Bringing Your New Kitten Home
Although cats make few demands on their owners, they still need lots of attention, particularly during their early months.
We know that first-time cat owners have many questions about their new pets. In these pages, we’ve included advice on how to handle your kitten’s first days at home and on such basic needs as house-training, health care, and feeding.
Although we’ve tried to cover most of the essentials, you’ll almost certainly have some questions we haven’t answered. We’ve included a list of recommended books at the end of this article.
Remember, though, that the most knowledgeable source of information about your kitten is your veterinarian or rescue organization. They know your kitten and help you learn what’s best for her.
Before you bring your kitten home, you should also select a veterinarian and set up a program of preventive health care for your kitten. Your rescue organization or other cat owners can make recommendations, but it’s important to find someone you can be comfortable with. Take the time to get acquainted with a veterinarian before you make an appointment for your kitten’s first visit.
PREPARING YOUR HOME OR APARTMENT
Before you bring your kitten home, think carefully about possible hazards in her environment. These include washing machines, trash cans, sharp utensils, needles, pins, plastic bags, open cupboards and drawers, high balconies, detergents, cleaning products and poisonous plants. A small kitten can find her way into surprising places, so be careful to keep dangerous objects out of range. Also keep in mind that many commonly-used cat toys (such as yarn, string, rubber bands, aluminum foil and cellophane) can be dangerous if they are accidentally swallowed. Your kitten should play with such objects only with your supervision.
Your kitten can’t judge what’s safe and what isn’t. She needs your help.
It will also help to have certain basic supplies already waiting when your kitten comes home. All of these are readily available and relatively inexpensive; some may even be improvised from household odds and ends.
BEDS and BEDDING
The most important thing you can do to make your new kitten feel at home is to have a corner already furnished with a basket and cushion. Cat beds come in many varieties, from elaborate cat beds sold at pet stores to a homemade box. The size of your cat’s bed should be in proportion to her adult size. Bear in mind, though, that cats prefer to sleep curled up rather than stretched out in a large space.
For your kitten’s first bed, a corrugated cardboard box with sides about twelve inches high will suffice. The high sides will help her feel more secure and will also help to keep out drafts. Cut out a doorway in the front and line the box with a pillow or cushion covered in washable fabric. Place the bed in a warm, quiet corner of your house or apartment.
A cat carrier is essential, even if you plan to travel no further with your kitten than the veterinarian’s office. Most pet stores stock a variety of carriers. Look for one that will be roomy, well-ventilated, escape-proof, and easy to clean. Be sure to choose a quality carrier. Avoid ones that have sharp exposed edges that could injure your kitten or protrusions that could snag your kitten’s collar and choke her. The most useful cat carriers are made of lightweight plastic or fiberglass. Wicker carriers may be more attractive, but they are drafty and hard to clean.
FOOD and WATER BOWLS
You’ll need two heavy ceramic or stainless steel bowls: one for dry food and one for water. If you have more than one kitten, make the bowls WIDE enough for them to share. A separate platter should be used for the canned food – wide enough for them to share. Fresh water should be available to your kitten at all times and dishes should be washed after every meal, especially from canned food.
A litter box, cat litter and a scoop are essential. Her litter box should always be accessible and easy to find. Choose a box that is deep enough to keep your kitten from scattering litter when she digs. It’s best to use about two inches of litter in the bottom of the box. Commercial litter doesn’t have to changed every day – just use the scoop to remove the wet places and feces and replace them with fresh litter. You should, however, wash the litter box once or twice a week with hot water. BE CAREFUL; some disinfectants – such as Lysol – can be toxic, and your kitten may be repelled by their scent.
Although shredded newspaper may appear to be a cost-effective alternative to commercial cat litter, it absorbs soil and odor less effectively and is harder to clean up. Moreover, it can encourage your kitten to use newspaper not intended for the purpose. Using a high-quality cat food available at specialty pet stores will help to reduce litter box odors. It will also help to minimize your kitten’s trips to the litter box, sparing you both litter costs and clean-up time.
Kittens less than eight weeks old may be too small to use an adult-size litter box. An inexpensive aluminum or plastic pan with a two-inch rim will suffice until the kitten is able to graduate to a regular box. Smaller, shorter litter boxes are also available at specialty pet stores. These will also fit into some cat carriers, making a trip with your kitten a cleaner experience in many cases!
Pregnant women need to be aware of toxoplasmosis, a disease carried by cats that can cause birth defects. Toxoplasmosis is a common disease that afflicts people as well as pets. However, the cat is the only animal known to expel the parasite in its feces. If pregnant, you should use gloves while handling the litter box and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Your cat can be kept free of infection by feeding it only commercial food and keeping her indoors.
BRUSHES and COMBS
Grooming should be a regular part of your cat’s routine. Although your kitten will probably want to make a game of it and try to bite the brush and comb, she will soon come to appreciate the attention she receives.
TEETH and NAILS
Kittenhood is the perfect time to get her used to having her teeth brushed and her nails trimmed. It is important for her good health that you are able to clean the tartar from her teeth as she grows older, thus hopefully avoiding costly veterinary bills. It is also important for you to handle her paws and nails, so that when the claws are long enough, it will be easier for you to handle them and clip them.
A scratching post will give your kitten a place to stretch and exercise, as well as a way to keep her claws in proper condition. It will also help to prevent her from using your furniture to satisfy these needs, if you train her gently and properly. Most pet stores offer a variety of scratching posts, but the most effective ones should have an area of sisal rope. Not only does sisal rope feel more like tree bark than anything else, it will last longer than a completely carpeted area. If you are making your own scratching post, be sure to use sisal rope. Another good idea is to leave large scraps of carpeting on the floor UPSIDE DOWN. This will help keep the kitten from using your furniture and will help keep his claws in good condition.
All scratching posts should have a base wide enough so that it will not tip over and scare the kitten aware from using it again.
LEASH and COLLAR or HARNESS
It is recommended that you keep your kitten indoors at all times for his safety and a healthy long life. Unlike dogs, most cats don’t like to walk on a leash. The Siamese is perhaps an exception to this. If you plan to have your kitten outdoors with you when it is older, get it used to a harness and leash while still in the house. Again, we do not recommend your cat EVER going outdoors.
The collar should be elastic or have a breakaway section so that the kitten can escape if the collar catches on some object. The collar should carry identification (your name, phone number, rescue organization’s phone number). Implanting a microchip is an excellent way to identify your kitten should it end up at the animal shelter or a veterinarian’s office. They have scanners to identify the microchip number and can call you.
The first days of your kitten’s life in her new home are important in building a happy relationship between your kitten and her adopted family. For that reason, it’s best not to introduce your kitten to your household during particularly busy times such as holidays and birthdays. A new kitten needs a quiet environment and lots of care from her new owners – two things that can be hard to provide during the hustle and bustle of family celebrations.
ARRIVAL of YOUR NEW KITTEN
When you bring your new kitten into your home for the first time, she’ll probably be a bit apprehensive. It’s best to keep her in one room until she’s grown accustomed to it, before opening the door to allow her to roam through the rest of your house or apartment. Give your kitten plenty of attention and be prepared to spend time playing with her while she becomes acquainted with her new home.
A new kitten needs time to settle into her new surrounding. During her first weeks in your home, she should be allowed some quiet time to explore each room thoroughly.
PICKING UP YOUR KITTEN
Pick up your kitten (or cat) by placing one hand under the chest behind the front legs. Place the other hand under her hindquarters to support her weight and lift the cat into the crook of your arm. A small kitten may be lifted by the scruff of the neck, as long as her hindquarters are supported. An older cat should only be lifted in this way, however, if she is behaving aggressively. Children under the age of eight years should not be allowed to pick up a kitten. It is better if the child sits on the floor and the kitten crawls onto her lap, thus avoiding any spinal injuries to the kitten.
GETTING ALONG WITH OTHER PETS
If you already have another pet, you should take special care in introducing it to your new kitten. If the two pets meet unplanned, they could become lifelong enemies. It is probably best to confine your other pet while your kitten explores her new surroundings. Once she’s learned to find her way around the house, the best time for her to meet an existing pet is at meal time. Each animal should be given its own dish, well apart from the other. Chances are your older pet will not even notice the newcomer until after he has finished feeding, and the encounter is likely to be more relaxed all around.
You should be prepared to break up a fight, however, if one develops. Pick up the aggressor and cuddle her and allow the weaker one time to get her breath. This is a situation involving the establishment of the “pecking order.” Ask your rescue organization for more information if you are concerned – BEFORE something happens that cannot be undone.
If your resident pet is an adult dog, you should keep him on a leash or confine the kitten in a wire cage. A dog can seriously injure a small kitten with one snap of his jaws or swipe of the paw.
If you have birds or fish, the situation will be the reverse, and appropriate precautions should be taken to protect them from harm by your kitten.
A kitten’s nutritional requirements are more demanding than those of an adult cat. A high-quality meat-protein food will provide the proteins and other nutrients that are essential during this important growth stage.
You have been provided with a Supply List that contains information on the feeding of your kitten. Remember that the amount may vary according to the age, temperament, and activity level of your kitten.
REMEMBER…When feeding your kitten, you should keep these factors in mind:
- Respect your kitten’s privacy. Don’t disturb her while she’s eating.
- Food and water bowls should be placed in a quiet, out-of-the-way place.
- Keep fresh water at all times, especially during warmer weather. Frequent drinking will help your kitten keep her system healthy.
- Water dish should be at least three feet away from the food. That way she won’t learn to associate water only with eating.
- Use a bowl that cannot tip over easily. Clean food and water dishes daily.
- Feed according to instructions. Do not give any table food.
- Be flexible. Instructions are only guidelines. Cats generally regulate their eating habits in accordance with their needs. The amount will vary with age, weight, breed, temperament, environment, and activity level. Cats seldom overeat unless they are routinely tempted with large amounts of food.
- Milk is not necessary. A large number of cats cannot properly digest the lactose in milk and may develop gas or diarrhea.
Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – Delbert G. Carlson, D.V.M. and James M. Giffin, M.D. New York. Howell Book House.
Catwatching – Desmond Morris. New York: Crown Books.
The Natural Cat – Anitra Frazier with Norma Eckroate. New York: Kampmann Publishing