Bringing home a new kitten
Bringing home a new kitten. Were five more delightful words ever strung together in the English language than those? If you’re reading this post, you’re probably planning to add a new kitten to your life. I may not know you, but I am absolutely thrilled for you.
A new kitten is the start of something great. It’s the beginning of a hopefully long and mutually satisfying relationship with another living being. If all goes as planned, your new kitten will see you through many years and many changes in your life, as you stand witness to the changes that the years bring in him.
It’s a joy to watch a kitten being a kitten; there is nothing like it in the world. But it can also be exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, and worry-making, too. Following are some tips to help you prepare for your new kitten’s arrival. Being prepared can help increase the joy quotient in this life change, and reduce the stress.
Before your new kitten arrives
Sometimes, a new kitten just shows up on your doorstep. Maybe not your literal doorstep, but sometimes happenstance involves a kitten finding her unexpected way into your life.
If, on the other hand, you are actively planning to adopt a kitten, you have an opportunity to set things up just right. And you should. You want to get your relationship and his little life started off on exactly the right foot. Here’s what to do:
Make an appointment with your veterinarian
Ideally, your new kitten will visit the veterinarian within a week of his arrival. Call as soon as you know when the kitten will be coming home, as appointments at the best veterinary hospitals are often booked up weeks in advance.
If you don’t have a regular veterinarian yet, now’s your time to do research. Ask every pet owner you know whom they use and take note if the same names keep coming up. Peruse veterinary office websites to get a sense of who they are and whether their interests, specialties, and approaches mesh with yours. I bring my pets to an integrative veterinary practice, meaning that in addition to practicing traditional Western veterinary medicine, the hospital incorporates alternative therapies like acupuncture and Eastern medicine as well.
Cost is important. Call to ask about the kinds of services that will be provided during a kitten’s first visit, and what the charge will be. Compare and contrast.
A typical first visit will include a check for parasites and feline leukemia, the kitten’s first round of vaccines if he hasn’t had them yet, and a general wellness examine. Use this time to ask your vet about starting a flea and parasite management regimen, to discuss the timing of spaying or neutering, and to raise any health or behavioral concerns you may have.
(Read this post, "How old does a cat have to be to get fixed?" for more information.)
Depending on the size and age of your kitten (she will probably have to be at least eight weeks old and two pounds, but veterinarians will have individual points of view on the right timing) you should get your baby microchipped, even if you never plan to let her outside. Please read this post, “Should you microchip your cat?” if you have any doubts about the necessity of the procedure. Just read the amazing story about how Sasha the cat found his way home if you need any more convincing.
(Read this post, "How often should I take my cat to the veterinarian?" for more information.)
Kitten-proof the kitten room
One day, your cat will strut around the house like he owns the place. But not yet. When you first bring a new kitten home, he will be overwhelmed. Too much space can be stressful and frightening. You’ll need to limit him to one room of the house at first, to allow him to adjust to his new household and circumstances, and to ensure his safety.
A kitten room can be any room that doesn’t normally receive a lot of traffic, or at least a room you can shut off from the rest of the house for a few days or weeks. It could be a little-used bedroom, or a bathroom you can do without for short while.
The kitten room ideally would not have a lot of furniture. You don’t want there to be too many places for a kitten to hide or get stuck.
Everyday objects, things you hardly take notice of, can be dangerous for kittens who don’t know what’s good for them. Look for and remove these hazards from your new kitten room:
Breakables – Your kitten is a going to be a kitten. Remove lamps, figurines, standing picture frames: anything your kitten can accidentally or not-so-accidentally knock over. Not only will your precious things meet their demise, but your kitten could injure herself on glass or ceramic shards, or sharp metal.
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Trash cans – Trash! Oh what fun! If there is a garbage can in the kitten room, remove it, or store it in a closed cupboard. A curious kitten may otherwise find his way into its contents which could be dangerous (like string), or toxic (like chemicals or spoiled food). If you absolutely must have an accessible garbage can in the room, consider one with a locking mechanism like this one by Simple Human – and then remember to slide the lock after each use!
Plants and flowers – Many household plants are toxic to cats, as are cut flowers. Even if you think yours are pet-safe, err on the side of safety and remove these from the kitten room.
Household products – Paint cans, cleaning products, anti-freeze, paint, medications: any of these could harm or kill a cat of any size. Please, store these safely out of reach of any pets.
Corded blinds or curtains – Blinds may have cords that could strangulate an exploring kitten. Do not just tuck them away. Remove the blinds completely or get a cord winder like this one by Ina Innovations. Unlike some cord cleats that merely raise the cord pull out of reach of children, this one actually wraps the cords up completely so a climbing kitten would theoretically be unable to unravel them.
Plastic bags – Plastic bags make for tempting hiding places and they crinkle so alluringly! But a kitten could strangulate on the handles if one gets wrapped around his neck. A chewed-off bit could cause an obstruction in his airway or bowels.
Dangerous furniture – A kitten could get his head caught in slatted furniture, like a chair back. The closing mechanism in recliners are notorious for causing the death of kittens. These don’t belong in any kitten room.
Outlets and cabinet doors – Your new baby is a baby like any other. Outlets are meant for poking or licking, and cabinets are meant for opening as far as she is concerned. “Baby proof” your kitten room with outlet covers like these by PRObebi, which have handles to make them easier for humans to remove, and cabinet locks like these by The Good Stuff Store, which don’t require tools to install and are hidden when the cabinet is closed.
Open windows – Be sure to keep all windows closed. Kittens climb and jump and test everything. Even a closed screen is no match for a curious kitten.
Electrical cords – Cats are notorious cord-chewers. This behavior can lead to electrocution, choking, and death. There are many products on the market designed specifically to protect cats from electrical cords, but they get mixed reviews. Some cats are just more determined chewers than others. You might want to try an economical solution like this split tubing by American Terminal if you are unable to remove electrical cords from the kitten room completely.
Doodads – Look at your room from a kitten’s point of view. What do you see? String, rubber bands, paper clips, thumb tacks, hair ties, and coins can all be swallowed. String – whether yarn, dental floss, tinsel, or even commercial cat-toy fishing wands – when swallowed can become a “linear foreign body” which can cause intestines to bunch and perforate. Remove all junk and safely store cat-toy fishing wands when not in use.
Set up the kitten room
A kitten doesn’t really need much, but you should have it all ready and set up before your new baby comes home.
A litter box – Your kitten does not need something fancy, but she does need to be able to get inside her litter box. Litter boxes designed for full-grown cats might not be the best choice for a kitten with short little legs. Feel free to use an old shipping carton with the sides cut way down until she gets bigger, so long as you understand that you’ll need to replace it every couple of days.
Litter – The best litter choice is the one your kitten was already using at the shelter, foster home, or breeder. He is already used to this kind of litter and there is no reason to complicate matters by requiring that he transition to your preferred brand right away.
If you are unsure about whether your kitten has learned to use a litter box yet, read this post, “How to litter train your new kitten,” and start out with a non-clumping litter product. Clumping products expand when wet and can clump in a kitten’s digestive tract, too. I personally use Purina Tidy Cats when I foster very young kittens.
(Interested in fostering? Read, "How to foster kittens.")
Cat carrier – You will need to bring your new kitten home in a cat carrier. Do not plan to hold your kitten on your lap in the car. This is a fantastic way to lose a kitten the moment you open the car door or window, to have a kitten get stuck under seats, or to end up with a kitten under the brake pedal.
Plus, you will need to own a cat carrier for all future outings: to the vet, groomers, cat sitter, and elsewhere. There are many wonderful cat carriers on the market, and it’s impossible to recommend just one. But this one by Vceoa is a very good value for a soft-sided carrier. This more structured carrier by Petseek is roomy and collapsible when it's not in use.
Water and food dishes – Your kitten does not need a fancy food or water dish to start. She just needs something shallow enough so that she can reach in, and heavy enough so it won’t easily tip. I own several dishes by Durapet and can attest to their quality. This one is small enough for a tiny kitten.
Kitten food – Kitten food is different from adult cat food. It’s typically high calorie, protein-rich, and easy to digest. It’s important to feed your kitten this special nutrient-dense food because they need it to grow and develop. Plus, kittens expend more calories in play than adult cats, and have tiny tummies, so they can only take in a small amount of food at a time. Every bite has to count.
You’ll need to feed this food to your kitten until he is almost full-grown, around his first birthday. Larger, or slower-to-develop breeds like Maine Coon cats may need to continue on kitten food for up to an additional year.
How do you choose a high-quality kitten food? I wish there was a good way to compare or evaluate food brands, but there isn’t. There is actually a great unbiased website that evaluates dog food called dogfoodadvisor.com and I’d personally choose a company that makes great dog food when deciding what cat food to feed, as some companies make both. I’d bring a list of your top three choices to your first veterinary appointment and ask your vet for his or her thoughts on your options.
But start out by feeding whatever the shelter, foster home, or breeder is feeding. You’ll need to transition to your preferred food very, very slowly. This blog post has a section that explains how to transition from one food type to another.
This tiny toothbrush by Nyanko Care is not only adorable, but it’s designed to fit into a tiny mouth. Almost any kind of toothpaste will do, but this toothpaste by Virbac contains enzymes to help reduce plaque and is safe to swallow.
The kind of brush you purchase depends upon the kind of fur your new kitten has. If you have a tiny, shorthaired kitten, you want to start with something very, very soft, like this soft brush by Coastal Bristle Brush. If your new kitten has long hair, try this slicker brush by JW Pet Company.
Brushing helps keep skin and fur healthy and helps remove shed hair before it can coalesce into a hairball. Longhaired cats need their humans to brush them to help them avoid tangles. If you start a regular brushing regimen while kittens are young, they should learn to enjoy grooming.
Hiding place – Every cat or kitten needs a place to retreat, but never more so than when they are adjusting to a new home. Research on shelter cats shows that those cats who were given access to a cardboard box adjusted to their new circumstances more quickly, got used to their caregivers more easily, and showed fewer signs of stress than cats without boxes.
Cat bed – Your cat just needs a place to cuddle for a nap. A nest of old towels or blankets will do the job as well as any commercial cat bed. But if absolutely you must purchase a specially-made cat bed, I’m very partial to the puffball beds. There are many brands; here’s one by Bodiseint.
Scratching post – Scratching is a natural behavior. Learn more about it in this post, “Why do cats scratch furniture?” Unfortunately, every cat has personal preferences when it comes to scratching post styles. The shelter where I volunteer has been gifted dozens of posts in a variety of styles, but this one, by SmartCat Pioneer, is very heavy and sturdy and has “survived” through countless kittens.
Toys – When it comes to cats, toys aren’t just an indulgence. Hunting is a natural cat behavior, but indoor cats don’t have to hunt for their food. Interactive play substitutes for real hunting and can help meet a cat's very real biological needs. Stalking and pouncing behaviors help muscles develop properly, too.
Purchase just a few items to start. See what your kitten enjoys. I’d begin with a fishing rod toy, like this one by MeoHui (which comes with two rods!), and with a few soft balls like these sponge balls by Nuomi. You can never have too many little balls.
You can make your own foraging toys by hiding treats inside a paper bag. Or view this blog post to make your own toilet-paper-roll toys.
Remember to keep string and ribbon (including that fishing-rod toy!) out of reach of cats when you’re not there to supervise their use.
Our next blog post…
In our next blog post we’ll cover what to do on the day you bring your new kitten home, and beyond!
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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.
 “Bringing Home A Kitten: Things You Need to Know: Hill's Pet.” Hill's Pet Nutrition, www.hillspet.com/cat-care/new-pet-parent/bringing-home-and-raising-your-new-kitten.
 “When to Switch from Kitten Food to Cat Food.” Purina, www.purina.com/articles/kitten/feeding/when-to-switch-from-kitten-to-cat-food.
 Vinke, C.M., et al. “Will a Hiding Box Provide Stress Reduction for Shelter Cats?” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 20 Sept. 2014, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159114002366.