Welcoming a new kitten into your family is exciting. Whether you are an experienced cat owner or this is your first cat it can also be a little stressful for both you and your new family member. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect can make your kitten comfortable from day one. So what do you need to know about adopting a kitten? Here are a few suggestions.
Some people feel that 6 weeks of age is an appropriate time for kittens to be adopted away from their mama cat. In reality 10 to 12 weeks is the ideal. Extra time spent with mom and siblings helps a kitten learn acceptable behaviour; your kitten will probably be litter trained, the kitten should be totally weaned by that time and much more accustomed to be handled by humans. Adopting a kitten too early could lead to life long fearfulness of people. Waiting those few extra weeks can make a big difference in weighing the scales towards having a happier, friendlier and well adjusted cat.
PREPARING YOUR HOME
Adopting a kitten can be similar to having a toddler in the house – you need to do a little “kitten-proofing”. A good rule of thumb is that if it is dangerous for a toddler it is probably dangerous for a new kitten too. Kittens are rambunctious and curious so they can get into everything!
Kittens like to chew so gather up your electric and phone cords and bundle them up with a cord manager so you can fasten them out of reach
Kittens are marvellous climbers but can get tangled or choke on anything that swings or hangs so make sure you anchor all cords for window treatments, etc.
Many common household plants are poisonous to cats so remove them from the cat’s environment. Putting them “up” or hanging them does not work because kittens are ingenious at getting to things (I have a few stories I could share!) Old sayings are often true ... "you can have plants or you can have cats ... seldom both".
Make sure you have no ant or roach traps around … these are often baited with fish based smells so cats find them very attractive.
Keep you toilet lid down.
Make sure all bathroom and kitchen cupboard doors close firmly
Keep the washer and dryer lids/doors closed … a warm dryer can be a tempting place to climb into for a nap.
Make sure window screens fit securely.
Put away all breakables.
Make sure your trash is covered tightly.
Kittens can slink through the tiniest crevices, climb up chimneys and get into pipes so make sure you have grates and coverings over all openings.
Keep your purse/bags closed tightly and out of reach. Many common things found in purses and bags are harmful to cats.
GETTING THE SUPPLIES YOU WILL NEED
Now that your home is “kitten-proofed” you need to make sure that you have everything you will need BEFORE you bring your kitten into the house.
Food. Kittens grow FAST during their first year so they need different nutrition from adult cats. Their food needs to have more calories, extra protein and appropriate fat for your kitten to develop muscles and tissues. Make sure you have the right formula for kittens for the first year. Find out what the kitten has been eating at her home or shelter. Cats are not omnivorous. While some cats may enjoy a treat of some fruits or veggies their bodies are designed to run on protein. Cats cannot survive a vegetarian diet.
Bowls. Look for smaller ceramic bowl for food, as these are better than plastic or stainless steel. Automatic water “fountains” are also a good investment. Cats love moving water. Since many do not drink enough this may also entice them to do so.
Bed. Your new kitten is used to cuddling with mama and siblings so will need a warm place to feel secure. Whether you buy a fancy bed or use a cardboard box lined with soft blankets or towels you should place it in a quiet, low traffic area of your home. Washable bedding is always a plus.
A litter box and kitty litter are essential. Choose a box that the kitten can easily get into and out of. Buy unscented, small grain litter and fill the box with about two inches of litter. Clean the litter frequently. Cats despise dirty litter boxes. It’s not a bad idea, even with only one cat, to have more than one litter box – I had one cat that would not poop and pee in the same box – fussy girl! If you have multiple cats there should be a minimum of one box for each cat
Toys. Kittens have A LOT of energy and they enjoy playtime. Make sure kitten toys do not have easily removed parts such as buttons, bells and strings as these can be easily swallowed. Make sure the toys have no sharp edges. A stuffed toy or animal or a ball that is too large to fit completely into their mouths are a good first option. The plastic “fishing pole” type toys provide hours of entertainment and allow for interaction between you and your new kitty. Laser toys are fun too as they allow the cat to satisfy their natural hunting urge but can be frustrating because they can never be “caught” so make sure when playtime is over to offer a favourite toy or some treats so your kitty will feel they have “completed” the hunt.
Invest in a good cat carrier. You will need it to bring your kitten home and for those trips to the vet.
A scratching post is a good idea to discourage your kitten from clawing furniture right from the get go.
BRINGING YOUR KITTEN HOME
Okay, now your home is kitten-proofed, you’re well stocked in supplies and the big day is here. You are going to bring home your new kitten. There are many schools of thought about how to introduce your new kitten to their new home. None are right or wrong as long as you remember that your kitten will probably be frightened and unsure of everything because she has just been taken away from her mama and her siblings.
It is always a good idea to bring home your kitten at a time when you are going to home for at least a few days. Consider bringing it home on a weekend.
Although it is very exciting to bring home a new pet, especially if there are young children in the house, try to keep everything calm and relatively quiet for the first little while. Your kitten will probably find a hiding spot at first. Do not force the kitten out. It’s scared.
Keep handling to a minimum until the kitten adjusts. Set up their bed in a quiet room where they can feel safe and secure until they get used to their new home.
Introduce one family member at a time so the kitten can get used to new smells and touches one at a time.
Supervise very young children because children can be unintentionally rough with the kitten. Kittens can be fragile. Show children how to hold the kitten properly – one hand supporting its hindquarters and the other just behind the front legs. DO NOT hold the kitten by the scruff of the neck … that’s something only the mama cat can do safely.
You will need to introduce your kitten to the litter box(es) and its locations(s)
You will need to introduce your kitten to her feeding area, which should be in a place away from foot traffic so it feels safe while eating.
Your new kitten may meow and look for mama and siblings or wake up during the night. They are frightened and confused. Pick them up, stroke them gently and speak to them in a soothing voice and they’ll calm down again. The old wives tale about wrapping a ticking clock in a towel or blanket and putting it near their bed does work sometimes. Or try a warm (body temp) hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket.
Some kittens adjust quickly and some take longer … BE PATIENT!
As difficult as it is to discuss adopting a kitten also brings financial obligations outside of food and litter.
When you make the decision to adopt a kitten you accept the responsibility of not only feeding and housing the animal and giving it love and attention but also to keep it healthy. Make sure you find a veterinarian you can trust (ask for referrals from friends and family or explore online reviews). Check with the home and shelter before leaving for any information about shots and health issues. Make an appointment for your kitten to be checked over by the vet you chose.
Your veterinarian is the person to best advice you on vaccinations and care concerns. Current wisdom suggests that cats can be spayed and neutered as early as 8 weeks of age. Again, get the advice of your vet. You definitely want to have your pet neutered, as males will begin to spray to mark their territory – which is not a pleasant thing to have happen in your home. Female cats come into heat, which is also a loud and unpleasant time for their human family members.
Have a pet sitter lined up for weekend trips or vacation times. Friends and family are not always available, may not live close by, may have plans of their own or sometimes it just seems like an imposition to ask. Having a pet sitter you trust can makes last minute plans or unexpected times away from home (hospitalization, etc.) less stressful.
Your kitten – and you – will soon adjust to the new routine of having a new routine; as much as cats have the reputation of being independent they do thrive on routine.
Love your new kitten and it will return that love tenfold.
Remember adopting a pet is a fur-ever promise!