Caring for Your New Kitten
A Kitten Is a Tiny Bundle of Fluff
Just look at that adorable little wide-eyed face! Listen to that big purr coming from such a tiny body! Feel the soft, soft fur! Look at how fast that tiny baby can scamper! Kittens are just so irresistibly cute.
Pick up a kitten and look into its eyes. You will be able to read in its eyes that it has the ultimate trust in you. It has not learned fear and trusts that it will be loved and gently cared for all of its life. Please do not betray that trust. Your kitten will reward your years of loving care a thousand fold with his companionship, purr songs, lap-warming on cold nights, and snuggles when you feel blue.
Adopting Your New Baby
If you have decided to adopt a new kitten, (and I do hope you will adopt, not buy, to save a life), you must know how to take care of the little darling.
Having a kitten is a lot like having a new baby in the house. It must be fed and have its toilet attended to several times a day. You must play with the kitten and keep it amused and distracted from your furniture. And sometimes, just like human children, they can be naughty and do exactly what they are not supposed to do—just on general principles.
Your new kitten, like a human infant, also needs lots of sleep. When kitty is sleeping, try not to disturb her, and if you also have children, teach them to respect the baby's naptime. Once they are old enough to be adopted, they will pretty much sleep through the night, but for extra insurance, a play session just before you want them to settle down (so you can sleep!) is a good idea.
Cats are usually thought to be nocturnal by nature. However, I have recently learned that cats are not so much "nocturnal" as they are crepuscular. Now, there's a five-dollar word for you! It means "active at dawn and dusk."
Aha! Now we have the real explanation for the evening "kitty crazies" and running amok across your bed and peering into your face at 5:30 a.m. They think it's time to go hunting and be fed. But if you are starting with a baby, it is possible, with patience, to shift them to more of a daytime routine.
Before You Adopt, You Must Be Prepared
It is not a good idea to get a kitten (or any other pet, for that matter), and then have to go shopping for the items you need to care for the little darling. Of all the things that we should never purchase on a spur-of-the-moment impulse, pets top the list.
Consider what you will need, and have your supplies on hand at the ready, in a safe space where kitty can find "alone" time when needed. Then, when you bring your new baby home, it will be easy to settle him in.
Items Necessary for Your Kitten
- Kitten Food: Be sure that it is high-quality and full of nutritious ingredients.
- A Bed: Many variations are available, but even an old blanket will work—and it is easier to wash.
- Toys: both interactive toys for your playtime with kitty, as well as toys that are safe for her to play with alone
- Litter Pan and Litter: Using the litterbox is pretty much hard-wired into their brains, so not much training is needed, other than showing them where it is.
- Food and Water Bowls: preferably non-tip ones, to save yourself messy clean-ups
- A Scratching Pad or Post: Scratching is a mental and physical necessity for cats, so be sure they have adequate permissible surfaces to use.
Once you have at least these bare minimum items, and a spot for kitty to call his own, you are ready to look at the available kitties for adoption.
There is any number of specialty kitten foods available in pet stores. Generally speaking, those sold only in pet stores are higher quality, meaning they have a lower grain content, and will be less likely to produce an obese cat.
However, they also cost more. It can be argued that since the higher quality means a smaller amount will satisfy the cat, the price works out even. Well, I'm not so sure about that, but I put it out there for you to decide for yourself.
The popular and highly-advertised brands found on supermarket shelves probably are somewhat less healthy, and you do want a good start for your kitten. Buy the best quality you can afford, and try to feed it consistently until kitty is at least 6 to 9 months old.
Just keep in mind that all the advertising is targeting human tastes—the cats don't watch TV, and couldn't care less about fancy crystal dishes or silver spoons and the much-touted gourmet ingredients.
If you are changing a food, though, be sure to do so gradually, by mixing the new type with the old type, and slowly increasing the proportion of the new food, until it is totally changed over. Simply changing from one type of food to another with no transition period can cause digestive upsets of the messy variety.
Feed kitty a good quality canned food when they are very young, for the first month or two that you have the kitten. Once they are well able to chew, then you can introduce dry kibble, if desired. If you have doubts or questions, ask your veterinarian.
Note: Ideally, you should not have a pet kitten younger than about two-months-old; they should not be taken from the mother cat before then.
Like young children, kittens need to be entertained. Play with them. It is easy to amuse a kitten. They will instinctively chase things, from "toys-on-a-string" dangled in front of them, or dragged along the floor to things tossed across the room to the ever-popular "red bug" from a laser pointer. (Be very careful with the laser pointer—never shine it into kitty's face or eyes or onto a reflective surface like glossy finished furniture, glass or mirrors, from which the intense light could bounce into the cat's eyes.)
They are also very capable of amusing themselves, but if you do not interact with them you might not like the entertainment they come up with on their own. It could be something as harmless as batting around a dropped coin, or it could be something much more serious, such as climbing your window curtains or overturning things that can spill, be it someone's drink or a plant pot.
Since kittens are babies, they will get a new set of grown-up teeth, and just like human babies, go through a "teething" stage where they will chew on anything and everything. It is very important, therefore, to be sure that as much as is possible things like electrical cords, telephone wires, and computer cables are out of kitty's reach.) Their little teeth are sharp and can cause serious damage to equipment, and danger to themselves. (See below under "Keeping Kitty Safe.")
Just remember—kittens may bite during play sessions. This does not indicate a "mean" animal—they are only doing what they do with their siblings while playing and wrestling. To discourage a cat from biting, you can either stop playing at once with kitty, but he may not make the connection for some time.
The faster lesson is to gently stick your finger or knuckle further into his mouth as you firmly say "NO!" or "No biting!" He won't like it, and will maneuver to "spit you out." After a few times, he'll learn that "we don't bite the people."
Another way to make them let go is to say "OW!" in a high, squeaky voice. This will sound to them much as when they are playing with another kitty, and have bitten too hard, causing a complaint from the recipient.
To further discourage play biting, remember this: fingers are not toys. If you waggle your fingers in front of the cat to entice him to play, I have no sympathy toward you for what happens next.
Pouncing, Scratching, Clawing
Just as with biting, cats, especially young ones, will use their claws to grab hold of the desired toy. If your hand happens to be in the way, you may get scratched.
Again, however, this is not malicious scratching—it is incidental in the course of playing. Do not scold kitty for this, because she did not mean to hurt you. Just say, "Ow!" and stop moving. She will most likely retract her claws almost instantly. Very young kittens may not—simply grasp their paw gently, and remove it from your hand, finger, or wherever she has latched on.
The hardest lesson to teach, especially to young children when this happens is to just freeze. It is counter-intuitive. The natural tendency is to pull away from a painful stimulus, and that is just what you do not want to do. For if the cat is merely "holding on" with her claws, then it is you who have scratched yourself by pulling away.
Playing with your kitten wears off a lot of that mischief-prone energy, and is fun for you, as well. They can be very comical in the poses they strike, the way they pounce on a toy, as well as, believe it or not, clumsy things they sometimes do.
Kittens don't seem to mind being klutzes and falling all over themselves; an adult cat may be embarrassed by doing something clumsy. You can always tell when a cat is embarrassed: they will always stop what they are doing to groom themselves.
Pets are not disposable commodities. If you can't promise them "forever," then perhaps a pet is not for you.
Toys From "Found" Items
Suitable Toys That Won't Wreck Your Budget
There is certainly no lack of fancy toys on the market to choose from to entertain your cat or kitten. However, spending a lot of money is not at all necessary. There are plenty of things you already have around the house that make splendid cat toys, and, since you already have them, they are free. In fact, many of the items that will amuse cats are things you would otherwise toss in the trash. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- "Security Rings": These must be broken from the cap when opening a bottle of juice. The ring gets left behind. It is an easy matter to work it off the bottle without breaking it. Cats will chase and bat these for hours (just keep watch, and if they begin chewing it, take it away—you don't want them swallowing bits of plastic) Do not leave these out when kitty is unsupervised!
- Internal Pull-out Tabs: These come from milk or juice cartons that were the "safety sealed.
- Empty toilet Tissue Rolls: These are a cheap and abundant option!
- Lengths of String: Play with the kitty with these. (Be sure to put them away, and never leave kitty unsupervised with string. They might eat it, and cause a severe problem in their insides—this would be an emergency trip to the vet.)
- Heavy-Duty Cable or Zip Ties: Fasten them into a circle, with the protruding end snipped off.
- Cardboard Boxes: It does not matter how small the box or how large the cat—cats love to play in boxes—much like kids, they will be inclined to ignore the fancy toy and play with the box in which it was packed. (Check out the video below from Big Cat Rescue.)
Big Cats Love Boxes, Too!
Keeping Kitty Safe
A normal home holds many potential dangers for a tiny kitten. Before you bring kitty home, be sure you have checked for these hazards and either eliminated them, or reduced kitty's ability to get into trouble.
In the Bathroom
- Be sure to keep toilet lids shut. Tiny kitties can jump higher than you might think and can fall in, then drown, as it is too steep and slippery for them to climb or jump out again.
- Use child-latches on cupboards, especially under the vanity, as toxic cleaners may be stored there.
In the Den, Living Room, Dining Room, and Office
- Keep electric cords tucked behind heavy furniture, so they are out of sight. (Never run cords under a rug, however, as that is a fire hazard.)
- Use cord bundlers to gather the cables and wires from the TV, stereo, game consoles, etc., into a neat, out-of-sight, out-of-temptation single unit.
- Minimize the use of extension cords.
Kitchen, Laundry Room, Doors, and Closets
- Loose Cupboard Doors: Be especially cautious of those cabint doors behind which toxic cleaning chemicals may be stored. These pose the same dangers to a kitten as to a toddler—except that a cat has sharp teeth and claws that may penetrate the actual container—so there is a further danger to the cat than to the human baby.
- Interior Doors: Cats are speed demons. They can move at astonishing speeds, even when babies, so be sure that they are well clear of any doors before you close them . . . and close them carefully, never slam them fast, for a kitten can move just fast enough to get caught in the closing door and be severely injured.
- Exterior Doors: Be especially vigilant when entering or leaving the house, so your precious little baby cat does not escape. There are many, many more dangers lurking outdoors. A kitten outdoors without its mother is at the mercy of every danger you can think of from predators to cars and also well-meaning people who might think kitty is homeless, and take him for themselves.
- Closets: Many times, closets are hide-it-all spaces with things stored in piles of boxes, making a great hiding place, but also a place where a tiny kitten can get hurt if they happen to dislodge a key item. They can also get lost in the back, and you cannot find them for a long time-—leading you to freak out when you can't locate your little darling at mealtime.
- Laundry Rooms: These should be off-limits to cats: there are way too many dangers in there, from the very real possibility of a cat managing to get into the washer or dryer unnoticed, and be killed when the machine cycle is activated. (It has happened more times than you might think.) Many laundry rooms also house the water heater and/or furnace, and kitty can get stuck behind these other appliances and/or the laundry machines. This is not a kitty playroom!
- Refrigerators and Freezers: Kitties are curious and smart: it does not take them long to learn where food is kept—be very aware that your little one doesn't sneak past your feet into the fridge or freezer and get shut inside, which would be a terrible thing.
- Kick-Boards: Check under the kitchen counters—there are sometimes small gaps that would allow a tiny kitten to climb up over the top and in the space under the cabinets . . . getting them out could be a real problem. Fix any such gaps.
Watch Where You Are Walking!
Be very aware to watch your feet while you are walking around the house, so as not to step on or trip over the cat. Even an adult cat can be harmed by being stepped upon, (and they will let you know with a loud yowl); a kitten can be very seriously injured.
Just think of the size difference between yourself and that tiny kitten. It is akin to us standing next to an elephant or giraffe. We're a long, long way up, and much bigger and heavier.
As mentioned before, kittens and cats are speed demons, (your darling house cat is capable of sprinting at speeds up to 31 MPH), and they can appear seemingly out of nowhere, and be right under foot.
If you have small children, you not only need to watch where you are walking—you need to be mindful of where the kids are in relation to the kitten. While an adult might merely stumble if the cat got underfoot, a child with a less-developed sense of balance might well fall on the cat. In general, very young kittens and children under the age of five are not a recommended mix.
For long-haired cats, regular brushing and grooming are a must, to keep their long coats from getting matted. However, even short-haired cats can benefit from being brushed.
Summer means shedding, big time, so grooming needs will increase. Some cats shed all year, and surprisingly, some short-haired cats shed more than long-haired ones. This is easily explained by the fact that shorter fur has a shorter growing/shedding cycle than long fur.
The first photo is of "Tigger," a Maine Coon mix we had (sadly lost to cancer in 2015, at age 15), and his fluffy long coat stayed fairly neat, but he did shed some.
The second photo is of "Jigsaw Puzzle" a short-haired marble tabby, of the type generically classified as "domestic short-hair." Jiggy, as we sometimes called him, was guilty of "explosive shedding." Come within two feet of him, and you'd have fur up your nose. Well, not quite, but if you petted him, then yes! Sadly, Jiggy left us for the Rainbow Bridge in December of 2018.
In addition to keeping your furry friend's coat neat and healthy, grooming is a social interaction with you pet, and the younger you introduce your kitten to a brush, the easier it will be to groom them later, for they will have come to enjoy it. It is like being petted, with the added benefit of removing the loose hair that can cause mats or itching problems if left untended (and housekeeping issues for you).
To accustom the kitten to being groomed, alternate brushing strokes with petting strokes, and other attention kitty enjoys, such as being gently scratched under the chin or behind the ears. A grooming session is also a bonding session that will bring you closer to your pet and insure a bond of friendship that will last a lifetime.
Suggested Grooming Aids
Some items that may be useful in grooming your pet:
- An old toothbrush is ideal for introducing a tiny kitten to being brushed; it will feel similar to the mother cat's tongue
- A wire slicker brush is good for short-haired kitties with dense fur, as they outgrow kittenhood.
- A de-matting comb should be on hand for a long-haired kitty. If they get matts in their fur, this type of comb has cutting blades recessed between the widely spaced teeth.
A Forever Friend
Adopting a kitty (or puppy) is just the same as adopting a child. It is a commitment you are making to that animal for a lifetime, so please pay strict attention to this next sentence:
Pets are not disposable commodities, so if you cannot promise the animal "forever" for its lifetime, then perhaps a pet is not for you.
If you take on the responsibility and hold true, you will have a friend for a very long time; a non-judgmental companion who will love you and be with you no matter what kind of a rotten day you had; one who will never criticize your choice of food or clothing; one who will snuggle up and cheer you up when you are blue.
A pet is sometimes a choice to make personal sacrifices, but the rewards are a thousand-fold.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Liz Elias