Kittens are a blast to play with and irresistibly cute, which is how many people end up with a kitten in the first place. There’s just something about a kitten that just grabs onto you and doesn’t let go, and it isn’t just their tiny claws. They find their way directly into our hearts in no time flat but bringing a kitten home is a big commitment. Knowing how to care for your new kitten is necessary to providing a good start at life, ensuring happiness, longevity, and health. Here are the things you should know about caring for your new kitten.
Choosing the Right Kitten
Before you even choose a kitten, you need to make sure you’ve done adequate research to prepare for bringing a kitten home. If you’re purchasing a purebred kitten from a breeder, you need to research breeders to ensure you are not purchasing from a backyard or otherwise irresponsible breeder. If you are bringing home a rescue kitten, make sure to look at multiple kittens at various rescues and shelters to pick the kitten that will fit your home perfectly. Choosing the first kitten you see may make you end up with a high-maintenance cat or one that doesn’t suit your lifestyle. The exception to this, obviously, is if you acquire a kitten the old-fashioned way: it follows you home and nobody claims it.
The 8 Essentials to Get Started
Once you’ve chosen a kitten, you’ll need to make sure you have all necessary supplies before bringing the kitten home. Here is a list of the things you’ll need to have set up and ready for your kitten before bringing it home. Once again, if you’ve acquired a stray kitten, you won’t necessarily have a chance to have items on hand before bringing the kitten home, but these items should be your first priority.
Ask the breeder or rescue organization what the kitten has been eating. It’s important to the transition process that you keep the kitty’s diet as routine as possible for now and make dietary changes later. If the food is available in your area, ask if they can provide you with at least a few days’ worth of food so you can slowly transition your kitten over to a new food. Make sure you are feeding kitten food since it contains all necessary nutrients to help your kitten grow into a healthy cat.
This one sounds obvious, but kittens are very small! Choose bowls that are easy and safe for a kitten to access. This is especially important with water since it would be possible for a very small kitten to drown in a large bowl of water if it became stuck. Bowls that are more broad and shallow are better than bowls that are narrow and deep. Bowls that are too narrow can lead to “whisker fatigue,” which can lead to not eating or drinking enough.
3. Litter Box
Again, kittens are very small, so choose a box they can easily get in and out of. You can add or switch to a bigger, nicer box down the road. For now, your kitten needs a shallow pan that allows easy access. If your kitten can get in but not out, or vice versa, then you’re just going to end up with a mess on your hands.
4. Cat Litter
Some cat litters are marketed as specifically for kittens. Some of these contain attractants to help kittens learn where the box is and to encourage them to use the box, while others are just softer litter. The litter you choose doesn’t have to be kitten-specific, but it should be something that won’t hurt your kitten’s tender baby paws. This is another item that is good to see what the breeder or rescue is using. Change as little as possible for your kitten when bringing it home. The environmental change is huge, so keeping litter the same can be comforting. You can always swap to your preferred litter later.
Cat beds aren’t necessary for bringing a kitten home, but you do need to provide soft, cozy spaces for your kitten to rest. This can be a commercial pet bed, or it can be a blanket, pillows, or even a pile of your old clothes to help your kitten get used to your smell.
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Kittens love to play, so having some toys at the ready is necessary! Just like with beds, these don’t have to be commercial cat toys as long as they are safe toys. Plastic bottle caps, wine corks, balled up paper, paper sacks, and cardboard boxes all make great kitten toys. Other popular toys include teaser toys, scratchers, jingle balls, and crinkly toys.
7. A Safe Space
You want your new kitten to feel safe and secure in its new home. Make sure you have a quiet, safe space for your kitten to spend time while it settles in. You also want to keep your kitten contained during this adjustment period so you’re not searching your entire house for a 4-pound ball of fluff. This space should be away from small children and other pets. This will also help prevent the spread of diseases and parasites until you’ve had a chance to get your kitten to a vet.
Choose a vet for your kitten before you bring it home. If you already have an established relationship with a vet, then you’ll just need to get an appointment set up. Otherwise, ask around and read reviews to find the right vet near you. Once you’ve chosen a vet, call to make sure they are taking new clients and get an appointment set up.
Step-by-Step Care Guide
1. See the vet.
Ideally, your new kitten should see the vet before you even make it home. A vet visit will not only ensure your kitten is receiving necessary vaccinations, but the vet will also be able to check your kitten for underlying medical conditions and parasites. Congenital diseases aside, infectious diseases and parasites are a real concern, like ringworm, fleas, and ear mites.
Kittens need a few sets of shots in the first few months of life, so make sure to talk to the vet about a vaccine schedule. Keeping on track with your kitten’s vaccines will ensure all vaccines are received at an appropriate time so your kitty is protected. Your vet can also provide flea and tick medications, which can be necessary even for indoor cats, and they may prescribe a heartworm preventive medication if you live in an area where this parasite is endemic.
2. Get kitty settled in.
Steps 1 and 2 are interchangeable depending on when your vet can get your kitten in for a visit. Bring your new kitten home and get them settled into the safe, quiet space. Allow your kitten to explore the space at their own pace, but make sure to show them the litter box and food and water bowls. Some kittens will immediately settle in and start exploring, while others may hide, so don’t let it surprise you either way. Going to a new home can be quite traumatic and overwhelming for a kitten!
Your kitten should always have access to clean water, so make sure you are keeping the bowl clean and refill it once or twice daily. Cats and kittens like to eat multiple small meals per day, so free feeding is ideal. However, some kittens have quite the zest for eating and will eat until they are sick. This is especially common in recently weaned or stray kittens. If your kitten is attempting to eat itself sick, you’ll have to make sure to provide appropriately sized meals multiple times per day. Your vet can help you know how much your kitten should be eating.
3. Introductions with other pets.
Introductions with the other pets in the home should be done slowly to have the greatest chance of success. The ideal way to slowly introduce pets to each other is through a closed door, which allows them to sniff each other under the door. You can also swap items to get all parties used to the other animal’s smell. Switching out blankets, beds, or toys can help with this.
When introducing animals to each other, be patient. It can be a time-consuming process and not all animals are receptive of other pets. It could be weeks or months before everyone is comfortable, especially when you’re dealing with cats, which are notoriously finicky and stubborn. During the first few months, avoid leaving your kitten alone with other pets in the home, especially pets that are larger, like dogs. Your kitten will be at an increased risk of being hurt by another pet, whether intentionally or accidentally, while it is small and still developing motor skills.
4. Time to play!
This is the fun part! Playing with your kitten is a fantastic bonding exercise and it helps your kitten burn all that kitten energy. Kittens that play hard sleep hard, so wear that baby out. Rotate through toys to keep things interesting as your kitten grows. Make sure all toys are safe, especially as your kitten grows.
Sometimes, people make the mistake of giving small items to kittens that may seem safe with a tiny animal, but as they grow, the item becomes unsafe. Anything that can be swallowed should be taken away. Items that are rarely or never safe for kittens and cats include jewelry, marbles, metal bottle caps, ponytail holders, rubber bands, and loose string and yarn.
5. Monitor for changes.
Keep an eye on your kitten as they become part of the family and grow. Some changes can be normal, like losing baby teeth or seeing an adult coat growing in. However, other changes aren’t normal. Diarrhea, lethargy, and drinking too little or too much are concerning changes that should be investigated by a vet.
Checking the litter box, food, and water at least once daily, if not more frequently, will give you a glimpse into your cat’s health. If you’re ever unsure if something is a concern or not, ask the vet. Many first-time kitten owners feel embarrassed to “bother” their vet with questions, but they are there to help you keep your kitten healthy.
6. Follow up as needed.
If concerning changes occur between vet visits, then follow up with your vet by phone or in person to have your kitten checked over. Otherwise, stick to the follow up schedule your vet gives you for kitten shots. The good news is that once your kitten has completed its kitten shots, its likely done with vet trips for a year, barring medical issues.
Many people don’t realize that cats need a veterinary exam every year, even if they are fully indoor or don’t have any vaccines due. A routine vet visit will make sure your cat is staying healthy because your vet can pick up on problems you may not notice or be able to discern, like masses, heart arrythmias, and even parasites.
Bringing home a kitten is a big responsibility, and as low maintenance as many people think cats are, they are still an investment of time and resources. When possible, make sure you have everything set up and in order before bringing your new kitten home. Take things one day at a time while your kitten adjusts to life in your home. Your kitten may immediately settle into their place in the household, or your kitten may seem shy and timid for months. Either can be normal, and anything in between. Remember, if all else fails, ask the vet!