Raising a Kitten

The Best Tips for Raising a Kitten

There's nothing cuter than a kitten.

Tiny, fuzzy, adorably colored, with upright ears, bright eyes, and clumsy paws; these little beings just grab our heartstrings, yank, and we're hooked. I know this well as I regularly foster litters of kittens from a local shelter. One of the hardest parts of this volunteer work is giving up the kittens when it's time for them to go to their new homes because after caring for them for a few weeks I've fallen in love with all of them. Just loving a kitten isn't enough, however. Here are the best tips I've found in answer to those questions.

Gradually Change Foods

The first question to ask the person you're adopting the kitten from is what food your kitten is used to eating. Make sure you have some of that food (at least a two week supply) as you don't want to change foods abruptly as that could lead to gastrointestinal upsets. Some fosters (such as myself) feed a variety of foods during the kittens stay. I feel that gives the kitten a better chance to adjust to a new diet when he goes home. When you bring your kitten home, feed the normal food for several days as the kitten adjusts to his new home. Then, if you have a food you'd prefer to feed, begin gradually introducing that food. For example, my cats eat The Honest Kitchen's Grain Free Turkey Recipe. I add one teaspoon of the dehydrated formula to the kittens' food per meal. Just a teaspoon dropped to the side of the other food. After several days like that, then I'll add two teaspoons. When I know the dehydrated formula is being consumed, then I'll start decreasing the old food. Over a two week period, I'll continue this until I can eliminate the old food. If you see any signs of gastrointestinal upsets (vomiting or soft stools) then stop any changes until everything goes back to normal. Then make any future changes more slowly so the body can adjust. Put the food in a wide shallow bowl rather than a deeper one. There should be no pressure on the kitten's neck as he tries to reach the food. Water can be in a slightly deeper bowl.

Feed Multiple Meals

Kittens up to six months of age need multiple meals per day; six small meals is great. After six months of age three meals are fine. Ideally, provide regularly scheduled meals. Not only with this be better for your kitten's digestion but also you become more prominent in your kitten's life. After all, the giver of food is really important to a hungry, growing kitten. This will help establish a bond between you and your new kitten.
©istockphoto/MW47 ©istockphoto/MW47

Ahh, the Litterbox!

A previous blog post addressed litterbox training in full, so we'll keep this section short. However, if your kitten isn't well litterboxed trained, keep in mind there are litters made specifically to aid in this process. These litters contain herbs that attract the kitten. I've found them to be very effective and I begin all of my foster kittens with these litters. Then, as the kittens get better at using the box (with few or no accidents) I'll gradually decrease that litter and increase the litter I normally use. If you have a young or small kitten, make sure he can easily get into the litterbox. If he has to struggle, he may choose not to use it. An easy solution is a thick towel, folded it in half, and then rolled it into a log and placed it next to the box.

Initially Limit Your Kitten's Freedom

I know the desire to just turn the new kitten loose in your house so you can watch his antics but unfortunately it's not a good idea. First of all, he's apt to panic and a tiny kitten can find the smallest, tightest places to hide in. It's not a good way to introduce him to his new home and family. Instead, have his litterbox, bed, cat tree, and toys in one small room (a spare bedroom works well or a walk in closet or a bathroom) and plan on keeping him there for at least a couple of weeks. Go in to play with him and care for him, bring him out into the rest of the house to spend time with him, but then put him back in his room. When he's settled in, litterbox trained, comfortable with his new family members, and not likely to panic, then let him explore the house when people are home to supervise him. Put him back in his room when he'll be left alone, when people go to work and school, and at night. As a general rule I don't let my cats have free run of the house all the time until they are at least six months old. By then, they are less apt to get into trouble.

Kittens Sleep a Lot

You may be amazed at how much your kitten sleeps—spoiler alert, they sleep a lot. They eat, play, use the litterbox, look for attention from you, and then sleep. They will repeat this all day with sleep taking a great deal of time; from 18 to 20 hours a day total. When kittens play, they use up a great deal of energy and sleep replenishes that. Plus, kittens are growing, too, which also requires sleep. Don't be worried that your kitten sleeps a great deal. It's normal and as he grows up he'll sleep a little less although even adult cats sleep a great deal. Don't try to keep him awake, though, or interrupt him when he's sleeping. Let him sleep as much as he needs.
©istockphoto/Ztranger ©istockphoto/Ztranger

Make a Trip to the Veterinarian

Soon after you adopt your kitten, make an appointment at your veterinarian's clinic. Bring any records you may have for your kitten. Most shelters and rescues will give the first vaccination, will deworm the kitten, and may run some initial health tests. Bring those records so your veterinarian won't redo work already done and will know what your kitten still needs. Your veterinarian will also do an initial examination to make sure your kitten looks healthy. He will also set up a schedule with you for any future vaccinations or other care, including spay or neuter if that hasn't been done by the shelter or rescue. Kittens may appear ferocious when playing with their toys, but they are small and can be fragile. Having a good working relationship with your veterinarian is important as should a kitten get sick, it can go downhill quickly. If you see any signs of illness or injury (anything that isn't normal) call your veterinarian right away. Where you might watch an adult animal for a little while (depending on the situation), don't do this with a kitten.

Build a Bond

There's a difference between a cat who lives in your house and a cat who loves you. A cat who loves you has formed a trusting, loving relationship with you. You and the cat have bonded. This bond doesn't form automatically, however. It takes time, patience, and trust to build it. Feeding your kitten scheduled meals (rather than just leaving food out all the time) is one way to begin building your relationship. Playing with your kitten is another way. Fishing pole toys, squeaky toys, fuzzy critters, crinkle tunnels, and other kittens toys are all great. Let the kitten play fight with his toys, but do not let him play roughly with you. Never allow biting, scratching, grabbing with claws or teeth, or attacking you. What your kitten does in kittenhood he'll do in adulthood. So let him attack his toys, but don't play rough with him with your hands; stay gentle and don't play if he wants to attack hands. Have quiet times with your kitten, too. Hold him, rub his ears, stroke his body and see if you can relax him enough to fall asleep while you hold him. For an animal, especially a tiny one, falling asleep while being held is the ultimate in trust.
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