The companionship of a pet has positive benefits for people. Kittens give affection, devotion and never ending smiles. Parenting a new kitten/cat is a rewarding although sometimes a challenging commitment. Here’s our guide to help you get started.
A new pet needs much more than a food bowl and a kitty bed to thrive. And while it may be a lot of work initially, it’s well worth the effort in the long run. Establishing good and healthy habits from the start will lay the foundation for many cat-years of happiness for you and your new kitten. There are 5 general areas you need to familiarize yourself with:
Kittens aren’t born innately knowing how to be good. In fact, they’re born innately knowing how to get into mischief. Your job is to curtail that misbehavior and, when it gets out of hand, redirect it into acceptable behavior.
Decide the location you want your kitten to use the litter box, preferably where there is privacy and safety (especially if you own a dog too). The general rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than you have cats, so 1 cat = 2 litter boxes, 2 cats = 3 litter boxes. Also, try to have one litter box per level of home. You may need to try different types of boxes (covered vs. uncovered) and types of litter to make sure your cat is happy with his elimination box. Some cats like to urinate in one box and defecate in a different box and some cats can be very particular about the type of litter and how often it is cleaned.
A kitten may avoid the litterbox because it’s too out of the way, or because it’s next to where the dog who chases him sleeps. He may also avoid it because it smells strongly of harsh chemicals or urine, because the litter is scented (most cats prefer unscented litter), because the litter is dirty or because he doesn’t like the texture of the litter. Try different boxes and litters. If your cat goes to the bathroom just outside the box, he is telling you that he would go inside the box if it was just a little ‘different’. The basement can be a good location so that they get exercise running up and down the stairs for food and litterbox but don’t put multiple litterboxes next to each other, spread them out to accommodate different preferences and safety. No one likes to be pounced on while they are relieving themselves.
Play aggression is part of growing up for cats — to a point. Play fighting and play hunting are important practice for behaviors that adult cats would need if they were growing up in the wild, and may still need growing up in many domesticated situations. Kittens normally play with their littermates, chasing, pouncing, wrestling, biting and scratching. Without littermates, you become your kitten’s sparring partner. When playing with their littermates, kittens learn how to hold back on the intensity of their biting and scratching, because when they get too rough, the other kitten either retaliates or quits playing.
A kitten who is engaging in play aggression lashes his tail back and forth, flattens his ears and dilates his pupils. These are signs that an attack against your hand or other vulnerable part is about to follow. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to let your baby kitten play fight with your hand when he’s young, but this is a bad habit that you’ll regret when your kitten gets bigger. The same is true of letting your kitten practice his hunting skills on your hands and feet. It’s cute now, but it won’t be when he gets older.
If you see your kitten readying to jump on you, try to distract him with a loud noise. If he’s already being too rough with you, say “Ouch!” and place him on the floor and quit playing with him for several minutes. Then use a toy instead. Don’t strike him, which he can interpret as extra-rough play, encouraging him to escalate his own aggression, or which can teach him to be afraid of you or your hands.
If your kitten is treating your body parts like toys, you need to get him something more enticing to play with. Dangling toys are great for practicing hunting skills, while stuffed toys can make good sparring partners.
Furniture scratching is yet another normal cat behavior. Scratching vertical surfaces as a means of marking their territory with scent from their foot pads, as well as leaving a visual marker on your furniture. Provide your cat with sisal scratching posts and trim your cat’s nails to reduce the damage he can cause. Surgical front declawing is a permanent solution to the problem.
Kittens love to play with everything. The inherited tendency to investigate their surroundings is very strong in the young cat. Your success in preventing problems depends on how effectively you can channel your kitten toward safe fun. Make sure to kitten proof your house so they do not swallow strings, yarn, small toys etc.
Follow these tips to help avoid problems:
Many substances can be harmful to your kitten. Below is a list of some of the common toxins you should avoid.
Worms are abundant in the environment. Cats can acquire these worms from infected soil or feces in the environment. Kittens are usually born with worms. Intestinal worms can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, anemia & stunted growth. Hookworms and roundworms also pose a threat to human health if your family is exposed to these worms. Fecal screening tests and dewormers are highly recommended to keep everyone safe.
Fleas can make your cat very uncomfortable and also allow a flea infestation into your home. Flea control is also important since some fleas transmit tapeworms to your cat and fleas will bite humans.
RCP (Rhino-Calici-Panleukopenia): All kittens and cats should be vaccinated with a series of two RCP vaccines that provide three years of protection. After the initial series, a blood titer may be performed to determine immunity.
Rabies: Rabies vaccination is required by law for cats in some counties. Not only is there is no cure for rabies but there is also a human health risk since humans can contract rabies. The initial rabies vaccination for a cats is valid for one year. Booster rabies vaccinations are valid for three years.
FeLV: Feline Leukemia is a virus spread between cats that causes immune suppression and certain types of cancer. It is recommended for all cats that go outdoors. All kittens are screened for FeLV with a blood test.
Pets that are not used for breeding should be spayed (females) or neutered (males) between 6-9 months of age to prevent unwanted pregnancies and behavioral issues. Unspayed females will often spray furniture and walls with urine to leave a scent to attract male cats. Male cats kept indoors will also cry and demand to be let outside. They will spray urine on walls and furniture to mark their territory and attract females.
There is a serious overpopulation problem in the U.S. Over 4 million dogs and cats end up in shelters every year and over 60% are euthanized. One unspayed cat can produce 10-15 kittens each year, each one needing a home. It is our duty, as responsible pet owners, not to contribute to these staggering statistics.
It is important to watch your pet for any early signs of illness. If you observe any of the following symptoms in your new kitten, it’s time to contact the veterinarian:
Basic kitten hygiene at home includes basic care such as ear cleanings, nail trims and dental care. We recommend getting your kitten used to these procedures when they are young so they are easily accepted. Make sure to start slowly and give lots of treats and positive reinforcement to make the experience fun for everyone.
Most cats do not need to bathed (and do not enjoy water). Regular brushing helps prevent hairballs and prevents matting of the hair coat. This is crucial especially if you have a medium or long haired cat.
Clean the ears with a mild pet ear cleaner. You can wet a cotton ball and wipe inside the ear. Repeat with a fresh cotton ball until the wiped cotton ball is clean. Do not use a Q-tip (unless properly trained) that could damage the inside of the ear canal or eardrum. Ears should be cleaned whenever they are dirty.
Trim nails frequently (every 4-6 weeks). If toenails grow too long they can cause multiple problems including nail bed infections, foot deformities, or pain when walking. Be very careful not to cut the nails too short that it results in bleeding. This can be painful to your pet and they may then resist future nail trims.
Pets who receive regular dental care can add five years to their life! A pet with clean teeth and pleasing breath is happier and nicer to be around. There are also medical reasons for daily preventative dental care. Most dental problems occur under the gum line and can go unnoticed until there is severe dental decay and gum infections. Oral disease can lead to damage to the heart, liver and kidneys. Without proper dental care, 70% of cats will show oral disease by the age of 3. Brushing the teeth or using dental products daily is the key!
Nutrition is one of the biggest factors that contributes to a pet’s overall health and well-being. Pet food comes in all shapes and sizes – from very low quality, cheap foods or average commercial pet food to high-end, or natural pet foods. Not all pet food is created equal and you generally get what you pay for – if the food is inexpensive it is generally because low cost-low quality ingredients were used.
We recommend that all cats be fed natural, high quality, grain-free cat food (or a raw or dehydrated diet). The higher cost of high quality pet food is easily outweighed by better health. Cats are obligate carnivores and did not evolve to eat processed cereal grains (used so manufacturers can reduce costs). The carbohydrates of these foods contribute to obesity, diabetes, kidney stones, behavior problems, allergies, skin problems and many other conditions. Also, corn & wheat ingredients should always be avoided because they are the most common food allergies in pets.
Kittens need to learn about our world – car rides, vacuums, and other people/animals etc. If they do not have a chance to learn about people, animals, and things in their environment, they may grow up to be fearful or anxious adult cats. Therefore, it is important to provide early socialization and positive exposure to as many people, animals, sights and sounds and places as possible.
Socialization is the process of developing relationships with other things in the environment. The first six months of a kitten’s life are the most critical for social development. Proper socialization during kittenhood helps avoid behavioral problems down the road.
Make sure to keep it positive. Positive reinforcement, such as small treats, have been proven to be much more effective than punishment.
"I would not trust my cats’ care to anyone else. Dr. Strickfaden takes the time to listen and understand my concerns for my cats. She treats their health needs, both physically and emotionally, professionally and compassionately."
- Wendy N., Appleton