Caring for your kitten: Everything you need to know

Getting a kitten is an exciting experience. Raising a kitten to adulthood is a fun, stressful, and rewarding experience. It requires a lot of work, preparation, love, and patience. Below are some tips that will help you care for your new kitten. 

Tips on raising a newborn kitten

A newborn kitten should be raised with its mother together with the rest of the litter. Newborn kittens are unable to regulate their own body temperature and will rely on mom’s body temperature as well as the rest of the litter’s body heat to survive. 

If you adopt or foster an orphan kitten at this stage, you’ll need to take extra care. Kittens at this stage are still developing their vision and leg coordination. Some of the responsibilities you’ll have include bottle-feeding your kitten every two hours until they are four weeks old. You’ll also need to help your kitten relieve herself. You’ll also have to consult your veterinarian on how best to take care of the newborn kitten. 

Tips on weaning your kitten

The weaning process starts at around 4-8 weeks of age. This is the process of switching from a diet of mother’s milk to solid food. If the mother is around, the weaning process will start naturally at about four weeks when the mom gets tired of the kittens chewing on her teats. At this stage, mom will start spending more time apart from her kittens. This will encourage the kittens to start looking for other food options around them. When they start eating some of mom’s food, they begin the weaning process. 

Provide your kitten with water

Your kitten will start drinking water when she starts weaning. This will start when she’s about four weeks old. Once your kitten starts weaning, you should ensure that she has access to clean fresh water. You should regularly change this water. 

If you are hand rearing your kitten, you can start the weaning process by mashing up some wet kitten food with milk replacer to make a porridge for the kitten to lap up. Gradually increase the thickness of the porridge as she gets used to feeding on her own. Do this until your kitten is able to eat her food in solid form.

Housebreaking your kitten

Bringing your kitten to her new home is a huge change of environment and your kitten will need a lot of adjustment. As such, you should shower her with lots of love and attention to make her adjustment to a new environment much easier. 

Prepare your home

Before you welcome your kitten to her new home, you need to kitten-proof your home. You need to ensure that all the hazards that may harm your kitten are put away. This includes items such as medicines, cleaning supplies, as well as items that you don’t want broken. You should also keep computer cords out of your kitten’s reach. 

If you have plants in the house, you need to ensure that they aren’t poisonous to cats. There are plants which could severely harm or even kill your cat if she eats them. If your plants happen to be poisonous to cats, you need to get rid of them. You need to research your plants to make sure that none of them is harmful to your kitten.  

Ensure you have the essential supplies before welcoming your kitten home

Before you bring your kitten home, there are several essential items that your new family member will need. These tems include:

  • Soft beddings or blankets: Your kitten will need soft bedding to snuggle into. When you are picking up your kitten, try to bring its soft bedding too, so that your kitten gets some familiar smells from its mother and original home. 
  • A litter box: Your kitten will need a litter box to do her business. Try to get a litter box with low sides to allow your kitten to get in and out without any problems. You can then switch to a deep-sided litter box as your kitten gets older.
  • Cat litter: You should avoid getting clumping cat litter. This can be a hazard for your kitten since kittens like to explore with their mouths. As such, your kitten will be at risk of choking if she swallows clumping cat litter.
  • Food and water bowls: Preferably, you should get ceramic or stainless steel food and water bowls for your kitten. These do not scratch easily and unlike plastic bowls, they don’t harbor bacteria.
  • Kitten food: Your kitten needs to eat quality kitten food. You should start by feeding her same food the kitten was weaned onto. Ask for the brand of kitten food your kitten was weaned with when adopting her. You should also ask for the quantity they were feeding her.
  • Hiding places: You need to provide your kitten with plenty of hiding places such as cardboard boxes where she can feel safe. This will help with the anxiety and build courage as she adjusts to her new home.
  • Comb or brush: You’ll need a comb and brush for grooming your kitten. Doing so will help her with getting used to grooming as an adult. This is important for long-haired cats.

Set up room for your kitten

Prepare a room where your kitten will be put initially. The room should have food, water, comfortable bedding , a litter tray, and hiding spaces. Leave the kitten in the room to allow her to explore and determine that the room is safe. Enter the room after a while and let her come to you to explore. Once she’s comfortable with you being in the room, gently stroke her. As your kitten gets bolder over the coming days, you can start leaving the room door open so that she can get out to explore other rooms in the house. 

Tips for playing with your kitten

Get toys for your kitten

As a kitten grows up, it starts to develop the natural instinct to hunt. It is important to give your kitten an outlet for this behavior in play. Give your kitten several toys to stalk, chase, and pounce on. 

Kittens love small stuffed animals that they can hunt and carry around like prey. The small stuffed toys will help your kitten to learn basic skills as well as keep her entertained. That said, you don’t have to spend a fortune to purchase cat toys for your kitten. Empty cotton reels, a small soft toy with a string, and a scrunched up ball of paper can all make fantastic toys for your kitten. 

Keep your kitten entertained

Kittens have short attention spans and tend to get bored easily. You should therefore rotate the toys your kitten has to keep her entertained. Leaving toys with your kitten all the time will result in your kitten losing interest in the toys. Put some of the toys away for a while so that when your kitten sees them, it’ll be like having new toys all over. 

Playing with your kitten not only gives her an outlet for her energy but also helps her to bond with you. That said, don’t teach your kitten that human fingers and hands are toys, or your kitten may continue to bite and scratch your hands and fingers as an adult.

Tips for socializing your kitten

Socialize your kitten by introducing her to new things. How you train and socialize your kitten while she is young will affect how well your kitten will interact with people and other animals when she’s older. It is crucial to begin socializing your kitten as early as three to nine weeks of age. This is a critical socialization period for them, and failing to expose them to things will make your cat more nervous as an adult. 

As you raise your kitten, expose her to as many sights and sounds as possible. This includes loud noises, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, children, strangers, walking on leashes, just to mention a few. During this six-week window, your cat is open to new experiences without the skepticism of an adult cat. Socializing during this period will help your kitten become a well-adjusted, sociable, and healthy cat. It is also important to ensure that your kitten has a positive experience out of any socialization exposure you provide them.   

Make sure that your kitten is exposed to all sounds and experiences. Run the vacuum, play loud music on the stereo, and have friends come over to play with her and give her treats. Do not allow your kitten to bite and scratch during play. Instead, provide her with scratching alternatives such as a scratching post. You should also allow your kitten to experience different walking surfaces such as ceramic tiles, carpet, linoleum, etc. This will help your kitten understand and enjoy the variety of things instead of being afraid of what will happen in its life.

You should keep your cat inside until it is fully vaccinated. You should also allow for your kitten to build her immunity. Once your veterinarian allows it, you can let your kitten outside to explore. Allow her to explore different objects such as paper bags and boxes. Keep a close watch on your kitten until you are sure she knows how to return home. You should also expose your kitten to other cats and kittens. Before doing this, however, you should ensure that the other cats are also up to date with their vaccinations. 

Reward friendly behavior with praise and treats and ignore her when she displays inappropriate behavior. You should also pet your kitten frequently and get her used to weekly combing and grooming. Through positive reinforcement and patience, your kitten will become a well behaved cat.

Tips on litter-training your kitten

Kittens will generally use litter boxes by instinct. However, you can help to teach your kitten by placing her in the litter box after meals and play sessions. You should choose a spot for the litter box carefully. This is because once your kitten gets used to a certain spot, she’ll probably continue to use the same spot. 

If you are litter-training your kitten yourself, place her in the litter box after each meal or when she starts scratching the floor in preparation for pooping. You should clean the litter box at least once a day or your kitten will stop using it. The litter box should have low sides to allow your kitten to get in and out with ease. 

You should also avoid clumping litter since your kitten may accidentally eat the clumps. This could harm their digestion. If your kitten doesn’t doesn’t want to stay in the litter box before relieving herself, gently take her paws and imitate digging in the litter. You should then give her the privacy to dig a hole, relieve herself, and then cover it up. 

Feeding tips for your kitten

Avoid making sudden changes on your kitten’s diet

If possible, you should keep feeding your kitten the food it was eating before you brought it to its new home. Making a sudden change to your kitten’s diet puts your kitten at risk of developing gastrointestinal complications. Keep feeding your kitten what she was eating at her previous home as you decide what you are going to feed her long term. Once your kitten is settled in her new home, you can start to gradually change her diet. Do this by gradually increasing the quantity of the new food as you reduce the portion of her old diet. This will allow your kitten’s stomach to adjust to the new food.  

Feed your kitten high quality food

In addition to feeding your kitten the right quantity of food, you should also feed her high quality food. You should always make a point of reading the label before buying your kitten food. The food should be labeled “Kitten” or “growth.” Foods with this label have been specially formulated to provide the calcium and extra protein needed by your kitten for growth and development. In addition, the food should have a named meat. For instance, the label should indicate ‘chicken’ instead of ‘chicken meal’ or ‘meat meal.’   

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they obtain all their essential nutrients from animal protein. As such, the primary ingredient in your kitten’s food should be meat. You should therefore avoid foods that are heavily bulked up with cereals or soy products. 

You can also ask your veterinarian for quality kitten food recommendations. They will steer you towards the best food for your kitten. They will also guide you on how much to feed your kitten.

Have a feeding schedule

You should have a regular feeding schedule for your kitten. It is recommended that you feed your dog four times a day. Most quality kitten food brands usually have the recommended amount you should feed your kitten on a daily basis. You should portion the amount into four meals equally spaced throughout the day. The feeding should be done at specific times to help establish a routine. This will make house training your kitten much easier. 

You should also adjust the type of food your kitten eats as she grows up. For the first six months, you should feed your kitten growth food. After that, your kitten’s growth rate will slow down. Kitten foods are dense in calories. As such, if your kitten starts gaining too much weight, you can start the switch to adult cat food, which has less calories. This should be done at six months of age. That said, if your kitty maintains the correct weight, make the switch to adult food when she’s one year old. 

Avoid feeding your kitten human food

You should avoid feeding your kitten human food. While foods such as chocolate, grapes, onions, avocadoes, raisins, and garlic may seem perfectly safe for humans, they are very toxic to cats and may cause serious and even fatal health complications for your kitten. As such, you should keep human food out of your kitten’s reach. You should also be careful with candies and gum since many of them contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener which is toxic to cats.

If your kitten accidentally consumes any of the above mentioned foods, you should immediately contact your veterinarian. 

Also, contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t feed your kitten milk, cream, or any other dairy products. Most cats are lactose intolerant, and offering it much milk may result in gastrointestinal complications. 

Caring for your kitten’s health

Newborn kittens are very vulnerable to infection and disease. As such, to ensure your kitty has a lifetime of good health, start early in providing her with preventive health care as soon as possible. You should perform regular inspections and be on the lookout for any signs of poor health or infection. If you notice symptoms such as lack of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, or fatigue, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Take your kitten to the vet within a week of getting it

You should take your kitten to the vet as soon as you get it. This will help socialize your kitten to the vet’s office from an early age. Your vet will also answer any question you may have about caring for your kitten. This will also set a baseline for your kitten’s health. 

You should also schedule a visit at your vet for a general check up after getting your new kitten. The vet will perform a general check up to identify any problems that may need to be addressed. You should also schedule regular visits to the vet. Apart from getting your kitten used to the vet, this will allow the vet to have a clear view of your kitten’s growth and progress. They can also advise you on how you can prepare for your pet’s adolescent period, and the challenges you may face as your kitten grows into sexual maturity.

Consider getting your kitten neutered

Spaying or neutering your kitten helps to reduce certain health risks as well as help with behavioral problems as your kitten gets older. Desexing reduces your cat’s urge to spray or mark territory. It also reduces your kitten’s urge to wander or escape in order to find a mate. Neutering can be done from 12 weeks of age and should be done when your kitten is 5-6 months at the latest. 

Get your kitten vaccinated

Vaccinating your kitten is very important as it helps your kitten to stay healthy. You should start vaccinating your kitten at around 9 weeks. Boosters will be given every few weeks until she reaches 16 weeks of age. After that, your veterinarian can set her up on an adult vaccination schedule. There are other vaccines which are administered depending on your kitten’s risks. Your veterinarian will advise about the disease risks in your locality and what vaccines are advisable. These vaccines will be administered at your vet’s recommendation. 

An essential vaccination for your kitten is against distemper. This is a tough virus that affects even indoor cats. In some states, it is compulsory for your kitten to get a rabies vaccine, and it is usually given from 12 weeks of age. Feline leukemia requires close contact with other cats. As such, if your kitten is an indoor cat, she’ll be at much lower risk, hence the vaccine may not be necessary. 

Get rid of parasites

During the first visit, your vet will check your kitten for any worms and intestinal parasites or health problems. They’ll also recommend a program for controlling parasites such as ticks, fleas, and heartworms. While heartworms may not be as huge a problem for cats as they are for dogs, some kittens may be susceptible. Fleas, on the other hand, are a huge parasitic threat to your kitten. You should therefore start administering flea preventatives when your kitten is around 8-14 weeks of age. Deworming your kitten is advisable to get rid of any worms passed from mother to kitten. There are several worming protocols which vary depending on the products being used. 

Consider getting your kitten microchipped

You should also consider fitting your kitten with an ID microchip. The microchip is implanted beneath the skin over the shoulder blades. The microchip transmits a unique number that is registered with a database that holds your contact details. In case your cat escapes, is stolen, or handed to a shelter, the chip will be able to prove your ownership.  

Enjoy the journey!

Caring for a kitten is a special and fun experience and the fact that they grow fast means that you’ll treasure the experience long after your kitten matures. With proper care and training, your kitten will grow into a healthy well-adjusted adult. Good luck!

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