This is the start of a potential 15-20 year relationship. Here are some ideas to ensure you get off on the right foot/paw!
How do I prepare my home?
The first hours in a new home affect how kittens accept their new surroundings. As cats like routine, this change in environment can be daunting. It may take weeks for them to adjust but there are ways to make it easier.
Prepare a quiet room for your kitten that can be theirs until they settle in and start to feel braver. The room should have food, water and an enclosed, cosy bedded space where your kitten can hide and have ‘time out’. This can be as simple as a cardboard box. Having something that smells of their previous home to bridge old and new can bring comfort. Plug-in pheromone diffusers can ease the settling in process by sending out comforting signals. Cats think it unclean to wee/poo near their food supply, so put their litter tray in a quiet spot as far from the food and water as possible. A scratching post and toys are essential to provide opportunity for natural behaviours.
Behaviours in cats are mainly learned from their mum and siblings at 2-8 weeks old. As adoption should be around 8 weeks, many behaviours are already learned. It will help if your kitten has come from an environment similar to yours. If you have children, or dogs for example, it’s useful if they are already used to them.
As exciting as it is for you, it’s important to give your new family member space. Let them explore in their own time, gently tapping the litter tray, food, and water areas to show them. Once comfortable, let them explore the rest of the house. This way they can become accustomed to new sights, sounds and smells while having ‘their room’ as refuge. Be patient and never rush them into doing anything they’re not ready for.
Kittens are curious and clumsy so ensure hazards are out of reach. Plants such as lilies and poinsettia are toxic to cats (although lilies are much more likely to be fatal – Ed.). Screen off fireplaces and keep cupboards and washing machines closed, as kittens like to sneak into small spaces. Doors and windows should be kept closed. Check kittens regularly to ensure they haven’t got into trouble.
How do I handle my kitten?
Resist the urge to cuddle your new kitten until they are used to you. Allow them to approach you, speaking to them gently. Only reach out to them when you are sure they are relaxed in their new environment and used to you.
To avoid scaring your kitten, ensure children are calm and only allow them to stroke or hold them after your kitten makes the first move.
Don’t invite lots of people to meet your kitten for at least the first few days. They need time to become accustomed to their new surroundings before introducing them to new people and new scents.
What do I feed my kitten?
To reduce change and encourage them to eat, initially continue to feed the same food as previously. Your local vet can discuss long term diet options. Kittens can digest milk but in adult cats the lactose may cause stomach upsets. Weaned kittens do not need it, so stick with water, and change it daily.
What veterinary care do I need to think about?
Insuring your kitten immediately gives peace of mind that if anything happens, the cost is not a major issue. Not all insurance is the same, so research the options carefully. Register with your local vets straight away. They are not just for when illness hits, they also provide a wealth of advice and support. Remember to book in a vet health check as well.
Kittens should be vaccinated from 8-9 weeks old, with a second vaccination around 12 weeks old. This protects them against some serious diseases. Indoor cats can pick up diseases from other animals or brought in on owner’s hands, shoes or clothes. The immune system of kittens is not yet mature, so if they are poorly contact your vet immediately as they can deteriorate quickly.
The safest and simplest means of permanent identification, microchips carry a unique number linked to a database holding your details. Should your kitten stray and be scanned, you can be reunited. Indoor cats can dart out of a door or window so microchipping is advisable.
What parasites are an issue?
Unpleasant and cause itching which can be severe and lead to skin disease. Fleas feed on blood and, in young kittens, this blood loss can cause weakness, anaemia and even death. If your kitten has fleas speak to your vet urgently about safe and effective treatments.
Extremely common in kittens, who are infected from their mother’s milk, so it should be assumed all kittens have them and need treatment from an early age. They can cause failure to thrive, vomiting, diarrhoea, and on rare occasions cause disease in humans.
Cats are usually infected with tapeworms by eating rodents infected with tapeworm cysts, thus causing issues in older, hunting cats. Fleas however can carry the immature tapeworm, so kittens eating fleas during grooming can become infected. If there are fleas, there will probably be tapeworms.
What’s the best product?
There is a dizzying array of flea and worming products. Ask your vets what product is best for your kitten. It will depend on their age, history, weight and what method of application and frequency you find most practical. Non-prescription flea and worming treatments have variable efficacy and safety. Some are dangerous, so it’s always best to check with your vet before applying anything they’ve not recommended.
What about neutering?
Known as spaying in females or castration in males, this can be done from four months old and reduces unwanted pregnancies, helping relieve the explosion in cat population that occurs from April-September. In females, neutering prevents some cancers and in males it reduces straying, fighting and spraying.