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How to Take Care of a Kitten: Your Complete Guide to the First Year

As you bring your new kitten home, you might be feeling both joyful and humbled by your new responsibility. To help you care for your kitten and give them a great start to a long, healthy life, read these tips from our Phenix City vets.

Raising a Kitten

While kittens are lovable and endlessly adorable household pets, they have very specific needs that their owners need to care for. These needs evolve as they mature through different life stages, and if something goes wrong or is missed their general health and longevity may be impacted. In this post, we'll discuss how to take care of a newborn kitten and raise them through their first year. 

0-4 Weeks Old

Your 0-4-week old kitten is considered a newborn and is still learning how to walk, meow and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, their mother will be able to do most of the work at this point, including feeding. 

All you'd need to do is ensure the mother is in good health and that they have a safe, warm environment. Check that the floor of their crate or area is covered with a blanket, and that they have a warm bed to lay on. 

If  your newborn kitten does not have a mother, one of your first priorities should be to take them to the veterinarian. Your vet will be able to check your kitten's health and offer detailed instructions on how to meet the needs of your newest furry friend. Your veterinary team can provide some sage advice about how to take care of a newborn kitten without a mother.

5-11 Weeks Old

When your kitten reaches 5 to 10 weeks old, we recommend a gradual reduction in bottle feeding or feeding by their mothers. Instead, they should eat high-protein meals about 3 to 4 times a day. 

Start by pouring formula into a food bowl and potentially adding a bit of softened hard food or canned soft food to help ease them into the process. 

Their motor skills will also start improving at this stage and they'll become more adventurous and playful. While this can be a joyous time, keep a close eye on them to make sure they don't get themselves into trouble or unsafe situations. 

During this phase, your kitten will require lots of supervision and hands-on playtime.

3-6 Months Old

If you want to adopt a kitten, we recommend looking for one this age. During this stage, they are adorable little bundles of fun and mischief. A 4-month old kitten is similar to an adolescent. This can make for a challenging time as they explore their new world and form unique personalities. They may require some work on behavioral modification. 

This is also the age to consider having them spayed or neutered, before the reach the 6-8 month mark. 

Bringing Home Your New Kitten

Before you bring your new kitten home, it's a good idea to be prepared. Here are a few things we recommend having on hand when your new kitten arrives: 

  • Cat-sized food and water dishes set up in a dedicated spot, well away from the litter box 
  • Cat toys to ensure your kitten doesn't get bored
  • Litter box placed somewhere that's easy for your kitten to access but not near their food or bed 
  • Scratching post and/or interactive play tower
  • Specially formulated cleaner to deal with accidents that are bound to happen during litter training
  • Safe hiding place and cozy bed. This may be as simple as a cushion in a cat carrier with the door left open, a small box with soft fabric on the bottom to make a bed, or a luxury teepee style bed.
  • Something that smells familiar to the kitten. A blanket their mother has slept on or a soft toy from their first home can help to ease your new kitten's anxiety.

Kitten Proof Your Home

Your kitten is bound to begin enthusiastically exploring your home almost as soon as you bring them home, so be prepared by kitten proofing ahead of time.

  • Block off gaps in furniture, cupboards or appliances that they could become trapped in.
  • Close the doors on all appliances such as front-loading washing washings, dryers and even toilets
  • Cover or move any wire that may look like the ideal chew toy, or cause your kitten to become tangled

Litter Training (Potty Training) Your Kitten

Kittens can begin litter training as young as 4 weeks old, when they begin weening.

Be sure that the litter tray you purchase is an appropriate size for your new friend. A little box that is about 9" by 13" is a good size for most kittens, but you will need to purchase a larger little tray when your cat reaches full size. Many cats prefer an uncovered litter box so this is a good way to go, and much less inexpensive than covered versions.

Cats tend to prefer fine granules of litter which is softer on their paws but don't tend to have a preference between clumping or non-clumping, that choice is yours. So cats refuse to use litter made from wheat or corn because it smells like food. When it comes to litter a little trial and error should do the trick. You will soon get to know which litters your cat prefers.

Steps for Litter Training

Stay patient and persistent when it comes to litter training your new kitten. Kindness and positive reinforcement will go a long way to teaching your young feline friend good litterbox habits.

  1. Show your kitten the location of their new litter box and let them have a good sniff around
  2. 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.
  3. If your kitten does not sure 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.
  4. When your kitten does use the litter box appropriately provide some positive reinforcement with playtime or a small treat.
  5. 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.

Playtime

To help prevent your kitten from getting into mischief it is a good idea to spend some quality time playing with your new feline friend.

Playtime ensures that your kitten's mind is kept active and will help them to use up some of their boundless energy. If your kitten begins biting or showing predatory behaviors such as pouncing, jumping or biting it's time to pull out a toy and rechannel your kitten's energy into more positive pursuits. This is when cat toys attached to a string and stick can come in very handy.  Change up your kitten's toys regularly to avoid boredom.

Avoid waving your fingers as a way to play. Allowing your kitten to bite at you or claw will send your cat the message that these behaviors are acceptable. Ignore bad behaviors and use positive reinforcement for good behaviors. If your kitten is biting or clawing at your feet stay perfectly still so that your kitten learns that your toes are not prey.

Use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior. 

Essential Preventive Care For Your Kitten

No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding how to take care of a baby kitten.

Regular wellness exams will give your kitten their best shot at a long and healthy life. These cat checkups allow your vet to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.

You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.

Signs That 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. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment.

Newborns

Here is what you need to keep an eye out in a newborn kitten:

  • Delay's or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
  • Diarrhea 
  • Vomiting

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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have a new kitten? Contact our Phenix City vets today to book your cat's first kitten exam with our vets. We would be happy to help you give your new feline family member a great start to a healthy, happy life.

New Patients Welcome

Summerville Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Phenix City companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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