens will need to eat at least three or four meals a day. A kitten's needs for fat, fatty acids, and most vitamins are the same as for adult cats, but kittens have a higher requirement for protein, amino acids, and minerals, and certain vitamins.
For these reasons, most experts recommend you feed your kitten specially formulated kitten food until the age of one. It’s fine for young kittens to “free feed” by making unlimited kitten food available to them all day long. Free feeding has the additional benefit of reducing stomach distention resulting from rapid meal eating, and it helps underweight or slow-growing kittens. You can transition to timed meal eating around four to six months of age.
Additionally, it’s recommended that kittens have at least some canned food to eat as part of their diet.
Steer Clear of Foods that can Harm Your Kitten
While some people believe that kittens need and enjoy extra milk, this simply isn’t true once they’ve been weaned. In fact, certain foods can be downright harmful to your kitten, including dairy. We recommended sticking with specially formulated kitten food, but you should absolutely steer clear of certain foods that are harmful to cats.
This list includes:
Grapes and raisins
Raw eggs, meat, and/or bones
Litter Box Care
Kittens will generally use litter boxes by instinct. However, you can help teach your kitten to use one by placing her in a shallow litter box after meals and play sessions. You may notice your kitten sniffing around or looking like they need to go. Make sure the litter box is always available to your kitten and cleaned frequently.
If your kitten doesn’t get used to the litter box, make adjustments. Lower the sides of the box to make it easier for her to enter or move it somewhere more private. You can also try changing the type of litter you use. If your kitten still doesn’t use the litter box more often, consider taking her to a vet to rule out a urinary tract infection or any other underlying medical issues.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Cats who have been actively socialized are less likely to be fearful in unfamiliar situations or uncomfortable with changes in their environment. Kittenhood is the best time to teach a cat to enjoy people and other animals.
If you want to raise your kitten to become a loving, happy member of your family, human contact is important from an early stage. The socialization and training your kitten receives when she’s little will affect how well she will likely interact with people and other animals when she’s older. If possible, introduce your kitten to lots of people (and other animals) during the first few months of her life.
Also, spend time with her—lounging around the house, playing, etc. Gently handling and playing with your kitten a few times a day will help her form a strong emotional bond with you.
Deterring Unwanted Behavior
You can stop certain undesirable behaviors by meeting your cat's basic needs and creating an environment that will help him flourish. Be aware of a kitten’s basic needs—they need to scratch, pounce, gnaw, and stalk to be happy. Much of the “difficult” and unwanted behavior cats exhibit are actually instinctual and entirely normal for a cat. That means it’s important for you to provide outlets for your kitten to act on those needs in a way that is acceptable in a family environment.
Be sure to provide scratching posts and ample exercise for your new friend. Purchase toys that encourage his mental stimulation as well as his physical urges.
Positive rewarding is also key to training your kitten to behave properly. Reward him whenever you see him doing things that you want to encourage, and redirect when he’s acting out. You can use food and treats to help gain his trust.
Also, to prevent your cat from attacking human hands later in life, teach him that hands are not playthings. Do not allow him to bite or scratch during play. If he does, redirect his attention to a toy.
Get Your Kitten Spayed or Neutered as Soon as Possible
Getting your kitten spayed or neutered makes for a healthier and happier cat. Fixed cats don’t go into heat, cannot get pregnant, and are less likely to get into fights or spray furniture. Neutering is usually done around six months, but your vet will be the best judge of this. It’s one of the most loving things you can do for your cat, your home, and your community.
Last, provide your kitten with unconditional love. Of course, we’d argue that this is the most important tip of all. If your kitten knows she’s loved and well cared for, she will grow into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted cat.
We have plenty of kittens up for adoption at BCARL. Please check out all of our furry friends on PetFinder if you’re looking for a new addition.