Cats are pretty cute but kittens are even cuter. Perhaps you’ve chosen to adopt a new kitten from a shelter? Or perhaps your current cat has given birth? Or maybe a little lost kitten has turned up on your doorstep and you’re looking after them? However you received your kitten, this article is for you as we go over the first steps in how to raise a kitten.

A Note on Newborn Kittens

If you adopt or purchase a kitten from a reputable shelter or breeder, your kitten should be at least 8-12 weeks old. This ensures the kitten has received the proper care from their mother; received enough milk, has been weaned, has been properly socialised with littermates, and may have had their first vaccines. If kittens miss this critical period they are at a greater risk of health issues and behavioural problems.

However, we know that some kittens do not get the best start in life and you may have to care for an abandoned newborn kitten. Raising a newborn kitten is a huge undertaking. You will need to regularly bottle-feed warmed commercial milk replacement formula, encourage them to toilet afterwards by rubbing their back end, treat them for fleas and worms, keep them warm, encourage socialisation, and much more. The specifics of this care are important and too extensive to list here. So we encourage you to seek veterinary advice before caring for a newborn kitten.

Learn more about caring for newborn kittens here

Preparing for the New Arrival

As we all know, prior preparation prevents poor performance. So we encourage you to prepare your home for your new kitten in advance. 

Exploring their New Home

New kittens can be nervous, and houses are big, so it is best to initially restrict them to one room of the house. Ensure the room is quiet, warm, escape-proof, and has no hazards in it. It should contain a blanket, toys, a scratching post, a litter tray, food, and water bowls, and somewhere to climb up high or hide in. If you are lucky, the previous owner may provide some of these. This will still smell of the previous home so it will be familiar to your kitten. Keeping a cat carrier open in the room is also great to get them used to it for future vet visits. 

When your kitten first arrives in their new room, open the door to their carrier and let them explore at their own pace. Don’t be surprised if they want to stay in their carrier for a while: they will gain confidence over time. After a few days, you can start to introduce them to the rest of the house. Again, ensure it is fully cat-proof and safe! You should preferably let them wander outside only once they are fully vaccinated. 

A Local Vet

Preparing for a new kitten also includes registering them with a local vet and considering insurance. Being registered early with a vet gives you peace of mind in case you need some advice. Or if your kitten needs some emergency care. It is also good to start the relationship with us early – we’d love to meet your kitten sooner! Insurance is also important because we know kittens can be accident-prone. We have plenty of articles about insurance, but in short, we recommend getting the most cover you can afford. A small cost over time can potentially save thousands in the long run.

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Mealtimes

Kittens are hungry little creatures so you will need to keep on top of mealtimes! A cat of 8 weeks or older should be fully weaned and eating solid food. Ask the previous owner what food they fed the kitten and continue feeding this (assuming it is an appropriate kitten food). Sudden changes in diet can cause stomach upsets and food aversion. If this isn’t possible, purchase a ‘complete’ kitten diet to ensure your kitten will grow big and strong. Avoid getting into the habit of feeding them human food – it is often quite unhealthy and could even be dangerous. The same goes for treats; if you want to reward your kitten, give them some of their normal dry food or a non-food treat. Preventing obesity now is much easier (and cheaper!) than slimming them down when they are older.

Feed your kitten little and often. They will likely tell you when they are hungry, but 4-6 times a day is a good estimate. There are plenty of guides online or on the back of the food packet that will give you a more precise answer. It often depends on the weight of the kitten. On that note, it is a good idea to regularly record your kitten’s weight to ensure it is growing properly.

Water should be provided at all times from a shallow bowl. Avoid cow’s milk as many cats develop an intolerance to it. Both food and water bowls should be regularly cleaned with hot soapy water, then rinsed, to avoid bacteria building up.

Toileting Troubles

Kittens raised by their mothers should be well toilet trained. A kitten can learn to use a litter box from a very young age. However, if your kitten seems to prefer the carpet, here is our advice on starting litter training.

Ensure the litter tray is easy to access and is in a quiet part of the house, away from food and water. Ideally, there should be multiple trays around the house to choose from. Use non-clumping litter, as it will not get stuck in your kitten’s feet or cause problems if swallowed. Cats generally take to litter trays very well but be prepared for a few accidents before they are completely confident. Don’t get angry if this happens, just clean it up and keep trying. Very messy kittens may require the occasional bath in warm shallow water if they step in their mess…

As unpleasant as it is, having a litter tray gives you the opportunity to monitor your kitten’s toileting. You can ensure it is regular, normal size, shape, and colour, and free of parasites. We encourage you to hold your breath and check it over before it goes in the bin!

Socialisation

Socialisation is a critical but often forgotten part of raising any young animal. Neglecting it at this stage can result in a nervous, aggressive, destructive, or unfriendly cat. 

Try and play with your kitten as often as you can.

As always, start young; go into their room and talk quietly to encourage them to come out of their carrier. Get down low to the floor and try not to flap your arms too much. If you have children, explain to them first that the kitten will be nervous and they have to be quiet – supervise them closely until the kitten is old enough to be handled. 

There will be a lot of new sounds and smells in their new home so getting used to them is important.

Keep your kitten around when the washing machine or hoover is on and do not react to the noise. If the kitten sees that we aren’t stressed, they may not be either. Always give them a space to escape to, however, in case the noise is just too scary. The more positive experiences your kitten has young, the better adjusted they will be as an adult.

Negative behaviour should never be punished.

We do not support punishment-based training – instead, simply ignore it. If your kitten starts to be naughty, stand up and leave the room. They will realise that the behaviour results in no more cuddles and will learn to not do that behaviour. Reward good behaviour, such as sitting to be stroked or brushed, not reacting to noises, and using the litter tray – positive reinforcement is by far more effective than negative.

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If you have other pets in the house, avoid letting them say hello to the kitten until the kitten is more confident. 

Even the friendliest dog can be terrifying to a tiny kitten. Introduce them gradually, with visual but no physical contact at first, such as using a stair-gate or a crate. Afterwards, let them get close to touch but always be prepared to step in. Dogs are often calmer after a long walk so try introducing them then. Swapping smells can help too, by swapping your pet’s blankets with the other to get them used to the new scents. If there is any hint of nervousness or aggression from either party, separate them and try again tomorrow. Patience is important – best friends are rarely made overnight!

Cats in particular are tricky to introduce. 

Changes in the house can result in your older cat becoming stressed, which can lead to issues such as incontinence (link FLUTD?). Again, be prepared to separate them. Ideally, have one more of each ‘resource’ than cats. If you have two cats, have three litter trays, water bowls, food bowls, etc. If you have three cats, have four of each. This will avoid stressful competition. Plug-in pheromone diffusers can also help calm nerves. But even with the best will in the world, some cats will just not get on. In these cases, you may have to make difficult decisions on whether introducing a new cat is fair for your existing cat.

In either case, ensure you do not neglect your current pet in favour of the new kitten – both dogs and cats can get upset if they feel their needs are not being met. 

Vet Care

Lifelong veterinary care is essential for pets, which is why we recommended registering your kitten with your local vet as soon as possible. You will probably first want to take your kitten to the vets around 8 weeks for their first set of vaccines – if these have been done at the breeder or shelter, we will see you again around 4 weeks later for the next set. However, we would encourage you to come visit us before then if you have time – not only do we get kitty cuddles, your kitten gets used to traveling to us, meaning they will be less fearful on later trips.

Flea and worm infestations can be quite dangerous in young kittens. 

Often the breeder or shelter will have given them some preventative treatment already, but it will be up to you to continue this. There are many different types of treatments out there, but we would generally recommend asking your vet for a prescription. Often veterinary prescribed products are more effective than over-the-counter brands. A common protocol is to give a worming tablet every 2 weeks until they are around 12 weeks old, and regular flea-spraying if needed (though this will vary from vet to vet).

We have always advised owners to microchip their animals.

However, it will soon become compulsory for cats. Microchipping means your cat can be identified if they are lost or stolen. Cat theft is on the rise in the UK, so getting your kitten microchipped early will be a great deterrent. Don’t forget to mention it at your next vet visit.

We also want to mention that kitten-age is the best time to get your cat used to grooming practices. 

If you have a long-haired kitten, regularly brush them with rewards when they sit quietly. Brushing their teeth once a day is also critical to maintaining dental health, so start young with a little bit of tasty food on your finger as you rub their gums – once they are used to this, you can upgrade to a proper feline toothbrush. Brushing a cat’s teeth may seem crazy, but dental disease is far too common in cats so we like to prevent it where we can.

Finally, it is important to consider neutering at an early age. 

Cats are incredibly good at creating more cats (often much younger than you think!), and unneutered cats can breed very fast. The UK already has a stray cat problem, so you can help reduce this by getting your cat neutered if you do not wish to breed from them. Neutering can be done at quite an early age (again, this varies from vet to vet), so please mention it at your next appointment. The earlier it is done, the less risk there is of unwanted pregnancies. It also helps prevent a number of other diseases in later life.

Final Thoughts

This article might be long but it is in no way exhaustive! Raising a kitten is never a simple job so we encourage you to speak to someone at your local vets for more information. Vet nurses in particular are excellent at newborn care, so you might want to book an appointment to see one of them (and we are sure they would love to meet your new kitten). Remember we are always here when you need us, and good luck with your cuddly new kitten!

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