Bringing home a new kitten is always exciting, but there are some responsibilities to consider to keep them happy and healthy. In this post, our Ceres vets share some advice to help you raise a healthy kitten.
Caring for a New Kitten
Kittens are adorable and lovable household pets, however, they have very specific needs that have to be taken care of. These needs are different for every stage of their life, and if something goes wrong or is missed it can impact their overall health and longevity. Here we talk about how you can care for your new furry friend during their kitten years.
0-4 Weeks Old
When a kitten is 0 - 4 weeks old they are considered a newborn, they are still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, their mother will be able to do most of the work including feeding. All you would have to do is make sure the mother is in good health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. Make sure the floor of their crate/area is covered with a blanket, and they have a warm bed to lie on.
If the newborn kitten does not have a mother the first thing you should do is take them to see a vet. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the health of the kitten and provide you with detailed instructions on how to meet the needs of your tiny little friend.
5-11 Weeks Old
When the kitten you are caring for is around 5 to 10 weeks old, it should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and start feeding high protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. You can start this by pouring the formula into a food bowl and possibly adding a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help ease them in the process. Because their motor skills will be improving at this stage, they will start becoming adventurous and you will have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble.
Your kitten will require a lot of supervision and hands-on playtime while they are between 2 -4 months old.
3-6 Months Old
3-4 months of age is the optimal time to adopt a new kitten. At this age, they are adorable little bundles of mischief and fun. At 4 months your kitten is entering adolescence which can be a challenging time and require some work on behavioral modification.
This is also when you should start considering having them spayed or neutered before they reach the 6 - 8 month mark.
Bringing Your New Kitten Home
Before bringing home your new feline family member it's a good idea to get prepared. Below are a few things you will want to have on hand when your kitten comes home:
- Litter box placed somewhere that is easy for your kitten to access but not near their food or bed
- Cat-sized food and water dishes set up in a special spot well away from the litter box
- Cozy bed and safe hiding space. This could be as simple as a cushion in a cat carrier with the door left open, a small box with some soft fabric to make a bed, or a luxury teepee-style bed.
- Scratching posts and/or interactive play tower
- Cat toys to ensure that your kitten doesn't get bored
- If possible it can also be a good idea to bring something home along with the kitten that smells familiar to them. A blanket their mother has slept on or a soft toy from their first home. This can help to reduce your new kitten's anxiety.
- Specially formulated cleaner to deal with mistakes that are bound to happen when litter training.
Kitten-Proofing Your Home
Your kitten is bound to begin enthusiastically exploring your home almost as soon as you bring them home, so be prepared by kitten-proofing ahead of time.
- Block off gaps in furniture, cupboards, or appliances that they could become trapped in.
- Close the doors on all appliances such as front-loading washing washings, dryers, and even toilets
- Cover or move any wire that may look like the ideal chew toy, or cause your kitten to become tangled
Litter Training Your Kitten
Kittens can begin litter training as young as 4 weeks old when they begin weening.
Be sure that the litter tray you purchase is an appropriate size for your new friend. A little box that is about 9" by 13" is a good size for most kittens, but you will need to purchase a larger little tray when your cat reaches full size. Many cats prefer an uncovered litter box so this is a good way to go, and much less inexpensive than covered versions.
Cats tend to prefer fine granules of litter which is softer on their paws but don't tend to have a preference between clumping or non-clumping, that choice is yours. So cats refuse to use litter made from wheat or corn because it smells like food. When it comes to litter a little trial and error should do the trick. You will soon get to know which litter your cat prefers.
Steps for Litter Training
Stay patient and persistent when it comes to litter training your new kitten. Kindness and positive reinforcement will go a long way to teaching your young feline friend good litterbox habits.
- Show your kitten the location of their new litter box and let them have a good sniff around
- Gently place your kitten in the litter box. In some cases, kittens will instinctively begin pawing at the litter. If they don't you could demonstrate by doing small digging motions in the clean litter with your fingers.
- If your kitten does not use the litter box when you sit them in it, don't worry, just be sure to place your kitten gently in the litter box whenever they wake up from a nap and after every meal. Soon they will begin using the litter box without your help.
- When your kitten does use the litter box appropriately provide some positive reinforcement with playtime or a small treat.
- If your kitten makes a mistake do not yell or punish them. Simply clean up the mess.
Keep in mind that it is essential to keep your kitten's litter box clean and fresh-smelling. Many cats will not use a dirty or smelly litter tray.
To help prevent your kitten from getting into mischief it is a good idea to spend some quality time playing with your new feline friend.
Playtime ensures that your kitten's mind is kept active and will help them to use up some of their boundless energy. If your kitten begins biting or showing predatory behaviors such as pouncing, jumping, or biting it's time to pull out a toy and rechannel your kitten's energy into more positive pursuits. This is when cat toys attached to a string and stick can come in very handy. Change up your kitten's toys regularly to avoid boredom.
Avoid waving your fingers as a way to play. Allowing your kitten to bite at you or claw will send your cat the message that these behaviors are acceptable. Ignore bad behaviors and use positive reinforcement for good behaviors. If your kitten is biting or clawing at your feet stay perfectly still so that your kitten learns that your toes are not prey.
Use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior.
Preventive Care for Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding the care of your new family member.
Regular wellness exams will give your kitten their best shot at a long and healthy life. These cat checkups allow your vet to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
Signs Your Kitten Should See a Vet
When caring for a kitten there are many things you need to keep an eye out for in every stage of your kitten's life, which could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
4 Weeks +
When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:
- Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
- Signs of play biting or aggression
- Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.