Caring for kittens: How to raise happy, healthy kittens

Caring for a New Kitten: How to Raise a Happy, Healthy Kitty

Seriously though, kittens are just the cutest things. They’re all fluff and big eyes and disproportionately large paws! Their penchant for play and exploration makes them incredibly fun little housemates, and they can win over the stoniest of critics. To truly take good care of a kitten or two takes a bit of planning and preparation, so that their teeny needs can be adequately met. In recent decades, we’ve learned a lot about cat care, so treating a kitten like an adult cat just no longer cuts the mustard. Find out how to care for your new kitten: how to raise a happy, healthy furbaby.


Kittens should stay with their mother until they are eight weeks of age. Certain circumstances may dictate that a shelter kitten comes to you earlier than that, but a breeder should be ensuring the kittens stay with mama until they are being weaned. When they do come home, it’s important to avoid overwhelming your kitten or existing pets on the first day. Setting aside a room for the kitten to explore that is out-of-bounds to other pets and small children will allow your newcomer time to get used to the smells and sounds of the household. It will also let existing pets get the kitten’s scent, without their territory being encroached upon. After a few days, a slow introductory period can begin, with retreats in the plan on signs of stress being exhibited. You should be sure to talk to children in the house about proper gentle handling of kittens, and when to leave the kitten alone. Some basic body language tips would be helpful for older children to watch for. They are sure to become the very best of friends, so let’s help them get off to the best start!


A growing kitten needs specially formulated kitten food with a heavy protein component. This is available in wet and dry varieties. Since their jaws and teeth are still a bit small, dry food should be not more than a half of this diet. Canned food is easier for them to eat and digest. Check that the food is labelled as a complete nutritional source for kittens, and that it is approved by AAFCO. Your furbaby will need to stick with the kitten food until about one year old. Their stomachs are little, just like them, so they will need feeding more often than an adult cat. Three or four feedings a day is the minimum to aim for. If this is impractical, then go for two of canned (wet) food, with a bowl of dry left out throughout the day. Most cats are good at free feeding, but it can lead to obesity; keep a careful eye on your kitten’s eating habits if this is the path you are going to choose. Homemade diets are not recommended as cats and kittens have delicately balanced needs. If you are going this route, choose one formulated by a veterinary nutritionist. And despite the classic imagery of the cat who got the cream, don’t give your kitten cow’s milk. They lose the ability to process lactose when they are weaned, like all other animals (except humans…). You can find special kitten milk alongside the cat food in the supermarket or veterinarian’s office. Raw meat can harbor bacteria that will upset their stomach, or even toxoplasmosis, so give them only cooked offcuts if you’re feeding them plain meat. 


Kitten playing

Kittens are very playful little creatures, and will seek you out for adventures and entertainment lots throughout the day. This is another good reason to have more than one cat at home, so your kitten will always have a playmate, even when you’re indisposed. If, however, you are the kitten’s playmate, there are lots of ways to keep them stimulated. One important piece of play is the hunting and pouncing sequence that is part of their nature. They practice this on their litter-mates, and will happily oblige with the tail of another, larger pet. You can encourage them to fulfill this sequence by getting them to chase dangled or dragged toys. Kittens also love a bit of rough-housing, and may decide to chew on your hands and feet. Though cute and not very painful at this age, this can lead to a bite-y and scratchy adult cat. To discourage this behavior, let out a high-pitched yelp when they bite or scratch and immediately walk away. The sound is how they signal to their litter-mates that play has got too rough, and walking away deprives them of the fun they were having. It’s fine if they rough-house, well.... roughly, with a second cat or kitten, as they should regulate each other. Make sure you maintain a high standard of expectation for how they play with you, though. And when you’re talking to them, avoid saying ‘shhhh’. This sounds like a hissing cat and may ruin their vibe!


Kittens are gonna scratch, no two ways about it. Provide them with a scratching post or board early on and encourage them to use it. Guiding them to the board, especially after waking up, when scratching is common, will help them to associate the board or post as the place to go. If they are getting their claws into another piece of furniture instead, then call out ‘STOP’ - or whatever word you would consistently use - in a loud, deep voice. Then try to redirect them to a toy or something else. Punishment is highly ineffective on cats, with redirection and reward proving to accomplish your goals far faster and with no trauma to you or the kitty. You should get them accustomed to having their little claws trimmed too. This can happen from the time that they arrive at your place. Take care with them, though, and only trim the sharp ends. 


Between three and seven weeks of age is the golden time for socialization. Check at the shelter as to the levels of handling they have had prior to adoption, or with the breeder for the same. This is a good time for them to become used to being touched all over, and handled by various people. You will likely not have the kitten until eight weeks, but that’s not to worry, as up to twelve weeks is also good. Expose your kitten to all the things that you want them to be cool with before this time. Take them for rides in the car, walk them on a cat leash, trim their claws and handle their ears, tail, stomach and paws. You can also invite friends over, so they are comfortable with larger gatherings, and let the kitten be picked up and petted by as many people as are keen. They will be more easy-going with strangers in future if they are chill with it as a kitten. Of course, don’t force them into unwanted interaction, and keep an eye on body language or an obvious desire to get away. Again, having two cats in the house, especially two kittens, will mean they get plenty of socialization from their buddy, and take the pressure off you. Small kittens get lonely very easily, so if you have long days at work, or extended periods that no one is home daily, then it’s quite imperative that you have more than one pet, for companionship.


Kittens will naturally groom themselves, though they do learn this behavior in part from watching their mothers, and from being groomed by them. You can help by rubbing them gently with a damp cloth, and ensuring that their little kitty butts and paws are clean (they can be uncoordinated with where they step in the litter box!). It’s also good to get them used to being brushed at this age, so they are accepting of it when they are older too. In the same vein, brushing their teeth is a great habit to get started, as older cats who are new to it can be mighty resistant at first! When it comes to toileting, using the litter box is another instinctual behavior they will follow, though there are bound to be occasional accidents at first. Again, avoid punitive measures and redirect them to the litter box. They’ll get it. Keep the litter box clean, and remove any solid deposits at least daily. 


Kitten sleeping

For the world’s most adorable snoozes, look no further. Your kitten will spend their first few months pretty much either playing, eating or sleeping. There’s not a whole lot of awake chill time at this age! Since kittens are so little, they can’t regulate their body temperatures very well and have a tendency to get chilled. They will often seek out a lap or a neck to snuggle into for warmth. This is another time that a duo is better, so they can curl up together. Failing that, a warm, lined kitten bed will help them have a cozy night’s sleep. 


Cats are clever wee things, and despite their bad rap, are actually quite trainable. Kittens are very malleable and can be taught a lot. A combination of treats and clicker training can get your cat sitting, shaking paws, waving, and even using and flushing a people toilet! Short intervals of a few minutes daily, with frequent and readily given treats will help to get them doing your bidding quickly. 


Obviously the most important person in your kitten’s life, after you and your family members, is your veterinarian. You’ll be very familiar with each other before your kitten reaches a year old, as there are a few appointments you’ll definitely need to make. 


Check with the people you got your kitten from as to whether it has had any or all of the vaccinations up to the 8-week mark. Kittens should be getting vaccinations every three-four weeks until sixteen weeks of age. From then the frequency greatly decreases. You’ll need to at least get the core vaccines of FVRCP, which stands for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia, and then rabies at sixteen weeks. Talk to your veterinarian about the necessity of other non-core vaccines, as geography can dictate necessity. 


Deworming is an undertaking that can happen at the vaccination appointments. Ask your veterinarian about the usual deworming tablets, as well as heartworm and flea treatments. 

Spay/neuter surgery

There are millions of kittens that do not find loving homes each year. Help to reduce this incidence by booking your kitten in for a spay or neuter surgery, before it reaches sexual maturity. This means getting it done around five or six months of age. It will help with health and behavior later in life, and ensure your little one doesn’t contribute more kittens to an already overflowing world!

Check ups

Vet checkups

Right from the get-go, and once your crucial vaccinations and surgeries are done, you’ll want to set up regular appointments with your veterinarian, and keep that habit up for your cat’s whole life. Getting kitty used to the vet and the vet office early and often is also good for reducing the stress of visits as an adult cat. You’ll get a good routine in place and ward off any underlying problems early this way too. 

Wrap it up 

Having a tiny bundle of fur *or two) rolling around your place, pouncing on anything that moves, exploring every nook-and-cranny is a really rewarding experience. Seeing them grow into a cat with their own distinct personality and temperament is fun and happens all quite quickly. Your kitten will love its new home, and you, and you’ll have a fun new buddy to hang out with at home. Raising a kitten is also easier than ever, with the wealth of information available on how to do it best, and an array of accessories and products to help them live their absolute best kitten life!

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