If you've recently brought home a new kitten, you're probably feeling some joy - and a little overwhelmed at your new responsibility. Our Lexington vets have some tips on safety, preventive care and other topics to help you get your kitten off to a great start in life.
Raising a Kitten
While kittens are adorable and certainly loveable household pets, young cats have some very specific needs that should be taken care of. These needs differ depending on the stage of life they are currently in, and if a health issue crops up or something is missed, their general health and longevity can suffer. In this post, we'll discuss how to take care of a baby kitten while fulfilling its physical and emotional needs.
0-4 Weeks Old
A kitten is considered a newborn from the age of 0 to 4 weeks. At this stage, they are still learning how to walk, meow and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, she'll be able to do most of the work including feeding. All you'd have to do is monitor the other's health and ensure that they are in a safe, warm environment. Cover the floor of their area/crate with a blanket and give them a warm bed to lay on.
If you're wondering how to take care of a newborn kitten without a mother, schedule a vet checkup for your kitty as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will be able to check on the health of your kitten and provide detailed instructions on how to meet your tiny little friend's nutritional, environmental and preventive health needs.
5-11 Weeks Old
Between the 5 to 10-week mark, we recommend gradually phasing out bottle-feeding your kitten (as well as weaning them from their mother) in favor of high-protein meals about 3 to 4 times per day. Your veterinarian can advise you on how to take care of a 6-week-old kitten without a mother. You can start this routine by pouring their formula into a food bowl. You might consider adding a bit of canned food or softened hard food to help ease them into the process. And since their motor skills will be improving at this stage, they'll start becoming more adventurous, which means you'll have to keep a close eye on them and prevent them from wandering into trouble.
While they are between 2 to 4 months old, your kitten will need a lot of supervision and hands-on playtime.
3-6 Months Old
This is the optimal time to adopt a new kitten, since they are growing into adorable little bundles of fun and mischief. At 4 months, your kitten is entering adolescence, which can be a challenging time. They may need some work to modify their behavior.
This is also when you should start thinking about having them spayed or neutered - before they reach the 6 to 8-month mark.
Bringing Home Your New Kitten
It's a good idea to prepare before bringing home a new feline family member. Here are a few things you'll want to have on hand for when your kitten arrives home:
- Cat-sized food and water dishes set up in a special spot, well away from the litter box
- Litter box placed somewhere your kitten can easily access, but not near their food or bed.
- Cozy bed and safe hiding space, which may be as simple as a cushion in a cat carrier with the door left open, a small box lined with soft fabric to make a bed, or a luxury teepee-style bed.
- Cat toys to ensure that your kitten doesn't grow bored
- Scratching posts and/or interactive play tower
- Specially formulated cleaner to clean messes that are bound to happen when litter training
- If possible, it may also be a good idea to bring something home along with your new kitten that smells familiar to them. A blanket their mother has slept on or a soft toy from their first home may do the trick. This can help to reduce your kitten's anxiety
Kitten Proof Your Home
Your kitten is bound to begin enthusiastically exploring your home almost as soon as you bring them home, so be prepared by kitten proofing ahead of time.
- Block off gaps in furniture, cupboards, or appliances that they could become trapped in.
- Close the doors on all appliances such as front-loading washing washings, dryers, and even toilets
- Cover or move any wire that may look like the ideal chew toy, or cause your kitten to become tangled
Litter Training (Potty Training) Your Kitten
Kittens can begin litter training as young as 4 weeks old when they begin weening.
Be sure that the litter tray you purchase is an appropriate size for your new friend. A little box that is about 9" by 13" is a good size for most kittens, but you will need to purchase a larger little tray when your cat reaches full size. Many cats prefer an uncovered litter box so this is a good way to go, and much less inexpensive than covered versions.
Cats tend to prefer fine granules of litter which is softer on their paws but don't tend to have a preference between clumping or non-clumping, that choice is yours. So cats refuse to use litter made from wheat or corn because it smells like food. When it comes to litter a little trial and error should do the trick. You will soon get to know which litter your cat prefers.
Steps for Litter Training
Stay patient and persistent when it comes to litter training your new kitten. Kindness and positive reinforcement will go a long way to teaching your young feline friend good litterbox habits.
- Show your kitten the location of their new litter box and let them have a good sniff around
- Gently place your kitten in the litter box. In some cases, kittens will instinctively begin pawing at the litter. If they don't you could demonstrate by doing small digging motions in the clean litter with your fingers.
- If your kitten does not sure the litter box when you sit them in it, don't worry, just be sure to place your kitten gently in the litter box whenever they wake up from a nap and after every meal. Soon they will begin using the litter box without your help.
- When your kitten does use the litter box appropriately provide some positive reinforcement with playtime or a small treat.
- If your kitten makes a mistake do not yell or punish them. Simply clean up the mess.
Keep in mind that it is essential to keep your kitten's litter box clean and fresh-smelling. Many cats will not use a dirty or smelly litter tray.
To help prevent your kitten from getting into mischief it is a good idea to spend some quality time playing with your new feline friend.
Playtime ensures that your kitten's mind is kept active and will help them to use up some of their boundless energy. If your kitten begins biting or showing predatory behaviors such as pouncing, jumping, or biting it's time to pull out a toy and rechannel your kitten's energy into more positive pursuits. This is when cat toys attached to a string and stick can come in very handy. Change up your kitten's toys regularly to avoid boredom.
Avoid waving your fingers as a way to play. Allowing your kitten to bite at you or claw will send your cat the message that these behaviors are acceptable. Ignore bad behaviors and use positive reinforcement for good behaviors. If your kitten is biting or clawing at your feet stay perfectly still so that your kitten learns that your toes are not prey.
Use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior.
Essential Preventive Care For Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment with your primary vet during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding the care of your new family member.
Regular wellness exams will give your kitten their best shot at a long and healthy life. These cat checkups allow your vet to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
Signs That Your Kitten Should See a Vet
When caring for a kitten there are many things you need to keep an eye out for in every stage of your kitten's life, which could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. At Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency, we provide emergency care and advanced diagnostics for cats and dogs. If you notice your kitten experiencing a veterinary emergency, contact us right away.
If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment. Before an appointment can be made with one of our specialists, a referral and medical records including diagnostic tests are required from your primary care veterinarian. We also offer advanced diagnostics and technology in our in-house lab.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out for in a newborn kitten:
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
4 Weeks +
When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:
- Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
- Signs of play biting or aggression
- Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.