Bringing home a new kitten is both a joyful time and a huge responsibility. To help you to provide your kitten with a good start to a healthy life, check out the tips below from our Jackson vets.
Raising a 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 between 0 and 4 weeks old, it is considered a newborn because it is still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate its body temperature. If they have a mother, she will be able to do the majority of the work, including feeding. All you have to do is ensure the mother's health and that they are in a warm and safe environment. Make sure the floor of their crate/area is blanketed and they have a warm bed to sleep 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 instruction on how to meet the needs of your tiny little friend.
5-11 Weeks Old
When the kitten is 5 to 10 weeks old, they should gradually stop being bottle fed or fed by their mothers and begin eating high protein meals 3 to 4 times per day. Pour the formula into a food bowl and add a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help them along. Because their motor skills are improving at this stage, they will become more adventurous, and you will need to keep a close eye on them to ensure they don't get themselves into trouble.
Your kitten will require a lot of supervision and hands-on playtime as while they are between 2 -4 months old.
3-6 Months Old
The best time to adopt a new kitten is when it is 3-4 months old. They're adorable little bundles of mischief and fun at this age. At 4 months, your kitten is entering adolescence, which can be a difficult time and necessitate some behavioral training.
This is also when you should start considering having them spayed or neutered before they reach the 6 - 8 month mark.
Bringing Home Your New Kitten
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 Proof 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 (Potty Training) Your Kitten
Kittens can begin litter training as young as 4 weeks old, when they begin weening.
Make sure the litter tray you buy is the right size for your new pet. Most kittens can fit in a small box that is about 9" by 13"; however, once your cat is fully grown, you will need to buy a larger little tray. This is a good option because many cats prefer an open litter box and is much less expensive than covered ones.
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 litters 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 sure 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 helps your kitten burn off some of their boundless energy and keeps their mind active. If your kitten starts biting or exhibiting predatory behaviors like pouncing, jumping, or biting, it's time to get a toy and redirect your kitten's energy into more constructive activities. At this point, cat toys on a stick and string can be very useful. To prevent boredom, regularly switch up your kitten's toys.
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.
Essential Preventive Care For Your Kitten
During the first week that your kitten is in your care, regardless of its age, you should take it to the vet for the first time. Your kitten's health will be assessed by your veterinarian, who will also discuss the diet that they require with you. You have the chance to ask any questions you might have about caring for your new family member at this time as well.
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 That Your Kitten Should See a Vet
There are many things to look out for when caring for a kitten at every stage of its life that could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your kitten, contact your veterinarian right away to schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out in a newborn kitten:
- Delay's 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.