Taking care of kittens is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet, but you do need the right food, supplies, and veterinary attention. Whether you're dealing with a litter of newborns or bringing home a new pet, make sure you understand how to take care of the health and social needs of these little cuties.
Caring for Newborn Kittens
Mama cat handles the majority of her kittens' care, so your job is really just to provide support.
- Provide your cat with a safe birthing box to have her kittens, and line it with some newspaper and towels.
- Once the kittens arrive, weigh them daily on a small kitchen scale to make sure they are gaining weight. Keep some kitten formula and a nursing bottle on hand in case you need to supplement any kitten that is not gaining weight.
- Make sure your cat is keeping the kittens' behinds clean so they don't develop a blockage from their feces. Use a baby wipe to clean their behinds if needed.
- Clean out the box as needed, but try not to disturb mama and her kittens any more than necessary those first weeks. As they become mobile, you can begin gentle socialization.
- Begin weaning the kittens onto wet food when they are about four weeks old. Continue to let them nurse until they are around seven weeks old and mom begins to refuse to let them nurse.
Caring for a New Pet Kitten
There are few things that are more fun than bringing home a new kitten. However, it's not all fun and games. Kittens require real care, so here's a basic guide you can follow to help you get started.
There are some essential items you'll want to have on hand before you bring your new pet home.
- Food and water dishes - You might choose to use an automatic feeder or waterer for convenience sake, but it's really wiser to stainless steel dishes for your kitten's food and water so you can keep track of whether she is eating properly.
- A bed - it may take a while for your kitten to learn her bed is her special place to snuggle in, but it's good for her to have her own bed in a quiet room in your house.
- Litterbox - You'll find many styles of litter boxes to choose from, but a simple tray with low sides is easiest for a young kitten to use.
- Litter - There's a lot of debate over which type of litter is safest for kittens, but many cat owners prefer clay litter.
- Kitten food - Food formulated specifically for kittens provides extra protein and essential nutrients that help their growth and development. Do not switch to adult cat food until your vet recommends it.
- A collar - A collar provides you with a place to hang an identification tag with your phone number on it. If your kitten accidentally escapes outside, you'll have a better chance of having her returned to you if someone else finds her.
- A brush - Train your kitten to allow brushing while she's young, and you can greatly reduce the amount of loose cat hair in your home with regular brushing.
- A carrier - This makes it safer for your pet to travel in the car with you.
- Toys - Toys provide exercise and much needed mental stimulation.
Well Pet Checkup
Every new kitten should go to the veterinarian for check up as soon as possible. If you can, try to schedule that appointment for the first day you bring the kitten home. If not, try to at least schedule for the same week.
The vet will inspect your kitten thoroughly to make sure she's healthy. This will include checking the eyes, ears and mouth, as well as listening to the heart, lungs and bowels in search of any abnormalities. The vet will also weigh your kitten to make sure she's carrying good weight for her age and size.
According to Doctors Foster and Smith, every kitten should receive vaccines against some of the most common feline diseases. Your own veterinarian will recommend which vaccinations your pet should receive and set up a schedule for you. Ideally, your kitten will receive her first set of vaccinations before you bring her home, so your vet will provide the rest over the weeks to come. Here's a very basic schedule to give you an idea of what's required.
- Combination vaccine (distemper, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis and calicivirus) - Typically given at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age
- Feline leukemia - Given at 8 and 12 weeks old
- Rabies - Age depends on local laws; consult with vet
- Boosters at age one
Wet and Dry Food
Dry kitten food offers a convenient way to feed your kitten, but wet kitten food may be a better choice because it provides more moisture. Cats get most of their moisture from the food they eat, and this is important for their urinary tract health.
In the long run, it may be wisest to consider offering wet food as your kitten's main diet, and then provide some additional dry food. Always keep clean, fresh water available in case she wants a real drink.
Some kittens eat more, some eat less, but all kittens need to be fed throughout the day to ensure they receive enough nutrition to grow on. Pet MD recommends breaking your kitten's total daily amount of food into three separate servings given to your pet in the morning, again around noon, and once more in the evening.
As for the amount you should feed, choose a very high quality kitten food, begin with the feeding recommendations on the package label. and then adjust as needed to help her maintain a healthy weight. This means you can feed slightly less if she gains too much weight, or slightly more if she's a little underweight. As your kitten grows older, you'll be able to cut back to two feedings a day by the time she reaches adulthood.
Litter training comes naturally to the majority of kittens, so only a little work is required on your part. Some owners recommend confining a new kitten to a small room with her litter box and food and water dishes until she begins using the box consistently, but what's most important is that your kitten learns where the box is and can get to it easily.
- Add a couple inches of litter to your kitten's tray.
- Set your kitten in the tray several times each day so she knows where it's located.
- Cats naturally seek out a place to relieve themselves that allows them to bury their eliminations, so your kitten will catch on very quickly.
- Keep the litter very clean, and your pet will feel comfortable using her litter box on her own without further coaxing from you.
For the most part, kittens keep themselves very clean by licking their fur. Regular brushing will remove loose fur, help prevent hairballs, and give you a chance to check for parasites. You can accustom your kitten to receive the occasional full bath if you truly believe she needs it, but she'll probably have little need for it unless she is a longhaired cat.
You might also want to accustom your kitten to having just the sharp tips of her nails trimmed on a weekly basis, but that's a personal choice.
If you want your kitten to grow up to be a well-adjusted cat, provide her with some early socialization. Once she has her vaccinations, begin introducing her to new people, places and sounds. Kittens are more accepting of change than their adult counterparts, so early socialization helps them deal better with changes as adults and can greatly reduce their stress in different situations.
Kittens Grow So Fast
All too soon, your little kitten will become a fully-grown cat. Hopefully, the care that you have given her during the first year of her life will provide a solid foundation for her future health and happiness. What you put into her is what you'll get back, so make sure you give her the very best care you can.