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Caring for Your New Kitten (From Feeding to Budget Toys)

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"Little Miss Fuzz" was one of our first "foster failures."  She stole our hearts, so we adopted her ourselves.

"Little Miss Fuzz" was one of our first "foster failures." She stole our hearts, so we adopted her ourselves.

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.

Wolfman was from our second batch of foster kittens. He was adopted by a lovely couple and is being thoroughly spoiled.

Wolfman was from our second batch of foster kittens. He was adopted by a lovely couple and is being thoroughly spoiled.

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.

Feeding

There are a number of specialty kitten foods available in pet stores. Generally speaking, those sold only in pet stores are of 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.

Playtime

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.")

Kittens playing . . . and biting!

Kittens playing . . . and biting!

Play Biting

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.