New Kitten Guide
Congratulations on welcoming a kitten into your life. You’ve joined the millions of people who have discovered the pleasures of feline friendship.
What You Need
- A carrier box to use as her first “home”
- Kitten food
- Food and water bowls
- A litter tray and litter substrate
- Some toys (home made or from our store)
- Grooming tools (e.g. a comb and a soft brush)
- A scratching post, cat tree, or cat gymnasium
For the first few days keep your kitten in just one room in your home.
Prepare this room so that it fulfils all her needs. The room should have:
- Carrier box
- Bed (inside the box)
- Food Bowl
- Water Bowl
- Litter Tray
- Scratching post/cat tree
Animals enjoy a regular routine, so get into the habit from the start of feeding her at the same time and in the same place every day.
After the first few days, when she is used to her special room, gradually allow her to explore other rooms in the house, going with her to make sure that she doesn’t get into trouble of any kind.
Try to see your home from a cat’s eye view, spotting any potential hazards.
Kittens enjoy having private space for sleeping, for resting, or just for hiding out.
You can buy commercial cat beds, but a simple cardboard box, with an old towel or t-shirt, is often enough. She may not even wish to use the bed your provide: cats are experts at finding their own cosy spots.
Like other young creatures, kittens tend to play energetically, then flop down to snooze. Enjoy her when she wants to play, but when she’s sleeping, it’s best not to disturb her.
Kittens grow rapidly in the first months of life, and they have specific nutritional requirements that need to be met. The easiest way to keep them healthy is to buy a good quality complete diet from our online store.
It’s best to ask the person who gave you the kitten to give you a small bag of the food she’s used to, and continue to feed this for the first few days. This helps to reduce her stress as she gets used to her new home, and will reduce the risk of digestive upsets. Then gradually introduce the diet you plan to give her for the longer term.
Wet or Dry?
Kittens and cats can thrive on dry kibble, moist food in sachets or tins, or a combination. In general, it’s best to offer both, so that she gets used to eating both types. Commercial food is better than trying to home cook for her: it’s complete and balanced, ensuring that she gets all the nutrients she needs.
Kittens and cats need to have a bowl of fresh water available at all times, especially if they are eating dry food. Place the water bowl a short distance away from the food bowl: the two bowls don’t need to be side by side. In the wild, cats drink in a completely different place to where they eat.
A cat fountain is a way of making drinking more fun and appealing to an indoor kitten or cat, and it may encourage her to drink more.
Kitten treats can be a useful way of rewarding a kitten, helping to boost the bond between you, but simple attention, petting, and cuddling are even more effective.
When kittens are young, it’s best to get them used to a wide variety of new experiences – sights, sounds, smells, animals and people. A kitten’s brain is receptive and ready to accept new experiences: the more she gets used to now, the more confident and secure she’ll feel when she grows up into an adult cat.
Introduce her to different types of people – babies, children, men, women, and people dressed in different ways: hats, glasses, scarves and coats. You might even show her people wearing Halloween masks, so that she learns about everything in life that might spook her when she’s older.
It’s best to make introductions gradually, at her own pace. If she is forced into an encounter, she’s likely to feel stressed and frightened. The key is to do it gently, gently, so that she grows in confidence. Don’t leave her alone with larger animals until you are sure they get along well together: as a young kitten, she is vulnerable, and accidents can happen suddenly and dramatically.
Just like everyone else in your home, kittens need to learn about boundaries, and she needs to know that some behaviours are not acceptable. Teach her that it’s not OK to sharpen her claws on the furniture, scratch or bite people’s bare feet, clamber up the curtains or bite people’s hands. If she does something you don’t want her to do, say ‘No’ loudly or clap your hands, then when she reverts to behaviour that you want to encourage, praise and pet her. Never punish or slap a kitten: she will not learn, and will just feel stressed and frightened of you.
Make sure that everyone in your home knows the kitten rules, and follows the same guidelines. There’s no point in teaching her not to scratch toes and then somebody tempting her by wriggling their toes in front of her.
Nearly all kittens are naturally litter trained by the time they arrive at their new homes. To be sure, you should encourage her by placing her in the litter tray after meal times, scraping the litter to remind her how it works.
Place her litter tray in a quiet place that’s private, away from public view, out of the line of sight of windows, and away from her food and water bowls. Don’t move it around from day to day: she will learn where it is, and prefer to keep going back to the same place.
As with her food, ask for some of the litter from her original home, because she’ll be used to it. If you decide to use a new type or brand of litter, introduce it gradually, mixing with the other litter, so that she gets used to the change.
Exercise and Play
Playing is an important part of kitten physical and mental development, so spend time playing with her every day. This will help to develop her bonding with you, her social skills, and her physical ability to run, climb and jump. Keep play sessions short: cats get bored quickly and she’ll enjoy them more if they happen frequently in short bursts rather than occasional long stretches.
Choose toys that mimic natural behaviours like hunting: ideally, find toys that are small enough for her to carry around (like a bird or mouse) not not so small that she could swallow them.
You don’t always need to buy special toys: she’ll love balls of rolled up paper or a simple pingpong ball. Kittens love places to hide in too, like a cardboard box with holes cut in the sides.
Kittens should not be left alone with toys on strings: accidents can, and do, happen.
It’s normal and natural for cats to scratch, so get her scratching posts so that she leaves your furniture alone. Try to get horizontal as well as vertical posts for her to scratch, and make sure that the vertical one is high enough for her to stretch her claws upwards at full height, extending her joints and working her muscles. Ensure that it is sturdily set up: cats don’t enjoy wobbly posts.
Cat trees and gyms allow kittens to enjoy vertical space as well as horizontal space. They love climbing up high and looking down on the world, and it’s great exercise.
Brushing and Combing
Buy the right utensils to look after her coat well from the start:
- A soft brush
- A fine toothed comb
- A wide toothed cat comb (if she has long hair)
- A fine-wire slicker brush
- A rubber brush to give her a massage
Regular brushing helps to remove old, dead hair from the coat, preventing matted fur from accumulating. It’s also an important bonding time, and it’s like giving her a gentle massage: it’s good for her muscles and circulation.
Short-haired kittens only need to be groomed a couple of times a week, while long haired kittens need daily brushing, for at least fifteen minutes a day.
If you don’t groom your cat regularly, they are more likely to swallow loose hairs when they groom themselves, and these can then form hairballs in their stomach or intestines. These can be uncomfortable, causing regurgitation or being passed in the litter tray.
Cats don’t need manicures or pedicures, and cats that spend time outside usually keep their nailsat the correct length by scratching on trees and fence posts. Cats that are indoors all the time can end up with overgrown claws, and may need to be clipped. You can do this yourself, but ask your vet or nurse to show you how the first time.
Indoors or Outdoors
There’s debate about whether kittens and cats should be indoors only, or allowed outside via a window or a cat flap.
Indoor cats may not be able to express all of their normal and natural behaviours, and so they are prone to more stress-related disease than cats that can go outside.
Cats that go outside, on average, have shorter lives, because they are exposed to hazards like traffic and other animals that may fight with them.
You need to decide which type of life you’d like your pet to live.
A microchip enabled cat flap is the best way to control your cat’s coming and going: read this article to find out more.
Fleas are not about being “clean” or “dirty”: any kitten or cat can pick up fleas if they meet other animals or visit areas where other animals have been. Fleas make kittens feel uncomfortable, cause a skin rash and can spread disease. A heavy flea burden can make kittens anaemic, causing serious and dangerous illness. If your kitten is at risk of picking up fleas, regular anti-flea treatment (e.g. once a month) may be the safest answer.
How to Spot Fleas
Look through your pet’s coat, or use a fine comb to go through her fur. You may find wriggling, hopping fleas, or you may just find “flea dirt”. This is dark flecks of dust-like material which if placed onto a piece of damp kitchen paper or cotton wool, turn a reddish brown colour. This is because they are flea droppings, containing dried blood.
Other External Parasites
1) Lice: These are pale brown, similar to fleas but smaller and slower moving. They cause kittens to feel very itchy.
2) Mites: these are uncommon, but they can cause intense irritation, with red patches or sore looking skin.
- Mange mites (Notoedres) – these burrow into the skin.
- Cheyletiella mites (so-called ‘walking dandruff’) – these are like mini- versions of fleas, and they can nibble humans too.
- Ear mites – common in kittens, these cause severe irritation of the ear canals. Often the ears fill with brown wax if ear mites are present.
- Harvest mites – these are small orange mites, seen mostly in the late summer or autumn. They tend to attach themselves between the toes or in the folds of the ear, causing itchiness.
3) Ticks: these are often picked up by kittens and cats that go outside. They are tiny when they attach, but can swell up with blood to the size of a large raisin. Watch our video about how to remove ticks, and how to prevent them.
Internal Parasites (Worms)
Kittens pick up round worms from their mother, and kittens and cats can pick up worms when they go outside, especially if they hunt small prey like mice, rats, and birds.
Even if you never see any worms, you should set up a preventative worming programme for your pet, as some worms can be passed to humans, carrying a particular risk to young children.
The main types of worms are:
1) Roundworms – look like tiny lengths of spaghetti. They can be passed to the kitten in her mother’s milk, so kittens need to be wormed regularly from three weeks of age.
2) Tapeworms – can look like flattened pieces of rice, or can join together in chains up to 50cm long. The most common tapeworm can be picked up when fleas are swallowed, while other types can be picked up by eating prey after hunting.
3) Lungworms – can also be picked up by eating prey such as rodents or birds, and can cause a cough.
Common signs of worms:
- Vomiting or diarrhoea (which may contain worms)
- Tapeworm segments around your cat’s bottom (like squashed rice grains)
- Swollen abdomen
- Weight loss or a gaunt appearance
- Coughing (if lungworms are present)
Regular preventive treatment for worms is an important routine part of care for your kitten.
All kittens and cats should be vaccinated against:
- Feline Influenza (cat flu)
- Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE/Panleucopaenia)
A risk assessment should be carried out, and some kittens and cats should also be vaccinated against:
- Feline Leukaemia Virus
- A vaccine against Chlamydia is also sometimes recommended for some cats
These vaccinations will protect your kitten from serious and highly infectious viral infections. The vaccines prime the cat’s immune system, so that if she comes into contact with the real disease later in life, she will produce antibodies against the virus that will protect her.
Vaccinations are normally given in two doses: at around nine weeks of age, then again three weeks later.
After that, booster vaccinations are recommended to keep their protection up to date at intervals depending on the type of lifestyle of your cat. A once yearly check up by the vet is a good idea as it will help to spot problems early that you may not be aware of (e.g. dental disease). At this check, the vet will usually give whatever vaccine booster may be needed, after discussing your cat’s lifestyle with you.
Protect your kitten until she’s had all her shots
Until they are fully vaccinated, kittens should be kept indoors, and away from other cats (as well as away from places where other cats may have been).
A kitten’s baby (milk or deciduous) teeth emerge when she’s about three to four weeks old, falling out when her adult (permanent) teeth start to erupt at around four months of age.
Home dental care is part of responsible pet ownership. Cats are prone to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and painful dental decay, so it makes sense to teach her from an early age to allow you to inspect her teeth, including her incisors at the front and her molars at the back. Keep an eye out for gums that look bright red and sore, or teeth that are discoloured, loose or painful. If her mouth does not look healthy in any way, take her to your vet for a dental check up.
Brushing cat teeth?
Most cats don’t like having their teeth brushed, but if your kitten will let you, it’s worth having a daily routine that involves gentle cleaning of her teeth, to prevent the build up of dental tartar and to keep her mouth as healthy as possible. Use specially formulated cat toothpaste, and a soft brush or perhap a rubbery-type of finger brush which slips over your index finger.
Some dry cat foods can also help to keep your pet’s teeth clean. Check out our online store for the best dental diets.
Spaying and Neutering
The male operation (castration) is a straightforward procedure, as the structures being removed (testicles) are outside the body cavity.
The female operation (spaying or hysterectomy) is more complicated, involving opening the abdomen to remove the ovaries and uterus through a small incision in the cat’s side or midline abdomen. External skin stitches are sometimes needed and she may need to wear an ‘Elizabethan collar’ to ensure that she does not interfere with the wound.
The operations are carried out under general anaesthesia, and they are normally day procedures, with the cat being left in at the clinic in the morning, then collected in the evening.
Kittens and cats are generally spayed or neutered from four to five months onwards, with different vets having different preferences on timing: ask your local vet about their policy.
Why neuter or spay a cat?
- Prevent unwanted and unexpected litters of kittens.
- Reduce territorial behaviour, such as urine marking, especially in male cats.
- Reduce the strong scent of urine from unneutered cats.
- Reduce straying and roaming in search of breeding partners.
- Reduce fighting between tom cats by 80%.
- Prevent mammary cancer and womb infections in female cats.
- Prevent testicular cancer in male cats.
Kittens and cats cannot talk, so they need to carry identification in case they get lost. This is essential for cats that go outside, but it’s also important for indoor cats, in case they escape.
Traditionally, a collar and ID tag was used, but these days, a microchip is a better answer.
A microchip is a tiny electronic chip – as small as a grain of rice – that’s injected under the loose skin at the back of a kitten’s neck. The chip carries a unique 15 digit number which is stored on an internet database along with your name, address, email and telephone numbers. If your kitten or cat is found by a stranger, they can take her to the vet, who can obtain the number by scanning the chip with a hand held scanner. This number can then be used to retrieve your contact details from the internet database. Remember to inform the microchipping database if you move house.
Microchips can now also be used as a type of electronic key for your pet, opening cat flaps and food bowls while preventing other cats from having access.
Microchipping is carried out by vets or vet nurses, and it’s a simple, quick procedure that can be done even on young kittens.
Pet insurance ensures that you can afford to give your cat the veterinary care that they need, when they need it, giving you peace of mind. If your cat is insured, you don’t need to worry about being able to afford her care in case of an accident or serious illness.
It’s worth shopping around, and taking time to read the detail (“small print”) of the policy that you choose, to make sure that you understand what you are paying for. Cheaper policies may actually cost you more money in the end, because they do not cover the same level of treatment for your pet.
If your cat develops a long-term health problem (e.g. diabetes or arthritis) some insurance companies only pay for the first year of treatment while others keep paying for the whole life of your pet. Make sure that you read the detail of the policy before signing up.
Routine procedures, such as vaccinations, parasite control, neutering and dental care are not covered by insurance, so even if your pet is insured, you still need to budget for these.
Some insurance companies offer discounts if:
- You insure more two or more pets for them.
- You pay one lump sum per year rather than monthly premiums.
- You agree to pay a higher proportion of any vet bill.
- Your kitten is non-pedigree.
- Your kitten is microchipped.