Comprehensive guide to caring for a kitten
1st May 2019
If you are considering rehoming a kitten, here are a few things to consider before you make the commitment.
A cat’s lifespan
Kittens can live up to 20 years or more, so it’s important that you are prepared for this length of commitment. Consider the financial costs of caring for a cat for this length of time, as well as who will care for your cat if you want to go away on holiday.
Where to get a kitten
There are many charities, such as Cats Protection, who will have kittens that need rehoming. Usually, there are a lot of kittens in shelters during kitten season between April and October. If you choose not to rehome a kitten in need, ensure that you get your kitten from a reputable breeder. There are good and bad breeders. It is important to do your research on a potential breeder and know what makes a good one. Remember, ‘breeder’ is a description, not a qualification, so don’t take it for granted that the breeder knows what they are doing to enable the best welfare of cats.
A kitten’s personality
Kittens can be boisterous and are keen to explore and get in everywhere and everything in the early weeks, so be prepared for the impact this may have on your home. Getting new furniture or curtains at the same time as a kitten is probably not a good idea! Although kittens and cats can fair better being left on their own than other pets, they still need a lot of input and stimulation, particularly during kittenhood.
If you decide to rehome more than one kitten, make sure they are from the same family and that when viewing a litter, the kittens that you choose appear sociable with one another. A kitten sitting separately from their litter mates may not appreciate the company of other cats when they’re older.
You will need to consider if you have the funds and space for multiple kittens. You’ll need the space for each kitten to have their own food bowl, water bowl, bed and litter tray. Remember, there is no guarantee that siblings will remain friends throughout their life, although many do, some drift apart as they reach social maturity when they are between 18 months and four years old.
There is food available specifically designed for kittens which will give them all the nutrients they need. The packaging can advise you on how much to feed your kitten, and you can use a SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder Connect to manage their portion size, as well as preventing any other pets you have in your home from accessing their food. If you are unsure about how much you should be feeding your kitten, speak to your vet for advice.
Kittens use a lot of energy bounding around, so they need lots of sleep to help them grow and develop. Make sure your kitten has comfortable sleeping spots around your home where they can snooze undisturbed. These can be proper cat beds, or simple homemade beds using a box and blanket. Help the cat learn that the bed area is a safe place they can retreat to and ensure no one in the family bothers or tries to interact with the cat while they are in their bed.
A kitten’s brain develops rapidly in the first few weeks and months of life. A kitten learns what is normal and safe during the period of development that occurs when they are between two and eight weeks – the socialisation period. During this time the more positive experiences they have the more likely they are to be able to adapt to whatever life throws at them in the future. For example, kittens should be handled by different people, spend time with children and be exposed to domestic sounds around the house in order for them to perceive these stimuli as normal. If a kitten is not properly socialised, they will grow up to be cats who are frightened or stressed by human contact.
A kitten should also stay with its mother until at least eight weeks of age so that they can learn from her during this vital period of their life. During this time, kittens that are socialised with people and other animals are more likely to feel confident and comfortable around people and animals throughout their life.
Therefore, when you decide to rehome a kitten, you should find out if they have been properly socialised and what that actually entails. People can unwittingly or mistakenly think they have socialised the kittens well but have missed out on key stages. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what makes for good kitten socialisation here at www.cats.org.uk/kitten-socialisation
Playing with objects
When a kitten starts to learn to play with objects they are developing their innate hunting instincts. It’s important to encourage this natural instinct onto appropriate stimuli. A fishing rod type toy is the best for encouraging this type of play.
Kittens will naturally explore with their mouths alongside directing play behaviours onto hands and feet. While this is often seen as cute at this age, when the kitten turns into a full-grown adult and still displays this behaviour, it is more painful than cute. Ensure that no one in the family is encouraging play with hands or feet. If the kitten uses teeth (even lightly) when you’re stroking them then you need to remove your hands and end the interaction. There is no need to shout or punish them, if the kitten likes interaction they will quickly learn that using teeth puts an end to it, so they will stop using their teeth.
Even cats with short hair should be brushed regularly to keep their coats in good condition and it’s imperative that cats with long hair are groomed to prevent matting, which can cause serious health issues. Grooming your kitten from a young age will get them used to it and ensure that they will be happy to be groomed when they are older. Grooming is also a great way to bond with your pet.
Hopefully the kitten will have been introduced to a brush in their vital socialisation period, but even so it is still beneficial to start off slow. Get the kitten used to the brush, let them sniff and explore it. Then get them used to it being in your hands, then gradually get them used to you touching it to their coat for a short period of time and continue to build from here.
Register with a vet
As soon as you bring your kitten home, register them with a vet and speak to them about vaccinations and neutering. Neutering prevents your kitten reproducing when they are older and can prevent unwanted behaviours such as spraying, fighting or venturing too far from home. Kittens can become sexually mature from as little as four months old, so it is important to neuter sooner rather than later. It is highly recommended to get them microchipped too, to improve the chances of them being returned to you should they become lost.
Protecting your kitten at home
Make sure your house is as kitten-proof as possible by keeping wires out of sight and closing cupboards that contain harmful chemicals. Keep the lid to the toilet seat closed so that they don’t fall in or come into contact with toilet bleach.
Introducing your kitten to your home
A new environment is a big change for a kitten, so be sure to introduce them to your home at their pace. Start by getting them accustomed to one room in your house which includes their food, water, bed and litter tray. Once they appear comfortable in that room, they can start to explore other areas of the house.
Introducing your kitten to your children
A kitten can make a great companion for a child, teaching them how to be empathetic to other creatures and providing them with a friend to look after and grow with for many years. However, due to the long commitment that comes with cat ownership and the need to provide good welfare, a cat should never be acquired specifically for the benefit of a child. Small children should be closely monitored when they are interacting with a kitten. You should teach your children how to handle them gently and that they should be left alone when sleeping, eating, drinking or going to the toilet. Ask your children to help dish up the kitten’s food or groom them so that they can become immersed in your kitten’s care.
Your kitten should be fully accustomed to their indoor surroundings before they are let outside. They need to consider your house their home so that they will want to come back inside when they’ve finished exploring outside. It’s advisable that your kitten is vaccinated, neutered and microchipped before you let them outside for the first time. It is important to keep your cat in at night, as they are much more likely to get involved in fights, road traffic accidents, or wander too far and get lost.
When you do let them outside for the first time, do so just before an established feeding time to help encourage them back inside with food and leave the door open for them to decide whether or not they want to go outside. The best way to give them long-term access to the outdoors is through a cat door, which you can train them to use by encouraging them through with a few treats. It’s best to install a microchip cat door to prevent any neighbouring cats from accessing your home.
This article has been written in collaboration with Cats Protection. You can find more cat care advice at www.cats.org.uk/advice