The arrival of a new kitten at home is always exciting, but there are certain responsibilities to take into account to keep them happy and healthy. Today, our veterinarians in Vancouver explain how to raise a healthy kitten.
Newborn Kitten Care
Kittens are adorable pets, but they have very specific needs that must be taken care of. These needs are different at every stage of their lives, and if something goes wrong or isn't taken care of, it can have an impact on their overall health and longevity. Here, we explain how to care for your new furry friend during his kitten years.
0-4 Weeks Old
When a kitten is between 0 and 4 weeks old, it's considered a newborn. They still learn to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, she'll be able to carry out most tasks, including feeding.
All you need to do is ensure that the mother is in good health and that the animal is in a warm, safe environment. Make sure the floor of her cage or space is covered with a blanket and that she has a warm bed.
If your newborn kitten doesn't have a mother, the first thing to do is take them to a vet. The vet will be able to determine the kitten's state of health and give you detailed instructions on how to meet your little companion's needs.
5-11 Weeks Old
When the kitten in your care is around 5 to 10 weeks old, they should gradually stop being bottle-fed or fed by their mother and start providing protein-rich meals around 3 to 4 times a day.
You can start by pouring formula into a bowl and possibly adding a little softened hard food or canned soft food to help him get used to the process.
As their motor skills improve at this stage, they'll start to become adventurous, and you'll need to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get into trouble.
Your kitten will need plenty of supervision and playtime while they're between 2 and 4 months old.
3-6 Months Old
The age of 3 to 4 months is the ideal time to adopt a new kitten. At this age, they're adorable little bundles of mischief and fun. At 4 months, your kitten enters adolescence, which can be a difficult period and requires behavior modification training.
It's also at this time that you should consider having her spayed or neutered before she reaches the age of 6 to 8 months.
Bringing Your New Kitten Home
Before you bring your new feline family member home, being prepared is a good idea. Below are a few things you'll need to have on hand when your kitten comes home:
- Litter box placed somewhere that is easy for your kitten to access but not near their food or bed
- Cat-sized food and water dishes set up in a special spot well away from the litter box
- Cozy bed and safe hiding space. This could be as simple as a cushion in a cat carrier with the door left open, a small box with some soft fabric to make a bed or a luxury teepee-style bed.
- Scratching posts and/or interactive play tower
- Cat toys to ensure that your kitten doesn't get bored
- If possible, bringing something home along with the kitten that smells familiar to them can also be a good idea. A blanket their mother has slept on or a soft toy from their first home. This can help to reduce your new kitten's anxiety.
- Specially formulated cleaner to deal with mistakes that are bound to happen when litter training.
Kitten-Proofing Your Home
Your kitten will certainly start enthusiastically exploring your home as soon as you bring them home, so prepare by proofing the house.
- Block off gaps in furniture, cupboards, or appliances in which they could become trapped.
- Close the doors on all appliances, such as front-loading washing, washings, dryers, and even toilets.
- Cover or move any wire that looks like the ideal chew toy, or cause your kitten to tangle.
Litter Training Your Kitten
Kittens can start litter box training as early as 4 weeks of age when they start to wean off their mom.
Make sure the litter box you buy is the right size for your new companion. A small box measuring around 9 inches by 13 inches is a good size for most kittens, but you'll need to buy a larger box when your cat reaches adult size. Many cats prefer an uncovered litter box, which is a good solution, much cheaper than covered versions.
Cats tend to prefer fine litter granules, which are gentler on their paws, but they have no preference for clumping or non-clumping litter - the choice is yours. Cats refuse to use wheat- or corn-based litter because they smell of food. When it comes to litter, a little trial and error should suffice. You'll soon know which litter your cat prefers.
Steps for Litter Training
Remain patient and persistent when it comes to litter training your new kitten. Kindness and positive reinforcement will go a long way to instilling good litter box habits in your young feline friend.
- 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 use 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 keep your kitten out of mischief, it's a good idea to spend some time playing with your new feline friend.
Play keeps your kitten's mind active and helps her expend some of her boundless energy. If your kitten starts biting or exhibiting predatory behaviors such as pouncing, jumping, or biting, it's time to get out a toy and channel your kitten's energy into more positive activities. This is where cat toys attached to a string and stick can come in very handy. Change your kitten's toys regularly to prevent boredom.
Avoid wiggling your fingers when playing. Allowing your kitten to bite or claw will help her understand that these behaviors are acceptable. Ignore bad behavior and use positive reinforcement for good behavior. If your kitten bites or scratches your feet, stand perfectly still so she learns that your toes are not prey.
Use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior.
Preventive Care for Your Kitten
Whatever your kitten's age, you should take them to their first veterinary appointment within the first week they are in your care. Your vet will assess your kitten's health and inform you of her dietary requirements. It's also an opportunity for you to ask any questions you may have about caring for your new family member.
Regular wellness check-ups will give your kitten the best chance of a long and healthy life. These examinations allow your veterinarian to assess your kitten's general health and well-being, including its dietary needs. Your vet will also be able to detect any disease at an early stage before it becomes serious, as it is then easier and less costly to treat.
You should also ensure your kitten receives all her vaccinations and is protected against parasites on schedule. Your kitten should receive her first set of vaccinations at 6 to 8 weeks of age, and you should have her spayed or neutered at 5 to 6 months. This helps prevent the onset of serious illnesses and diseases.
When 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. Call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment if you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs.
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. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.