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How to Take Care of a Kitten: Complete Guide

Bringing home a new kitten is always exciting, but there are some responsibilities to consider to keep them happy and healthy. Today, our Benicia vets discuss how to raise a healthy baby kitten.

How to take care of a kitten?

Kittens are delightful and affectionate pets to keep at home. However, they require specific attention and care according to their different life stages. Any negligence or missed care can significantly impact their health and lifespan. This guide provides information on how to care for your new furry companion throughout their kitten years.

Zero to Four Weeks Old

When kittens are between zero and four weeks old, they are considered newborns. They are still learning how to meow, walk, and even regulate their body temperature. If they have a mother, their mother will do most of the work, including feeding. All you have to do is make sure the mother is healthy and that the kittens are in a warm and safe environment. Cover the floor of their crate/area with a blanket and provide them with a warm bed to lie on.

If the newborn kitten doesn't have a mother, you should first take them to a vet. The veterinarian will assess the kitten's health and give you detailed instructions on caring for your tiny friend.

Five to Eleven Weeks Old

When caring for a kitten that is between five to ten weeks old, it's important to gradually transition them from bottle feeding or feeding from their mother to high protein meals. You should aim to feed them about three to four times a day. Start by pouring the formula into a food bowl and adding a small amount of softened hard food or canned soft food to help with the transition. At this stage, the kitten's motor skills will improve, and they will begin exploring their surroundings. You must closely supervise them to ensure they don't get into trouble.

Between the ages of two to four months, your kitten will require a lot of attention and playtime.

Three to Six Months Old

The optimal time to adopt a new kitten is when they are three to four months old. Kittens are at their cutest and most playful during this age. However, when kittens reach the age of four months, they start entering adolescence, which can be a challenging time.

This may require some work on behavioral modification. Additionally, it is important to consider having dogs spayed or neutered before they reach the age of six to eight months.

Bringing Your New Kitten Home

Before bringing home your new kitten, it's important to prepare. Here are a few things to have on hand:

  • 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 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 begin exploring your home soon after you bring them home, so kitten-proof 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 Your Kitten

Kittens can start learning how to use the litter tray from as early as four weeks old when they begin to wean off their mother's milk. When purchasing a litter box, make sure it is of an appropriate size for your furry friend. A litter box that measures around 9" by 13" is usually sufficient for most kittens, but you may need to upgrade to a larger litter tray once your cat reaches full size. Many cats prefer an uncovered litter box, which allows them more room to move around and is more cost-effective than a covered version. 

Cats generally prefer fine granules of litter, which are softer on their paws. However, they do not have a preference between clumping or non-clumping litter - that choice is entirely up to you. Some cats may refuse to use litter made from wheat or corn, as it smells like food. When it comes to litter, it may take a bit of experimentation to find the right fit for your cat. You will soon learn which type of litter your cat prefers with a little bit of trial and error.

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 this by doing small digging motions in the clean litter with your fingers.
  3. If your kitten does not use the litter box when you sit it in it, don't worry. Just be sure to gently place your kitten in the 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 uses 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

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

Playing with your kitten is very important to keep their minds active and help them expend their energy. If your kitten starts biting or showing predatory behaviors, such as pouncing, jumping, or biting, it means it's time to redirect their energy into more positive activities by using toys. You can use cat toys attached to a string and stick, as they can be very useful. Remember to change your kitten's toys regularly to prevent boredom.

Avoid waving your fingers as a way to play. Allowing your kitten to bite at you or claw will tell your cat 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. 

Preventive Care for Your Kitten

It is essential to take your kitten to its first veterinary appointment within the first week of you having them, regardless of their age. During this visit, your veterinarian will assess your kitten's health and inform you of its dietary needs. This is also an excellent opportunity for you to address any concerns you may have about caring for your new family member.

Regular wellness checkups are crucial to ensure your kitten enjoys a long and healthy life. These visits allow your vet to evaluate your kitten's overall health and dietary requirements. Additionally, your veterinarian will be able to detect any diseases early on before they become severe, making treatment easier and more affordable.

It is also crucial to ensure your kitten receives all its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should receive its first round of shots between six to eight weeks of age, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are five to six months old. This helps prevent any severe diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.

When Your Kitten Should See a Vet

When taking care of a kitten, it is important to be vigilant for any signs that may indicate a problem or a veterinary emergency, in every stage of your kitten's life. If you observe your kitten displaying any of the following signs, it is recommended that you immediately contact your vet to schedule an appointment.

Newborn Kittens

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

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

Four Weeks +

When your kitten is four 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.

Does your new kitten require a checkup? Contact our Benicia vets to book an appointment.

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