Looking after kittens
Kittens are probably the cutest things you can come across, which makes it very tempting to get one without further thought. But with the kitten come serious responsibilities. It is important to fully understand what you are taking on by adopting one.
Bringing the kitten home
When you bring your kitten home, this will be probably the first time she has been separated from her mother and siblings. So don't be surprised if you have a highly stressed bundle of fur on your hands. It will need a comfortable environment which feels as safe as possible. Starting from the bedding. This should be warm, dry, and away from the household noise. If you have children or other animals, it is vital that the kitten is kept away from them for the first few days. There's no need to rush into introcuding the new member of the household - she should be with you a long time!
For the first few days it is a good idea to put a warm water bottle (not hot) in the bedding to mimic the warmth of the kitten's mother. A soft blanket will also make the kitten more comfortable. Make sure thatwater and appropriate food are nearby. A cat litter tray should also be close, but not too close to the food. Cats are very clean animals, and they will not use the litter tray if it is too close to their food (see below about training your kitten to use the litter tray).
If you can buy or borrow a large secure pen, ideally with plastic see-through mesh, this will be ideal for the first few days and for when you start introductions to other members of the family.
It's a good idea to start the kitten on the same food as she ate in her previous home. Check with the breeder what they are using and perhaps even ask for a sample of the food. A good breeder will routinely prepare a pack for you with food, kitten blanket etc to help with the transition period.
If you want to introduce a new brand or type of food, don't make a sudden complete change of diet. Mix the old food with the new to gradually introduce the new diet. A cat's stomach is small and with the stress of a new home, a change in diet may cause stomach irritation, diarrhea and vomiting.
Kittens need more calories per kilogram of body weight than adult cats, because they use a lot of energy growing. You should use foods specially formulated for kittens and follow the instructions on the label. Kittens less than 3 months old should be fed four times a day. After that you can reduce the meals to three times or with adult cats, twice daily. If you use dry food, let the kitten have access to the food when she wants.
To find out more about cat nutrition, have a look at the articles in our catinfo section.
Most kittens are taught to use a litter tray by their mother, and sometimes you just have to show the kitten where the litter tray is - but not always. For example, if the kitten has been brought up outdoors or was taken from the mother too early, it will have to be trained. Make sure that the litter tray is plastic and fairly large. Clean the tray regularly because cats are immaculately clean animals and they will not use a dirty litter tray.
Kittens will probably need to use the toilet soon after they wake up. If the kitten is restless and starts scratching or sniffing around, it's time to pick her up and put her in the litter tray. You may need to repeat the process a few times until the kitten gets the idea. Inevitably accidents will happen and the kitten will pee on the carpet. When that happens, make clean the area thoroughly, otherwise the kitten may associate the spot with the toilet.
Be careful with disinfectant, because some may be toxic to cats, for example Dettol. Cleaning cat litter trays is best done with hot water and diluted detergent; but wash the detergent out very well. Strong-smelling detergents can put the kittens off and may stop them using the litter tray altogether.
Always use cat litter available from the pet stores and supermarkets. If the kitten refuses to use the litter tray and see if another brand will be better for her. Never use the soil from the garden. Garden soil contains bacteria, and may have round worms etc. Clean the litter tray often.
Introducing household members
It is very important to teach children how to handle kittens. Kittens are very fragile and small children may inadvertently cause distress. In the first instance encourage children to spend time with the kitten actually picking her up. Make sure they understand that the kitten may be very scared. Once the kitten is used to them, play and handling will be easier and will not alienate the kitten.
If you have other animals in the house, a proper barrier between them and the kitten is necessary at the start. Patience is the key; it is difficult to say how long it will take before the kitten can be safely left in direct contact with the other family members. At the beginning make sure that the door to the kitten's room is firmly shut. Expect a lot of hissing and growling in the first few days as the other animals smell the kitten. This is normal - animals are territorial and a stranger has just invaded their home. After few days they will realize that this stranger is not going away and must be tolerated. This is the time for the first eye contact. Make sure that the kitten is tucked safely in her pen before letting the other animals in the room.
This is not only a difficult time for the kitten, but also for your other animals so make sure to fuss around them a lot so they don't feel left out. Again, never hurry, make sure that the animals are comfortable with each other before attempting the final step of bringing them together into direct contact. If all goes well let the kitten out to explore the house, but keep a close eye on all concerned.
Playing and socializing is an essential part of feline life, and it is important that the kitten has a lot of play time. Have different toys scattered around the house and introduce a play time when the kitten can directly interact with you. Kittens are naturally inquisitive and like to explore. It is up to you to teach what is acceptable and what is not. For example, racing up the curtains may be kitten's favorite game, but not one that necessarily meets with your approval. In such cases, gently take the kitten and put it down. Introduce a toy to take her mind off the curtains. Never punish her, since cats do not understand punishment. Instead introduce alternatives. For some ideas about how to keep your cat entertained in the house without parts of it being destroyed, see our article on "How to make your indoor cat happy".
Early introduction to a scratch pad is very important. Cats need to scratch to remove the outer casing from their claws. If they can't get a satisfactory scratching post, they'll take it out on your sofa. the sooner the kitten learns to use the scratch post, the fewer problems you will have in the future. You can introduce catnip, which many cats find stimulating. Catnip does not work on very young kittens, but most react to it when they are 6 months or older. If your kitten is reluctant to use the scratch post spray it with a bit of catnip.
It is very important to vaccinate your kitten against cat flu and feline luekemia virus. Cat flu is very dangerous for kittens, (which is another reason to keep the kitten away from other cats before she is vaccinated). The kitten can be vaccinated at 8 weeks and then again 12 weeks. After that she will need annual boosts to maintain the protection.
Fleas and ticks
Fleas and ticks are very common, especially among cats which are allowed to use the garden. Prevention is therefore important, especially that tick bites can result in a nasty bacterial infection. Frontline for Cats provides very effective protection against fleas, ticks and biting lice and it is very easy to administer, since you just need to dab it on the backof the neck. It provides protection for 6 weeks at a time. If your kitten already has fleas, you will need to treat her and the house to get rid of all the unhatched eggs.
Round worms are also common in cats which are allowed outside. Cats catch it from the soil or when hunting for rodents. Again there is an effective treatment/pervention in the tablets form which you can obtain from your vet.
Cats are fastidiously clean and they can generally groom themselves. A cat will easily spend a few hours grooming each day. Nevertheless, cats, especially those with long hair, will need help in getting the tangles out. If you introduce brushing early, cats tend to tolerate it more easily and some actually enjoy it. It is more difficult to introduce regular brushing to an adult cat, so regular brushing of your kitten is strongly recommended.
Cats are not like dogs, they keep themselves clean without regular baths. Cats actually find baths very distressing. If you do want to bathe your cat, you will need to acclimatize it early in life. Make sure you only use shampoos which are designed for cats.
As a responsible owner, you will neuter your kitten as soon as possible. Cats both male and female can be neutured any time after 5 months. It is well recognised that cats which are netered make a much better pets. They are much less agressive and in the case of male cats, they do not spray inside the house. There is no advantage for any female cat in having a litter before she is spayed. With so many cats being euthanised because there are not enough homes for them, unless you are a breeder you should not allow your cat to get pregnant. You will also save yourself the stress of looking after a pregnent cat, the birth and finding a home for the kittens.