Bringing a new kitten home is exciting. The following guidelines will help you and your kitten adjust to this big change in your lives.
Kittens can leave their mother and littermates after they have been weaned, usually at 8 to 10 weeks of age. Like human babies, kittens require special care, including veterinary care, feeding, and socialization. The best time to bring a kitten home is when you have at least 1 or 2 days to focus on helping him or her adjust to new surroundings.
To safely transport your new kitten home, you’ll need a carrier. Leaving mom is a big deal for your kitten; a carrier will help him or her feel more secure. Don’t use another pet’s carrier because its smell could be stressful to your kitten. Place a towel in the carrier for warmth and to absorb urine in case of an accident. Carry an extra towel.
Before your kitten has contact with other cats, he or she must be tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, given a physical examination, tested and treated for parasites, and vaccinated. This will prevent the spread of a disease or parasites to other pets. If you have other pets, talk to your veterinarian about how to introduce your kitten to them.
Before you bring your kitten home, prepare a small room or space that will be his or her own for the first few days or weeks. Having a smaller area to explore at first will help your kitten get comfortable with his or her new home. Cats don’t like to eat next to the litterbox, so place the litterbox on one side of the room and the food and water dishes on the other. Make sure that your kitten can get in and out of the litterbox without help; it might be necessary to provide a litterbox with low sides. To help your kitten feel secure, make sure that the room has hiding places. If there isn’t furniture to hide beneath, place cardboard boxes on their sides or cut doorways into them. Providing a warm, comfortable bed is essential. You can purchase a pet bed or line a box with something soft; using a sweatshirt that you’ve worn will help your kitten get used to your scent.
When you bring your kitten home, put the carrier in the room you’ve prepared. Open the carrier door, but let your kitten come out when he or she is ready. After your kitten comes out, leave the carrier in the corner as another hiding place. Every day, scoop out the litterbox and provide fresh food and water.
Your kitten may hide at first, but he or she will explore when no one is watching, becoming more comfortable with his or her new home. Your kitten will likely want plenty of attention from you—you’re his or her new mother/littermate!
After your kitten has been to your veterinarian, becomes comfortable in his or her room, and develops a regular routine of eating, drinking, and using the litterbox, you can let him or her venture into the rest of your house. At this point, you need to make sure that your kitten stays safe and has enough privacy to eat, sleep, and use the litterbox. Keep your kitten’s bed, litterbox, and food/water dishes in the same place so that he or she knows where to find them.
Kittens receive some immunity (protection against disease) from their mothers at birth and through nursing. Because this immunity slowly wears off, kittens should be vaccinated against various diseases on a schedule, beginning at 2 to 3 months of age. Ask your veterinarian for details.
Intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Fecal examinations and treatments (dewormings) are usually repeated until two consecutive fecal examinations have negative results. External parasites (fleas, ticks, and mites) are treated with products approved for use on kittens.
Kittens should be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age. This helps to control pet overpopulation and reduces the chance of behavior problems and some medical conditions.
Proper nutrition is especially important for kittens, which need two to three times as many calories and nutrients as adult cats. A mother cat’s milk provides everything a kitten needs during the first 4 weeks of life. Cow’s milk should never be given to kittens or cats because it can give them diarrhea. Most kittens are completely weaned between 8 and 10 weeks of age. At 6 to 7 weeks of age, kittens should be able to chew dry food. Feed a name-brand kitten food with the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag or labeluntil your kitten is approximately 9 to 12 months old. When your kitten is 3 to 6 months old, feed him or her three times per day. When your kitten is 6 months old, start feeding twice daily.
Cats learn how to socialize with each other from their mother and littermates; therefore, if possible, kittens should remain with their mother and/or littermates until they are about 10 weeks old. Kittens that have human contact before they are 10 to 12 weeks old are more likely to interact well with people throughout their lives. Handling and playing with your kitten can help you bond with him or her. Feral (wild) cats haven’t been socialized with people as kittens and may fear and avoid people throughout their lives. Your kitten should be gradually introduced to other pets with care and supervision. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to do this.
Enjoy your new kitten, and let your veterinarian know if you have any questions.
Dr. Carlson is an avid contributor to her blog, make sure you check out her articles!