Bringing home a new kitten – The first day and beyond
If you’re planning to add a kitten to your life, let me first offer my most heartfelt congratulations.
There is nothing more momentous than the beginning of a new relationship with another living thing. You and your new kitten will eventually form a bond that will be unlike any other, and a connection that may last for decades. This relationship will shape your life, and the life of the cat your kitten will become. I just got chills thinking about it.
If this kitten is still an idea, a wish, a dream, or even if you’re concretely planning to get a kitten, but she’s not coming home today, read this blog post first. In this earlier post, you’ll learn about all the things you need to do to get ready for your new kitten: what to buy, the purpose of a kitten room and how to set one up, and how to “baby-proof” the kitten room in preparation for the new arrival.
This post covers everything that comes after that, starting on the day you pick up your new kitten from the shelter, breeder, or foster home.
What should you bring with you to the shelter, breeder, or foster home?
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You are bringing home a tiny kitten, not a Velociraptor, so it’s not like you need too much equipment for the journey.
But you do need two important things: a carrier and a blanket or towel.
If you were planning on carrying your kitten home on your lap in the car (even if you’re not the driver), think again. You may be bigger than your kitten, and you may think you’re smarter, but a kitten is a wily thing. You must bring your kitten home in a carrier for her safety and yours.
Transporting a kitten without a carrier is a good way to lose a kitten. Your kitten doesn’t know you or trust you yet, but even if he did, it’s in his nature to explore. The moment you crack open a window or the car door, will be the moment your kitten will escape. Even within the confines of the car, a loose kitten can get lost in some crevice under the seat, or interfere with the safe operation of the vehicle, by climbing under the brake or gas pedals.
If you can purchase a brand-new carrier for your new kitten, all the better. An old carrier may carry the scent of all the pets who came before, and it may be confusing or frightening for a kitten who has just had his world turned upside down.
Fortunately, new carriers are not that expensive and you don’t need to purchase something fancy. This soft-sided carrier by Vceoa is an excellent value. This more structured carrier by Petseek is roomier and collapsible when not in use.
Hard-sided carriers may be easier to clean if your baby gets car-sick or has an accident on the way home, and they tend to be more durable and protective than soft-sided carriers. But soft-sided carriers are lighter to carry and usually easier to store. It’s a matter of personal preference. Your kitten will be fine with either style.
The main thing is not to bring your baby home in a box or basket that doesn’t securely enclose him.
The only other thing you will really need for this trip is a little blanket or towel (more on that in a minute). Feel free to use an old, clean towel or baby blanket, cut to fit inside the carrier (with a little extra for snuggling), or purchase a soft, inexpensive set of blankets like this one from Luciphia. You will find a surprising number of uses for the extra blankets in this set.
If you like being extra-prepared, you can also bring along some paper towels, in case you have to mop up an accident on the way home.
Taking your kitten home from the shelter, breeder, or foster home
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably going to want to rush to the shelter, breeder, or foster home, scoop your new kitten up in your arms, and scurry back home so that your new lives together can start as soon as possible. But this would not be the wisest thing to do.
Spend time with your kitten in his current environment
Spend time with your new kitten on his own turf first. Play with him and his siblings and mom, if they are available. Cuddle him, and let him get to know you a bit while he is still in familiar surroundings.
Transfer your kitten’s family scent to the towel or blanket you brought
Bring that towel or blanket in to the shelter or home with you. You are going to use it to carry the comforting scent of your kitten’s family with her to her new home. Let your kitten’s family members play on the blanket. Or better yet, gently rub the blanket on mom and siblings or even on the inside of the kennel, if that’s where she’s been living. Even if you can’t smell anything on the blanket, your kitten most surely can, and it will soothe her as she transitions to her new home and life. If she could, she’d thank you for doing it.
Get the low-down from the people who know your kitten best
Spend time with his breeder, foster mom, or shelter manager, too. This is your opportunity to ask any questions you may have, and to make sure that you have all the information you need before you take your kitten home.
Ask about the vaccinations and worming treatments your kitten has already received and for a copy of that paperwork. Find out whether your kitten has already been microchipped and for the paperwork that should have accompanied that procedure, too.
Take this time to ask about your kitten’s feeding routine and any litter-box habits you should know about. Ask about your kitten’s favorite toys and preferences for play.
Then, take your baby home
Place the newly-scented blanket into the carrier, and gently place your kitten into the carrier, too. If it appears like it may be a struggle to get in the kitten into the carrier through the “front door,” remove the top of a hard-sided carrier, or unzip the top of a soft-sized carrier and place him inside, on top of the scented blanket.
Don’t feel bad about putting your kitten in a “cage” for the ride home. Cats prefer dark, cozy spots, so most like being in a carrier. Remember that you are providing not only safety and security by transporting your kitten in a carrier, but you are establishing a good routine for future car rides, too.
Make your quiet way home together.
The first day home with your new kitten
You already know about setting up a kitten room, and you already have one ready and waiting for this little kitten, right? If you’re reading ahead, and you don’t have a kitten room set up yet, go back and read this post, “Bringing home a new kitten – things to do before your kitten arrives.”
Place your kitten in her carrier in your kitten room. Open the door to the carrier. Do not try to cajole or entice your kitten to come out. Let her come out when she is ready.
If he hasn’t emerged from the carrier of his own volition after 30 minutes, you can remove (or unzip) the top of the carrier. But don’t force it. I guarantee your kitten will not grow up to be a cat while still sitting inside the carrier.
Spend time in the kitten room with your new kitten. Quietly read a book in this room. Talk on the phone in this room. If your kitten seems to welcome it, pet your kitten gently, or play softly today. Let your kitten be her curious self in her new home, to the extent that she wants to be. Don’t interfere too much, or overwhelm her with your attentions.
Confine the kitten to the kitten room for at least the first 24 hours, or up to two weeks. Let your kitten and your home environment be your guide. Is he confident and relaxed or timid and shy? Is yours a quiet household, or are there two big dogs and two boisterous kids waiting on the other side of the door?
Whatever happens today, remember “today’s kitten” isn’t how your kitten is going to behave in the future. Your new kitten likely left behind a caring mother, playful siblings, and a familiar home. As thrilling as today is for you, it’s exhausting, frightening, and confusing for your kitten.
What not to do when you bring home your new kitten
You’re thrilled that there is a new kitten in the house and you can’t wait to introduce him to your other pets and kids. But don’t. Not yet.
Don’t introduce the kitten to your other cats today
Your kitten is stressed and overwhelmed already. This is not the day to add stress to stress. Specifically, you don’t want to introduce the new kitten to your resident cats immediately because you don’t want to damage the new relationship before it’s even begun. Introducing cats too quickly or too soon can incite fear, anger, or aggression in any of them, which can lead to unwanted behaviors like spraying, or inappropriate elimination in one or both cats.
Give the new kitten at least a week to begin to adjust to your home. When you finally decide it’s time to introduce the kitten to your cat or cats, do so gradually and deliberately by following the instructions in this post, “How to introduce a new cat to your cat.”
Know that most adult cats, when introduced properly, are reasonably tolerant of kittens as long as the kitten doesn’t overstep his bounds, and the adults don’t feel neglected by you.
Don’t introduce the kitten to your dog today
Don’t introduce your new kitten to the family dog yet either. While cats and dogs can have a beautiful relationship (read more about it in this post, “Can cats and dogs get along?”) now is not the time to find out if yours will. There will be time to introduce your pets properly in the future. Also, remember that your kitten is a tiny thing and most dogs are much bigger. It would be easy for even a smallish dog to accidentally or not-so-accidentally injure or kill your new kitten. Keep your kitten safely in her kitten room for now.
Even when you have properly introduced all the pets in the house to the new kitten at some point in the future, and even if it seems that that everyone is getting along, do not allow the new kitten to intrude on the personal space that has already been claimed by existing pets. Feed your existing pets and the new kitten separately, and have them sleep in separate places in your house.
Don’t introduce the kitten to your young kids today
I have kids. I know it’s going to be almost impossible to keep small children away from a new kitten. Having a new kitten in the house is like having Disneyworld in the house and then telling the kids they can’t go. But try. Please try. Give the kitten just a day or two to get settled and then allow your children to enjoy some limited supervised contact with the kitten.
Do not allow the kitten to be manhandled by your kids. Do not allow the kids to over-handle the kitten. Remember that this kind of restraint is not only good for your kitten, but for your kids, too. It’s an opportunity to teach them about regard for other living things.
Older, respectful children can, of course, quietly meet the new family member, but not all at once.
Don’t scold your kitten if he has an accident
Your kitten is just a baby who is just learning about his world. He is bound to have accidents. Just clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner, like this one by Angry Orange, so that he won’t be confused about where he should be eliminating the next time. The enzymes break down the proteins in feces and urine so the soiled spot no longer smells like a toileting place for your kitten.
Then read this blog post for more information about litter training your new kitten.
Don’t worry if she doesn’t eat much today
Don’t get too worked up if she doesn’t eat much this first day. Her appetite should return when she is finally settled in.
Consult with your veterinarian about how often and how much you should feed your kitten. Kittens need a lot of calories to support their swift growth and high activity levels, but they have tiny bellies which prevent them from taking in very many calories at once. Many veterinarians recommend free-feeding until your kitten is at least four months old and up to six months.
But for just today, don’t worry.
What you should absolutely do with your new kitten…eventually
Handle your kitten
Begin handling your kitten, very gently, and for very short periods of time, almost right from the beginning. Depending upon a kitten’s early experiences and personality, she may grow to enjoy a certain amount of handling, or end up disliking handling altogether.
Your hands should be associated in his mind with only positive experiences. Do not use your hands to punish your kitten (you should never punish your kitten in any way!), to hold him longer than he wants to be held, or do something to him he finds unpleasant. Your hands should be the source of treats, fun, and enjoyable cuddling.
Remember to limit yourself to brief bursts of contact, rather than providing continuous physical touch.
Do not wake your kitten for affection or playtime. Kittens sleep up to 20 hours a day and they need that sleep. Don’t persist with play if your kitten seems disinterested or anxious. Don’t try to coax a kitten out of a hiding place for playtime or cuddling.
If you handle your kitten frequently and gently and respectfully, your kitten may eventually grow into cathood enjoying not only petting, but grooming, teeth brushing, nail trimming, and even bathing, if that becomes necessary.
Learn more about how cats like to be pet in this post, “How to pet a cat.” It applies to kittens, too.
Socialize your kitten
Kittens are most open to new things and new ideas during their prime socialization period between two and 12 weeks of age. This is when she is developmentally most receptive to new things. You want to ensure she enjoys good experiences with other people, with other cats if possible, and with dogs, if you have one, during this special window in time. A cat who is introduced to new things as a young kitten will continue to accept them as an adult.
Day One is not the best time to begin socialization, but you should be thinking about a socialization program for your kitten as soon as he settles in his new home. Remember that you are the one responsible for your kitten’s well-being. It’s important for him to meet strangers, for example, but it’s up to you to make sure that even well-meaning people don’t scare or overwhelm him.
When you shouldn’t add a new kitten to your household
All this talk about bringing home a new kitten is enough to make anyone want to run out and get one right this minute, but a new kitten isn’t the right choice for every household. Gosh, I hate to be a downer about this.
Don’t get a kitten if you don’t have enough space
Do you already have cats? Cats are territorial in nature. You should not get a new kitten if your home isn’t large enough for all the household cats to have adequate territory. How much is enough space? One reputable source suggests that each cat should have at least 18 square feet of indoor territory, including vertical spaces for climbing and perching. I tend to think that all cats are individuals, with some (especially some breeds) requiring more elbow room than others. If you’re questioning whether your household is big enough to accommodate one more cat, you probably should err on the side of no more cats, even itty-bitty ones.
Don’t get a kitten if you have a cat with a chronic health condition
If any member of your feline household is suffering from a chronic health condition in which stress could be an exacerbating factor, then you should not add a kitten to that cat’s life. You may think cuteness outweighs stress, but I can assure you that your existing cat does not agree with you.
Don’t get a kitten if you have a cat with a behavioral problem
If there are any cats in your home who suffer from behavioral problems, such as urine marking, adding another cat, even a tiny, tiny one, to the house will most assuredly make your current problems worse. Do yourself, your existing cats, and your future kitten a favor and just say no.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Horwitz, Debra, and Lynn Buzhardt. “Bringing Home Your New Kitten.” vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/bringing-home-your-new-kitten.
 Geier, Elisabeth. “How to Survive the First 24 Hours with Your New Kitten.” The Dog People by Rover.com, 25 June 2019, www.rover.com/blog/how-to-survive-the-first-24-hours-with-your-new-kitten/.
 Horwitz and Buzhardt.
 Bringing a Kitten Home - Royal Canin, www.royalcanin.com/us/cats/kitten/collecting-your-kitten-and-their-first-week-with-you.
 Stuart, Annie. “Feeding a Kitten: Kitten Food Types and Schedule.” WebMD, WebMD, 27 Apr. 2012, pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/feeding-your-kitten-food-and-treats#3.
 “Indoor Cats & House Cats, RSPCA Cat Advice.” RSPCA, www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/cats/environment/indoors.