Anyone who has had a very young kitten knows two things: kittens have a ton of energy and kittens can get into just about anything they set their adorable little eyes on.
Combine these two truths with the reality that all of us need to leave the house every now and again, and we have a recipe for trouble with a crazy little kitten roaming the house free.
When we rescued our kitten, Riot, a few months back, he was only around 3 weeks old (he was found in someone’s yard). We’ve had kittens before (though more around the 4-7 month range) and we got our dog as an 8-week-old puppy, so we figured, “piece of cake.” Yeah, not so much.
We quickly realized he had to be contained when we couldn’t have our full attention fixed on him, or he’d end up climbing behind the fridge, trying to bite on an extension cord or leaping recklessly to attack the top of the drapes from the top of his kitty condo tree.
Fortunately, we had a crate from our dog’s puppyhood that we were able to use to create Riot’s own personal playpen—which he still enjoys even now that he’s gained more freedom in the house.
Here’s how we did it.
Since our dog is a large breed, Riot’s crate is large enough to hold a 110-pound dog, plus it folds for easy storage. It gives Riot plenty of room to play and climb, but if you don’t want something that big, there are plenty of smaller crates available. Try and find one with rollers if you can, that way you can move him to wherever you may go in the house. Make sure to get a wire crate and not a fabric or plastic crate—you’ll want your kitten visible to you and vice versa, not only to maintain that emotional bonding but to monitor him. Plus, he may want to scratch the crate if it’s solid.
A cozy way to give your kitten that higher elevation he craves along with a warm resting place is by getting him a kitty hammock. Especially early on, our kitten spent hours at a time lying in his warm little nest, often on his back.
As all cat owners know, felines love to hide. For this, you’ll want to get him a single-level condo that will not only provide a hiding place, but a place for him to jump up on for a nap or as a stepping stone to some other part of his kitty gym. There are also condos with built-in scratch pads that can definitely come in handy to help divert those vicious little kitten nails from yourself.
Cats also love to bat things and jump after dangling objects, in case you hadn’t noticed. Take advantage of having a wire crate by hanging some homemade toys. You can easily fashion a dangly toy by braiding some fleece together, knotting the ends, and tying one end to the crate. Make the fleece extra enticing by tying a toy mouse or even a small ball at the end of it. Just find something you can easily tie to the fleece. An important word of caution: do not leave your kitten unattended with dangling toys because it’s easy for him to wrap himself up or choke himself. If you are not watching him, remove the toy.
Small balls and toy mice are also a way to get your kitten to chase, which he loves to do. Scatter them throughout the crate and he’ll entertain himself for long periods. There are also cat toy boxes you can place the toys in for a little bit more of a challenge. Your kitten will stretch his paws and limbs deep into the box trying to catch his “prey.” Again, don’t leave your cat unattended with toys he can choke on.
Things to Cuddle
For as much energy as your kitten has, he will also take plenty of naps. So you’ll want to give him a nice warm blanket (fleece is a good one) for him to sleep on, and throw in a cuddly, soft toy he can snuggle. As he starts climbing around the crate, you’ll want to add more cushion throughout to soften any falls.
You’ll definitely want a cat scratcher in your kitten’s playpen, otherwise he’ll take to scratching things you don’t want him to scratch—like your furniture or clothing. If you see him scratching something he shouldn’t, move him over to his scratcher so that you get him into good habits.
Your kitten will need quick access to a litter box at all times, so keep a small one in the crate with him at first. As he spends more time out of his playpen, you can eventually move it out to where you plan to keep the box. Make sure your kitten’s litter box is sized for him and that it’s easy for him to get in and out of.
This is a good place for you to start for building your kitten’s playpen. But don’t stop there. As you get to know your kitten, you’ll see his individual likes and dislikes and you’ll better be able to cater to him. Make sure to supervise him and remove anything that might seem dangerous for him. The goal of the crate is to contain him when you can't monitor him around the house, not isolate him, so take him out as much as possible, playing with and holding him. Also, just because he has a fun little playpen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working to integrate him into your home—which is the ultimate goal. As the days go by, he should be spending more and more time free in your home with the option to enter his playpen as he wishes.
Jessica Peralta has been a journalist for more than 15 years and an animal lover all her life. She has had dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish, frogs, and rabbits. Her current children are a German shepherd named Guinness and a black kitten named Riot (and he lives up to that name). It’s because of her love for animals that she focused her journalistic career to the world of holistic animal care and pet nutrition. In between keeping Riot and Guinness out of mischief, she’s constantly learning about all the ways she can make them healthier and happier.