Caring for your kittenDownload pdf
Kittens are adorable and it is tempting to take one home without thinking of the consequences. Remember, kittens can be demanding and taking one on means you are committing to lifelong care – perhaps twenty years or more.
Bringing the kitten home
Moving to a new home is stressful for a kitten. Give reassurance and time to adjust to new surroundings before making introductions to other animals or people in the household. Ensure all doors and windows are closed and there is a guard in front of the fireplace. Ensure the kitten knows where the bed, litter tray and food bowls are.
The kitten’s bed should be a safe place to go when things get too much. It needs to be warm, dry, comfortable and draught-free. Buy a bed from a pet shop, or use a strong, dry, cardboard box with a hole cut in the side. It should contain soft bedding, and be placed in a warm, safe place. On the first few nights a warm water bottle (not hot) under a blanket may help compensate for the absence of the kitten’s mother or litter-mates. If you happen to have, or can borrow, a large secure pen, this is ideal for providing a safe den and can hold the kitten’s litter tray and bed. It is also an excellent way to introduce other animals.
Introducing other pets and children
Introduction to the other household residents should be gradual, gentle and quiet. Children must be taught that the newcomer is not a toy, and they should not pick up the kitten but sit on the floor and wait for the animal to come to them. Playing stops when the kitten chooses and the pet should be allowed to go back to bed undisturbed. The children should be aware that the kitten may scratch and play-bite.
Introducing a kitten to a dog or cat needs to be done carefully. An ideal way is to have a large mesh pen in which the kitten can sit safely while the cat or dog becomes accustomed to the new presence. Special care should be taken with introductions to some dogs. Those not used to cats need to be kept as calm as possible, on a lead, and told to sit quietly. The kitten should be in a safe place, so as to have time to get used to the dog and to make an approach on their own terms. This may take quite some time and requires patience and rewards for the dog for behaving well.
For quieter dogs, or those used to cats, introductions can be made using a strong cat carrier. Keep the dog on a lead initially, placing the carrier on a high surface and allowing controlled introductions – short and frequent. Most dogs soon calm down when they realise the newcomer is not particularly interesting and you can progress to direct meetings with the dog, on a lead initially for safety. Do not leave the new pet alone with dogs or cats until your kitten is well established in the household.
For further information, see the All About Pets leaflet, Introducing your cat to other pets (C23).
Socialisation is important for your cat to live confidently and safely in your household. The optimum time for kitten socialisation is between two and seven weeks so, before choosing your cat, find out what experiences your kitten has had in early life. A kitten raised in a home or adoption centre where staff are aware of the importance of socialisation should cope well with the move to a new family. However, litters born and raised outdoors, and kittens from feral litters, may not have enough experience of humans to adapt fully to a family.
Find out what your kitten has been eating and when you first get home feed the same foods. A sudden change of diet combined with the stress of adapting to a new home can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. If you want to change the diet, do so over a few days by mixing the new food with the kitten’s usual diet. Kittens have small stomachs and have to be fed little and often. The easiest way to provide a growing kitten with a balanced diet is to feed a premium complete growth diet. These are usually dry, but some companies produce tinned varieties too. These foods have been specially formulated for kittens, which have different nutritional needs to a fully grown cat. Read and follow all feeding instructions carefully.
If you are feeding a dry food, kittens can have unlimited access to it (unless you have other animals that will eat the kitten’s food). Tinned food goes off quickly in the bowl, so needs to be given as separate meals throughout the day. Kittens aged eight to 12 weeks need four meals per day, if between three and six months old they need three meals, and kittens over six months old need two meals per day.
Do not give your kitten milk as it can cause diarrhoea. As with all animals, kittens need fresh drinking water available at all times.
For further information, see the All About Pets leaflet, Staying in Shape (C7).
Cats are fussy about toilet habits and kittens usually learn to use a litter tray by copying their mother. You may just need to show where the litter tray is and place the kitten on the tray after meals, waking from a sleep, or when sniffing, scratching or beginning to crouch and generally looking as if they are about to go! If your kitten is inclined to mess elsewhere in the house, confine them to one room with a litter tray until the animal learns to use it regularly and follow the aforementioned procedure.
You will require a plastic litter tray, which can be filled with cat litter available from pet shops. Earth from the garden should never be used as it may harbour diseases from other cats. The tray should be placed on newspaper to catch any litter pushed over the side during digging cca large tray will prevent such problems, but make sure it is not too deep for your kitten to climb in. If you intend to let your kitten out to use the garden in the future then a simple open tray will suffice for the few weeks involved. If you intend the cat to continue to use the tray, you may want to purchase one of the covered types which gives the cat more privacy, stops smells from escaping and prevents mess with the litter.
Place the tray in a quiet, accessible corner where your kitten will not be disturbed. Make sure it is not next to food and water bowls, as the kitten may be reluctant to use a tray close to its food. The litter tray must be kept clean and emptied regularly. Some disinfectants which go cloudy in water (such as Dettol) are toxic to cats so use only hot water and detergent when cleaning out the tray.
If your kitten is reluctant to use the tray it could be because:
- it is not clean enough – empty it more often
- it is not big enough – it should be big enough for an adult cat to turn around in and to use more than once without getting dirty
- you have cleaned it out with a chemical that is too strong smelling
- it is too near the animal’s bed or food bowls
- the animal does not like the texture of the litter you have chosen – revert to a type previously used or try a different type
When your kitten starts to go outside more often, gradually move the litter tray towards the door. A few handfuls of cat litter from the tray spread onto well dug soil in the garden will encourage the kitten to dig there. Do not remove the litter tray from indoors until your kitten has started using the garden.
Your kitten should not be allowed outside until at least a week after finishing the first course of vaccinations (at 13 to 14 weeks old, depending on the vaccine). Choose a dry day (if possible) and a quiet time and accompany your kitten outside, allowing your pet to explore their new environment. Continue to accompany your kitten until they are used to your garden and can find their way back to the house without difficulty. Do not leave your kitten alone outside until after neutering at about five or six months old.
Cats like to come and go as they please, and a cat flap allows them to do this. You can teach your kitten to use a cat flap by propping it open initially and enticing your kitten through with food. Gradually close it so that the kitten learns to push the flap. If you already own a cat which is using the flap, be aware that the kitten may watch and learn to let itself out before you are ready. Kittens learn quickly by watching other cats.
To prevent neighbourhood cats from coming into your house, you can buy a cat flap that is operated by magnetic or electronic keys on your cat’s collar and will only open for your cat.
When your kitten is over six months old and ready to go out alone more often, you are advised to fit a collar holding some form of identification and perhaps to carry a magnet or key to an electronic cat flap. Collars must be fitted carefully as kittens are active and inquisitive while growing up. Injuries could occur if the collar gets hooked on a tree branch or fence, or the kitten gets its foreleg caught up in the collar. Quick-release collars, which snap open if they become caught on anything, are the safest option for all cats. For a young, rapidly growing cat, remember to check the fit of the collar often (you should be able to get one or two fingers under the collar) and increase its size accordingly.
It is wise to have your kitten microchipped for identification purposes. This is a permanent form of identification using a microchip (about the size of a grain of rice), which is injected under the skin between the shoulder blades. The chip carries a “bar code” read by a scanner. The code number is registered along with your details on a national database so, if your kitten gets lost, you can be re-united quickly. Your vet will be able to advise you about microchipping.
For further information, see the All About Pets leaflet, Hidden Dangers (C9).
Kittens are inquisitive and will investigate any small, dark places they can crawl into. Should your kitten go missing for any length of time, you should look in cupboards, wardrobes, outdoor sheds etc in case your kitten has accidentally been shut in or got stuck. Keep the washing machine and tumble dryer door closed when not in use and check them before putting any clothes in. Remove any plants that may be poisonous, for example dieffenbachia (dumb cane), poinsettia, lily of the valley, Christmas cherry, castor oil plant, avocado plant, rubber plant and ivy. Most cats will not touch such plants but kittens may be more inquisitive. If you live in a flat above ground level or have a house with several storeys, keep the windows closed or invest in screens to ensure that kittens do not fall out.
Keep garden chemicals stored safely and take care if using slug bait or chemicals on the garden itself – some types can be toxic to animals.
Toys and play
Play is an essential part of your kitten’s life and will encourage a bond between you as well as helping keep your kitten fit and healthy.
Many different types of cat toys are available from pet shops but most kittens will play with anything that is light and small. Toys filled with cat nip hold a special attraction for many.
A scratching-post inside the house is helpful in protecting your furniture, even if your kitten is able to go outside. The post should be covered in material that is not found anywhere else in the house (for example string), so that the kitten does not learn to scratch other items like your carpet.
For further information, see the All About Pets leaflet, Staying in Shape (C7).
Keeping your cat in good health
All kittens should be groomed regularly. This keeps their fur and skin in good condition, allows you to check for any signs of ill health, and helps build the relationship between you.
Long-haired cats need to be groomed thoroughly every day to remove all tangles, otherwise they quickly become matted.
There is no reason to routinely bathe your kitten as this will cause distress and may damage the animal’s coat. Occasionally, your vet may recommend a shampoo to treat specific skin conditions. If you need to use a prescription shampoo on your pet, follow the vet’s advice carefully and use it only as frequently as recommended.
To provide protection against potentially fatal infections such as feline infectious enteritis and feline influenza (cat flu), kittens need to be vaccinated. The first injection in the course is given at eight to nine weeks of age with a second at about 12 weeks. The kitten should be kept away from other cats and stay indoors for ten days after the second injection to ensure maximum protection.
To maintain the level of protection provided by vaccination, adult cats require regular boosters. Your vet will advise on what is required.
Kittens should be treated for roundworms at four to six weeks of age then regularly every two to three weeks until they are four months old. They should be treated for roundworms and tapeworms every two to six months thereafter, depending on how much they hunt and whether they have fleas. Use a proprietary wormer available from your vet and follow the dosing instructions carefully.
Prevention is better than cure where fleas are concerned so consult your vet about routine treatment to keep your cat healthy and free from fleas. Many owners find products to dab on easier and less stressful to administer than sprays. Shampoos for the treatment of fleas are not effective and should be avoided unless prescribed by your vet.
If your kitten has fleas, you will also need to treat your home to remove flea eggs, thus preventing new fleas hatching. The kitten’s bedding should be thoroughly washed or replaced and the floors and carpets of the house should also be treated. Your vet can provide a spray for use around the house.
Many cats have ear mites. Often there are no symptoms but in some cats they cause irritation, leading to the production of a grey-brown matter in the ear. In severe cases the ear canal becomes blocked and infection follows. Where the mites do not cause a painful reaction, they can still be irritating and be passed to other dogs and cats. If you have a dog which is persistently troubled by ear mites, your vet should check your cat’s ears too as they may be the original source of the mites. If your kitten’s ears appear dirty, itchy or full of dark-coloured wax it is worth consulting your vet.
Each year many unwanted cats and kittens are abandoned or euthanased because there are not enough homes to go around. Neutering your cat ensures that you do not contribute to this problem.
A male cat can be castrated at around five months of age. Neutering will also reduce the likelihood that he will spray indoors to mark his territory. He will also spend less time roaming in search of mates and thus has less likelihood of getting into fights or being hit by a car. Cats bitten and scratched in fights are more likely to be at risk from infectious diseases.
A female kitten needs to be spayed to prevent unwanted litters. This can be done from five to six months of age and there is no need for the cat to have had a litter beforehand. Spaying has no harmful effects. It also eliminates the stress brought on by “calling” (this is the loud mewing which female cats make to attract a mate), pregnancy, birth, and the care and rehoming of kittens.