Caring for kittens

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Taking on a cat is a big decision. And while they might seem more self-sufficient than dogs, there are still many things to consider before welcoming one into your life. Let’s look at them.

Bringing your new kitten home

  • First things first – make sure to kitten-proof your home! Tidy up anything you wouldn’t want your kitten trying to climb or scratch. A good scratching post is always a good idea!
  • Kittens are naturally curious and can easily get themselves lost or stuck in the most unlikely places, so it’s important to supervise them as much as possible; managing to get behind kitchen cupboards is a classic.
  • Keep your kitten in the same room for the first few days to allow them to settle in. This will really help with regards to litter training, as once they get used to using their litter tray they will seek it out when they have access to the rest of the home.
  • A small kitten bed will give your new arrival somewhere safe and comfy to sleep; consider using a warm (not hot) water bottle under a couple of blankets for the first couple of days to help them get used to life without their litter mates and Mum.

Vaccinations your kitten will need

Kittens need an initial course of two vaccinations to protect them from potentially fatal diseases; feline infectious enteritis (which can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea) and feline influenza (a serious form of cat ‘flu’). There is also a vaccination that offers protection from the feline leukaemia virus which can affect the immune system.

  • The first injection can be given from 8 weeks of age, with the second shortly afterwards. Kittens should be kept away from other cats and stay indoors for seven days after the second injection to ensure maximum protection.
  • To maintain the level of protection provided by vaccination, adult cats require yearly boosters.

When to let your kitten go outside

  • Keep your kitten inside until at least a week after finishing their kitten vaccinations; this way they should be protected from certain diseases spread by other cats who may have been in your garden.
  • Choose a dry day and a quiet time and accompany your kitten outside to let them to explore their new environment. You should supervise your kitten until they are used to your garden and can find their way back to the house easily.
  • You should make sure your kitten can’t escape out of the garden until they are old enough, especially if they have not been neutered; consider using a harness and lead if you are worried about this.
  • To prevent neighbourhood cats from coming into your house, you can buy a cat flap that is operated by magnetic or electronic keys on your cat’s collar and will only open for your cat.

Finding the right diet for your kitten

  • Feed your kitten the food they have already been eating for a few weeks after you bring them home; a sudden change of diet combined with the stress of adapting to a new home can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. If you want to change the diet, do so over a couple of weeks by mixing the new food with the kitten’s usual diet.
  • Kittens have small stomachs and have to be fed little and often. Kittens aged 4–12 weeks need 4 meals per day; 3–6 months need 3 meals per day; and over 6 months need 2 meals per day. Select a premium complete diet designed for kittens in our kitten checklist.
  • If you are feeding a dry food, kittens can have unlimited access to it (unless you have other animals that will eat the kitten’s food). Tinned food goes off quickly in the bowl, so needs to be given as separate meals throughout the day.
  • Do not give your kitten milk, as it can cause diarrhoea. The majority of cats and dogs are lactose intolerant – read more in our list of human foods that cats can’t eat. As with all animals, kittens need fresh drinking water available at all times.

Toilet training your kitten

Cats are very easy to house train, as they are naturally clean. Kittens usually pick up on how to use litter trays by watching their mothers, but they may also need a helping hand from us.

  • You will need a plastic litter tray, which can be filled with cat litter; there are several available, even some that cater for young kittens learning the ropes of the tray. You should never use garden soil, as it may contain diseases from other cats. The tray should be placed on newspaper to catch any litter accidently pushed over the side, but make sure it is not too deep for your kitten to climb in.
  • Place the tray in a quiet, easy-to-access corner; make sure it is not next to food and water bowls, as the kitten may be reluctant to use a tray close to their food. The litter tray must be kept clean, however do not empty the whole of the litter tray every day (initially do weekly until your kitten has the hang of it), just take out the soiled litter – this way your kitten will be encouraged to return to the tray as it will smell ‘familiar’. When cleaning out the tray make sure you are using products that are safe for use around pets; never use disinfectants such as Dettol.
  • If you want your kitten to go to the toilet outside, gradually move the litter tray towards the door. Spread a little bit of the litter onto well dug soil in the garden to encourage your kitten to go there. Do not remove the litter tray from indoors until your kitten has started using the garden.

Introducing your kitten to children

Getting a new pet can be very exciting for the whole family, but the risk is that your kitten might be a bit overwhelmed if they receive too much attention at once. Explain to children to wait for the kitten to come to them, rather than chasing the kitten around, and keep play sessions nice and short. Kittens will naturally play with their teeth and claws, so teaching them to focus this onto appropriate toys as early as possible will really pay off when they eventually grow into adults.

Introducing your kitten to other pets

Introducing your kitten to an existing dog or cat needs to be done very carefully to ensure that they have the best chance of becoming good friends. The key here is to do everything gradually and always with full supervision – check out How To Introduce Cats To Each Other for a more detailed approach.

  • Try to introduce pets in a neutral part of the house, away from beds, toys, food and water bowls etc. A nice wide open room would be ideal so that you can keep a nice amount of space between the two pets and allow them to see each other from a safe distance first.
  • Reward calm behaviour and if either pet becomes distressed remove them from the situation and try again another day.
  • Keep letting them gradually spend time together under supervision, but make sure they still have separate places to eat, drink and toilet to reduce the chance of conflict; hopefully they will become happy around each other after a couple of weeks.

To find out more information about kitten care, check out Fleas in Cats & Dogs, Worming in Pets, and Microchipping For Pets.

Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.

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