Welcome to your crash course on kitten care. Find a seat and get ready to take notes because we'll be covering everything from feeding schedules to preparing for vet visits. And yes, this will all be on the test (kidding, but it is important info to have if you want to raise a happy and healthy kitty).
Making the decision to adopt a kitten is one that you shouldn't take lightly. After all, cats can live for 15-20 years, so yours is likely going to be around for a while. If you still feel like adding a feline to the family is the right move, then there are a few things you'll need to do before she even arrives.
Kitten-proofing your home.
Kittens are curious creatures and will get into trouble any chance they get. So unless you want to constantly clean up a mess (or worse!), it's best to prevent accidents before they ever have a chance to happen.
Take a walk around your house and try to see it from a kitten's point of view. Any kind of cord or string is going to be hard for them to resist, so it's important to tape down electrical wires and secure curtains tie backs.
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The veterinarians at Hill's Pet also suggest keeping things like the toilet, garbage can, and washing machine door closed to keep your kitten from falling in unnoticed. Needless to say, the end result of those types of accidents usually aren't good.
If your house is filled with lush greenery, double check that the variety you have isn't one that's toxic to cats because chances are he'll get curious and try to nibble on the leaves a few times. Some of the most common toxic plants and flowers include lilies, dieffenbachia, daffodils, ficus, and azaleas.
One last thing you'll want to check are your window screens. Cats are notorious for pushing out a loose screen when they spot a lizard or bird outside. The last thing you want to do is frantically search for your new kitten because they climbed out the window. Save yourself the gray hair and secure those screens!
Supply list for a new kitten.
Now that your house is kitten proofed, you're going to want to head down to the pet store and stock up on goodies for your new pet. But trying to figure out what you actually need among the rows and rows of stuff can be tough.
Well, it used to be anyway. Here's exactly what you need:
- Litter box, litter and a scooper (duh)
- Cat food (*more on this below)
- Food and water dishes
- A collar and tag (make sure it's a breakaway collar that will automatically come off if it gets caught on something)
- A brush (this will help reduce shedding)
- Scratching post (so she doesn't use your furniture as one)
- Cat carrier
Anything else is purely extra and while your new pal will surely appreciate it all, a good scratch behind the ears goes a long way, too.
While you typically can't adopt a kitten that is younger than eight weeks, extraneous circumstances sometimes present themselves and you could easily find yourself bottle feeding and stimulating a 4-week-old baby kitten every three hours.
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In any case, it's still fun to know what developmental milestones your kitten has already gone through, and what you can expect next. Care.com, reports that the first five weeks of a kittens life are jam-packed full of changes — eyelids open by two weeks, smell develops by three weeks, hearing, teeth and the ability to walk develop by four weeks and in week five, playtime begins.
° Newborn to two weeks — dependence
° 2-7 weeks — awakening
° 7-12 weeks — exploration
° 12-24 weeks — independence
° 24-72 weeks — coexistence
Kittens are usually weaned by eight weeks and are ready to meet their forever families. From then on, they'll continue to explore their new surroundings and start to figure out where they fit in in the hierarchy of your household.
By 6 months old, your kitten should look more like an adult cat and this is the time when the bond between the two of you really cements in place. Every cuddle is crucial!
How to feed your new kitten.
Unless you're adopting an orphaned kitten that is younger than eight weeks old, yours will eat four times a day.
Much like infants, kittens require special food for the first portion of their lives to ensure proper growth and nutrition. But there are so many brands out there, each one claiming to be the best, so it can be overwhelming when trying to choose the actual best one.
The veterinarians at WebMD recommend looking for the phrase "Complete and balanced nutrition for kittens based on AAFCO feeding trials" on the bag. The AAFCO is a group of state and federal officials who regulate pet food, so their stamp of approval is always best.
It's also important to make sure your kitten gets at least some canned food every day and isn't regulated to only the hard stuff. A small kitten has proportionately small teeth and will have a tough time chewing through hard food and may not get enough nutrition to support his rapid growth.
When it comes to the decision between set feeding times and free feeding (meaning food is available all day), is dependent on your cat. If yours is getting up there in weight, it may be better to regulate things. Otherwise, Jennifer Larsen, nutritional consultant and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, believes that free feeding has benefits of reducing stomach distention from eating too quickly and can also help underweight or slow-growing kittens.
So again, just like with infants — you have to do whatever works best for you and yours.
Vet Visits & Vaccinations
Your new kitty is home and all settled in, and now it's time to stress them out again with a trip to the vet and a few shots. But to ensure only one of you is stressed, we're going to break down exactly what to expect.
Get that cat carrier handy, because you're going to need it. Lay a soft blanket or towel down inside the carrier to keep your cat warm. Apologizing for the whole ride to and from the vet and promising him extra treats later helps, too.
On your first visit, your veterinarian will want to get the full run-down on your kitten and will likely do the following (and possibly more):
- Check baby teeth and mouth (to help determine age)
- Take temperature
- Palpate organs
- Test muscles and joints for mobility
- Check eyes and ears
- Comb for fleas
- Ask you questions about the cat's behavior
As far as vaccines go, if your cat is going to be purely indoors then they don't need many. The website Pet Education, which is run by two veterinarians (Dr. Race Foster and Dr. Marty Smith), recommends just getting the four core vaccines — which are feline panleukopenia (distemper), feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and rabies.
All vaccinations should be given every 3 years.
At 9-10 weeks, your kitten will get the "three-way vaccine," which takes care of everything except rabies (that one has to be done separately) all given in one dose. He will then need to return at 12-14 weeks for a booster, and for the rabies vaccine.
Taking care of a kitty is no easy feat, but we can promise you it's worth every early morning spent cleaning hairballs off your new rug.