The Ultimate Kitten Care Guide for New Cat Parents to raise a Healthy & Friendly Feline Companion
So you’ve been the well-known cat person among your friends and colleagues for your love of the feline. But you’ve never really had the confidence to parent one yourself. We know it can be a tough choice to make. Trying to gauge if you’re ready already and what bringing home the tiny little monster will be like? If the self-doubt is kicking in, we can help you make a wise decision and break down everything there is to know before you bring kitty home.
In this ultimate guide for new and first-time cat parents, we will talk about:
- Planning a new kitten
- Making your home kitten-ready
- Kitten Food and Nutrition
- Kitten Training and Socialization
- Exercise and Playing with your Kitten
- Vaccinations and Health Checkups
- Grooming & other needs
Planning a New Kitten
Making an informed and planned choice is extremely important for a smooth, loving and happy relationship with your pet throughout. If you’re reading this before you actually get a kitten home, we’re so proud of you! You are on the track to being a responsible pet-parent already.
Choosing the Right Cat
Since you’ve already decided the species of your pet, a few more decisions remain. Start with assessing your resources; time, money, and space
- Time is one of the most important resources your pet will need from you. You cannot leave them unattended for long durations of time. You also cannot compromise on veterinary check-ups, regular grooming, and exercise due to the lack of time. These form the basis of your pet’s well-being and there’s no escaping.
- Money, probably not as much as on a dog, but will be spent in caring for your cat. Understand whether you will be able to afford a decent and healthy diet, veterinary experience and lifestyle for your kitten. Also, know that higher costs do not always mean higher quality. Spend some time researching to find well-priced and high-quality services.
- Space: Your cat would be spending nearly all of her time indoors. They need space not just to sleep and eat but to for enough movement and stimulation of the mind and body. Confining an animal in an unreasonably small space is considered cruel treatment.
When it comes to cats in our country, the options for breeds you can choose from are fairly limited. In most cases, you will adopt a non-pedigree or Moggy Cat. Contrary to popular belief, moggy cats are just as affectionate as their pedigreed counterparts. Note that any cat, irrespective of their breed, when brought up with affection will be an affectionate animal.
However, the age at which you adopt a kitten does make a difference. Cats are not social animals. They need exposure to humans and socialization very early in their lives. While an older feral or stray cat could face difficulty to adapt to the new environment, an older pet cat could do fine with some time. Young kittens are a storehouse of energy. If you are old or feel you won’t be able to keep up with their crazies, an older cat could be a better option. Older cats are low on energy. They are also significantly mature and wise. They can make great companions to the elderly. However, if you’re looking for a fun playmate, a younger kitten would be ideal. Kittens under 8 weeks old should be left with their mothers to be weaned, they can be adopted anytime after 8 weeks. If the kitten is a rescue and does not have a mother, the case would be different.
Much like humans, almost all personality traits in cats are expressed by both genders. Unless you’re planning on getting her spayed, an intact female cat will go under heat. During this period she will tend to vocalize excessively. Expect a lot of moaning and attention-seeking. An intact (not neutered) male cat will generally be restless, wander around, spray urine to mark territory (usually larger territories than female cats) and could be aggressive towards other cats and humans. He may display behavior that may be difficult to control when a female cat nearby is under heat. Sterilization will put an end to this.
Finding a Cat to Adopt
Once you’ve decided on the specifics of the cat that will suit you and your family, you can start looking for the one you will potentially adopt. You can contact a local shelter or your vet for leads. Social Media is also a great place to find kittens up for adoption. There are several groups and pages you can follow or post your requirements in. Connect with the adoption coordinator and have a conversation about the kitten’s history.
- Some of the important questions you need to ask the shelter or adoption coordinator are:
- Under what circumstances did they receive the kitten? If the kitten’s being given up by the current parents then why are they doing so?
- What has their medical history been like? Do they have any kind of health issues or allergies that you should know about? Are they spayed/neutered? Have they been dewormed and vaccinated? If yes, what all vaccines?
- What is the kitten’s personality like? Do they have any quirks or behavioral issues?
- What have they been feeding on? Are they a fussy eater?
- Could you spend some one-on-one time with the cat or foster them before you go ahead with the adoption?
Make note of all the details to analyze if this particular kitten is right for you and your family. Do not shy away from adopting a specially-abled kitten. Parenting a specially-abled pet can be a wonderful, rewarding experience.
What to Expect from your Kitten
Cats generally have a lifespan of 12-18 years under good care. Know that this a long-term commitment and giving up your pet later in their life would be unfair to them.
Kittens need a lot of care, time and energy. You will have to train them to use the litter box, food and water bowls, etc. The initial period could be messy. Unless you want an aloof and reclusive cat, you will have to socialize them. It is generally suggested that you do not adopt a single kitten who would be left in the house alone all day. Having other pets or humans around will ensure your kitten grows up happy and well-behaved. You will also need to socialize them to humans and spend some time playing with them. Kittens can be rough. It’s always a good idea to introduce them to toys to avoid scratches and bites.
Adult cats, on the other hand, require far less supervision. They won’t get into trouble as often as kittens. They also have a better sense of boundaries and hence do well with children and other pets.
Important Considerations before getting a Kitten home
Once you’ve assessed yourself and the kitten you’re about to get home, you need to do some final considering.
- Do you have other pets? If yes, how will they react to a new cat?
- Are your family members or the people you live with onboard with the idea of getting a cat home?
- Are you or any of your family members allergic to hair, dirt or any other realities of sharing your home with a cat? Or do any of you have an existing health issue that may be aggravated?
- Do you need to inform your landlord or RWA before bringing in a pet?
- Is the environment in your home a tense one? Pets can pick up on stress pretty quickly and it may affect their behavior and health.
- Have you all decided on an adult in the family who will ultimately be responsible for the pet’s care?
- Accidents and illnesses could result in the need for expensive emergency veterinary care. Are you ready to bear such an expense, if needed?
- Cats are obligate carnivores and MUST be fed a meat-based diet in order for them to thrive. Will you and your family be comfortable feeding your cat a non-vegetarian diet?
Once you are through with the above and have no concerns pending, Congratulations! You’re all set to get your kitten home. Well, almost.
Making your Home Kitten-Ready
You must prepare your home for Lady Clawpatra or Sir Lucifurr before their highness arrives. Begin with kitten-proofing your home. A great way to do this is to look from a kitten’s eyes. Imagine you are a kitten, what are the objects or spaces in the house that would attract you or make you keen to explore (read: destroy or break) them. Remember, you can climb!
Close or block off any vents or windows and have the balconies caged. Put away electronics, power cords or any other string items out of reach. Any item that could pose a choking hazard or anything that is sharp must be removed. Indoor plants, garbage bins, and human food or medication must be inaccessible. You may have to put away your carpets or rugs too until your kitten is toilet-trained.
That sounds like a lot of work, but you could involve the family and make it a fun activity.
Kittens like to have their space for a few days before they can explore the entire home. This helps them get comfortable to the new home and become familiar to the kind of sounds, smells and creatures they’re going to have to deal with. Designate a space in the home where the royalty can confine themselves in for the first few days (let’s call it the Catto Estate). Make this area off-limits for other pets. Use a play-pen to do so. Children too should be admitted only under supervision. Furnish the Catto Estate with a litter-box, food and water bowls, comfortable bedding and a toy or two.
As a rule of thumb, keep the litter box away from the food and water bowls. Kittens do not like to eat around where they do their business. But then, who does?! Avoid kittie’s contact with other pets and children until they’ve had all their vaccines and received a clean bill of health from the vet.
Once your home is kitten-proof, you’ll have to make it kitten-ready! Here’s the fun part. You get to shop for things the kittie will need. Here’s a handy-dandy list!
- Food and Water Bowls, Stainless steel or ceramic, wide & shallow (cats don’t like deep bowls)
- Litter, a Litter Box, large enough for your cat to fit in at their adult size and a Scooper
- Collar as per your cat’s size and ID tag with your phone number on it
- Pet Crate/Carrier
- Feline toothbrush and toothpaste
- Brush or Comb
- Toys and Scratching Post
- First-Aid Supplies
- Kittie Coat (if winters)
- Portable Fence/Play-Pen
Kitten Food and Nutrition
Your first priority as you get your kitten home should be what you’d feed them. Food forms the foundation of your cat’s well-being and putting a little thought into what you are feeding them can prove to be extremely beneficial in the long run. Here are some basics of cat nutrition.
DO NOT feed them Dry Food
A study by Dr. Lisa A Pearson, DVM on Feeding Cats, shows how dry food has been responsible for shortening the span and quality of life for our precious cats. Dry food does not offer their bodies enough water content, is too high on carbs and has a lot of plant-based protein that a cat’s body cannot absorb. If you are considering putting your cat on a dry food diet only because it is cheaper, know that it’s a ‘pay me now or pay me later’ trap. Investing in a nutritious diet now can save the money you’d have to spend on medical costs later.
Cat Food needs to have water-content
Cats have a low thirst drive. This means they do not consume a lot of water on their own. In the wild, a cat’s prey would have about 70 to 75% water content. Which is why they are not big water drinkers and must intake water with their food (where dry food fails). Low water intake in cats could cause kidney and bladder diseases. It could even lead to urethral obstructions that are painful, costly to treat and could even be fatal.
Cats need Animal-Based Protein
Different from dogs, cats are obligate (strict) carnivores. This means that their bodies were designed to receive their fill of nutrition through animal sources only. This makes it essential for your cat’s diet to be meat-based. Plant-based proteins like those from grains, potatoes, corn, peas (usually found in dry food) are vile for cats.
Cats don’t need Carbs
In the wild, your cat would be preying on rodents, birds, lizards, etc. These are high in protein and moisture, are meat-based, with a moderate level of fat and just about 2% of calories that come through carbohydrates. The average dry food contains about 50-70% carbs (think: profit margin). An excess of carbohydrates could lead to life-altering diseases in your cat including obesity, diabetes, etc.
Do thousands of cats survive on dry or vegetarian food? Yes, they do! Would your kittie survive too? Sure. But this isn’t about just survival, is it? If you mean to offer your kitten a full, healthy, thriving, and long life, ensure that you feed them a species-appropriate, nutritionally balanced, real diet.
While this goes for your cat’s regular meals, you may want to treat them once in a while! Remember, a treat for cats is not equivalent to a full-blown cheat-day in the human diet lingo. Keep the treats as healthy as you can. Spare a day aside to cook up some treats at home, so you can avoid all the processing and additives in commercial treats. A simple Google search should help you with some healthy recipes.
Food at Different Stages of your Kitten’s Life
0 to 6 months age
When you get your kitten home, she will hopefully be over 8 weeks of age and weaned off (received mother’s milk and ready for solid foods). The first few weeks of a kitten’s life is when they will double or even triple in weight. This will be accompanied by high levels of activity too, which require high energy levels. But their stomachs are still small to fill this requirement in one or two big meals. Free-feeding a kitten is ideal during this stage. Have food available for them at all times. Another method could be feeding them small meals every 2-3 hours. Do this up to 6 months of age.
If you have adopted a kitten that has not been weaned off and is under 4-8 weeks of age, you may have to provide them a replacement for mother’s milk. However, stay away from cereal-based human baby food.
6 to 9 months age
After this period your kitten will start entering adolescence and need lesser calories. This is where you start building a routine by feeding her twice a day. Their adolescence will last until they are 6-9 months old.
12 months age and beyond
Your kitten will be considered an adult at about 12 months of age. Continue the same routine you’ve set before and keep an eye on their weight. Feed them twice a day, but ensure they are not being overfed or given a lot of treats. Preventing obesity is easier than curing it.
You may also be tempted to feed milk to your kitten. But milk is not safe for kittens. Almost all kittens are lactose intolerant. Milk can cause diarrhea in kittens. At such a young age, diarrhea could be fatal. Also know that human medication and supplements are not feline-friendly. Do not feed your kitten any human drug. Some human food items too could be toxic to cats. Know these and keep them out of their reach.
Diet after sterilization of the cat
Whenever you decide to have your kitten sterilized, speak with your food provider and let them know. This period will be crucial to their weight and their food quantity will need adjustment after spaying or neutering.
Training your Kitten
Kittens are like children. They need to be taught acceptable from not-so-acceptable behavior. This will need some patience. But can easily be done by associating good behavior with treats and undesirable with consequences. “Consequences” should never mean punishing your kitten or causing them pain. A consequence could simply be you taking away your attention from them.
This process may take some time and needs perseverance. You must set the rules and then provide your kitten with means to stick by them. Like if you want them to sleep in their bed, provide them with cozy and comfortable bedding and teach them to sleep in it.
Litter-Training your Kitten
Unlike dogs, your cat will not want to go out to poop. You can introduce her to the litter box and place her on it after meals. Try demonstrating with guiding their paw to a few scratches in the litter. Your kitten will soon get the idea. If she has been with the mother before being weaned off, she has most likely observed the mother using a litter box and will understand its use soon. Make it a point to keep the litter box accessible, filled with good-quality litter and cleaned at least once a day. If you’ve been having a tough time toilet-training your cat, one reason could be that the litter box isn’t clean enough.
Cat poop is a great indicator of how their health is doing. Observe their poop always. A healthy cat’s poop will be consistent, compact, and will have no odor. It’ll vary between shades of brown depending on the food they are consuming and will always be well-formed. Any kind of deviation from this description is a sign of an underlying issue that needs addressing.
Socializing your Kitten
Kittenhood is a crucial time to socialize your cat. Once your kitten has received her vaccines and has a clear check from the vet, you can let her out of the Catto Estate to explore the rest of the home and people or pets. Make this process gradual, and always have them under your supervision. Start by getting her used to wearing a collar, riding in a pet carrier and staying still through grooming tasks like brushing and bathing.
Keep in mind that your kitten is experiencing all of these different stimuli for the first time in her life. Some of these may startle or frighten her, comfort her immediately. With training and constant exposure to external stimuli, your kitten should grow up into a well-balanced, well-behaved cat.
Basic Obedience Training for Kittens
Cats are more independent and less social than dogs. Which also means they don’t really seek praise as much. However, you still need to start training them as soon as possible so they learn and understand the boundaries of living in a home. Training your kitten can help keep their mind and body active while teaching them good social behavior and strengthening your bond with them.
While training your kitten, ensure you have toys with you. When they start doing something unacceptable simply redirect them to the toys. Clicker training also proves to be successful in training cats. Overall, incentivizing good behavior with praise/treats helps. However, “punishment” barely ever works on kittens. If you happen to punish them, they will retract in a corner and hide to isolate themselves from stress. Over time, this could translate into grave behavioral issues.
Cats also have smaller attention spans. So keep the training sessions short. Focus on one command at once and move on to the next only after they’ve mastered the first. It may prove beneficial to practice these commands in different rooms of the house, or during different times of the day, to help them understand that they are to respond in any situation.
All cats have different personalities, and a method that worked with one may or may not work with another. Understand your cat’s personality to establish a method that will work best. You can always consult your vet or a behaviorist for help.
Some of the most common issues that you may face with your cats will be furniture scratching, spraying and urinating, not using the litter box, aggression towards strangers and other animals, stress, fear or anxiety, and over-grooming, among others. All of these can be fixed with some training.
In all cases though, try to assess the cause for bad behavior. It could be you not providing them the right food, or the litter-box not being cleaned regularly, or the bed not being comfortable enough. Rule out these causes and provide your kitten the perfect ground to obey you without causing them discomfort. Diagnose for medical causes too in extreme cases.
Exercising and Playing with your Kitten
Thankfully, while they are still a kitten you won’t have to invite them for playtime. Instead, they’ll invite you when they have their bursts of energy. It’s important to have an exercise-cum-play session with your kitten for at least 15 minutes a day. This will not only make your bond stronger but will also keep them fit.
You could try bringing in a toy mouse, or a string toy that you could let them chase. Or even a laser light. They see it as a bug and will not stop chasing it as long as it moves. Be careful to not have the light directly into their eye or at heights. Consider bringing home a cat-tree to heed their climbing instincts. Boxes also make good entertainment items for cats.
Choose the toys wisely. Remember, anything that can be swallowed is not safe. Watch out for attachments in toys that could be swallowed. If you are getting a new toy home, supervise playtime.
Playtime is also time for you to watch how your kitten is growing. Look out for any abnormalities. Like a limp, or anything unusual. Keep your vet updated how things are progressing at your end. If there is something you’ve observed over time and feel particularly concerned about, tell them about it.
However, do not force your cat into playing with you when they want to rest. This could associate a negative feeling towards playtime and you within them. They may want to hide from you and it can really affect your relationship.
Boredom in cats can lead to a lot of behavioral and health issues. Stimulate your cat every day. Bring in toys, plenty of them. Rotate the toys so they don’t get bored of one. Give them your time, and curl up with them. Offer them a view outside the window. Get them a scratching post. Boredom can lead to a variety of problems such as inappropriate urination, destructive behaviors like aggression, depression, lethargy, crying, loss of appetite, and oversleeping.
Vaccinations and Health Checkups
Only two vaccines are extremely important in the case of kittens; Rabies and Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper). The Rabies vaccine should be administered at about 5-7 weeks of age. If you’ve rescued a kitten that is more than 5 weeks of age, you can have them vaccinated immediately. The Rabies vaccine requires a booster after about 5 weeks of the first dosage and then once every year on the anniversary. Panleukopenia or Feline Distemper vaccine should be given at 14 weeks of age.
If you plan to have your cat be an indoor cat only, the above two vaccines are all you’ll need. However, if you are going to have them outdoors, certain non-core vaccines like Feline Leukemia, Cat Herpesvirus, Feline Calicivirus can be recommended by your vet.
Overall, have a clear conversation with your vet regarding your kitten’s health and have a health checkup done. This is also a good time to initiate the spay/neuter conversation with your vet.
Grooming & Other Kitten Needs
By nature, cats are overly-particular about hygiene and cleanliness. You’ll often find your kitty taking care of their grooming themselves. But there are some places where they could do with some help. You want your cat to remember grooming sessions in a positive way. It’s ideal to have one when you’ve not had a stressful day and when catto is relaxed, after exercise or meals. Have shorter sessions at the start; about 5-10 minutes long. Gradually increase the length as your cat starts getting used to them. It’s a good time to get your pet used to being handled and have every single part of their body touched. Start by petting them on the different parts, including ears, tail, belly, back and especially the feet. If your cat is feeling overly restless, cut the session off to resume when they are more relaxed.
Brushing Your Cat’s Coat
Brushing and combing sessions need to be regular. They help remove dirt, dead hair, and tangles. They also aid in spreading their natural oils throughout their coat which will ensure they have a lovely shiny coat always.
Start with a comb and work your way through her coat from head to tail. Be sure to get rid of all tangles. Then go in with a rubber brush. Be extra gentle around the belly and chest.
Bathing or Washing Your Cat
As mentioned before, cats are proud self-groomers and you only need to bathe them once or twice a year. Honestly, unless they’ve been a situation that’s made them dirty or greasy, you can completely skip the bathing bit for when they are a kitten.
However, in case you *have to* bathe them, here’s how you can go about it. Go through the brushing session first. You can then place a bath mat to avoid slips in the wash basin or tub you’re using. Gently start wetting them using a spray hose. You could also use a pitcher or cup (ideally unbreakable). Do not spray water directly into their eyes, ears or nose. Massage shampoo over them from head to tail. Remember to use a shampoo made specifically for kittens. Human shampoo or products made for older cats could be too harsh for the little one. Rinse them thoroughly and dry with a clean towel.
Oral Hygiene & Dental Care in Cats
Dental issues are extremely common in cats. Just like you, your cat requires frequent brushing too, ideally. But if that isn’t possible, try to brush their teeth at least once a week. Use a soft-finger brush on your kitten, with a feline toothpaste. Human toothpaste can be toxic to pets.
Keep initial sessions short and gradually increase the duration as they get used to having their teeth brushed. If your cat just won’t let you or you are not confident enough, consult your vet. Their staff should be happy to demonstrate the right and safest way.
Clipping your Cat’s Nails
If your cat is a scratcher or climber, they will naturally groom their nails. You may even find the outer dark cover of their nails around their favorite scratching spot. It’s nothing to worry about. Your kitten shouldn’t need nail clipping at all. But as they grow you may have to do an occasional nail-spa activity.
Wondering how to know if your cat’s nails have grown to the point where they need some clipping? Watch your cat when they are relaxing. This is the time when their claws should completely retract. If you can still see their nails, it could use some trimming. The back paws usually need it the most.
You could do with only filing for kitten nails, but use a specifically designed cat-claw clipper when they are older. You only need to trim the transparent overgrowth. Apply gentle pressure on the top of the foot, this should allow them to extend their claws. Be careful to not clip the pink vein that runs through the claws, it is usually visible through the nails. Doing so may cause bleeding and pain.
Clipping your cat’s nails will help avoid the risk of broken nails for them, and sharp scratches on you. Like all the new activities you will introduce your kitten to, you will have to gradually introduce them to nail clipping too. Make it a fun activity and stop if they appear too stressed. Perhaps, offer them a treat after. Playing with them often gets them used to touching and allow you to hold their feet.
Kittenhood is a very special phase. It builds the foundation of your relationship with your little friend. While there is so much you can learn about parenting a kitten right, don’t stress yourself out. Enjoy time with them while they’re still tiny, do fun things, and cuddle a lot, A LOT. Also, you can always turn to your vet if you feel dazed about certain things. They should be happy to help out. Know that you’re not alone. We hope you have a lovely kitten parenting experience.
FOR INFORMATION ONLY – NOT VETERINARY CARE
DawgieBowl operates this online information and opinion blog for educational and entertainment purposes only. The contents of this blog are researched from popular journals & books, online articles, and research papers. DawgieBowl does not claim ownership to the images or videos on the blog unless mentioned. Images or videos are collected from the public domain, and the rights to them lie with the photographer or copyright owner. By reading this blog or using any of the information you expressly acknowledge and understand that there are risks and limitations associated with any advice, recipes, formulas, and/or products suggested or endorsed. DawgieBowl, its parent entities, and stakeholders are not responsible for any loss, injury, claim, liability, or damage related to your use of this website, or any other site or product linked to this website, whether from errors or omissions in the content of our website or any other linked site, from downtime on the website or from any other use of this blog.
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