Cats have a wide range of personalities – how confident or fearful a cat is in adulthood will be affected by what happens in kittenhood.
When choosing a kitten, make sure you ask about exactly what they have experienced in their first eight weeks. Exposure to everyday household experiences (vacuum cleaner, radio, children and wheelchairs) will ensure the kitten takes all these things in its stride as it grows. A kitten raised in a stark environment, with little going on and minimal people contact, is likely to be fearful of these things and may well remain a nervous cat.
Most cats are kept as house pets with access to the outside, usually via a cat flap fitted to a rear door. Some cats are kept permanently indoors, and these have special requirements to ensure that they can carry out their natural behaviours and are not bored – the International Care Cat website offers a host of information on keeping indoor cats.
Pedigree kittens are typically ready for a new home at around 12 to 14 weeks old and are usually fully vaccinated. A non-pedigree kitten should be at least eight weeks old and fully weaned when you take him home. By this age your kitten will have a full set of milk teeth.
Experiencing a brand new home is daunting for a kitten. When you take your kitten home, give it reassurance and a secure place to be – many people use a kitten pen for the first few weeks so that they are able to keep it safe when they are out of the house. You could place a cardboard box on its side with a fleece blanket inside, so the kitten has somewhere to hide it if feels insecure. It is advisable to bring home some bedding from its previous home with you, as this will provide something which smells familiar and reassuring when everything else is new. Your kitten will also need times of undisturbed rest. You will need to kitten-proof your house before you bring your new cat home. Think about open washing machines, hot hobs, paper shredders, small holes and chimneys, cleaning items, wires, and plants/cut flowers – the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is based on the scrapes kittens can get themselves into!
Do not try to introduce other pets immediately and ensure children do not swamp the kitten with attention. Find out how to introduce dogs safely and take the time to introduce other cats carefully – see www.icatcare.org for more details on how to do this. Understanding how this is done and making the effort could make the difference
between cats getting on or not in the future. Introduce the kitten to other pets and children gradually and keep all doors and windows closed. You should never wake a kitten from its sleep for play or affection. Kittens need their sleep even more than adult cats.
You can provide a sleeping bed or basket and suitable bedding – there will be many types available from your pet shop, but kittens and cats may well choose their own places. Beds should be placed away from draughts and have a low front for easy access.
FOOD AND WATER
When you first take a kitten home feed it on the same food it has been used to. A sudden change of diet combined with the stress of adapting to a new environment can cause stomach upsets. A food change
should be done gradually by mixing it into your kitten’s current food. Kittens aged 8-12 weeks need four meals a day, 3-6 months three meals, and kittens over 6 months old, two meals. You may choose dry and/or moist food for your cat, and it is recommended to feed only what will be eaten to prevent the food from becoming spoiled.
Pet shops sell a wide range of canned, moist and dry foods that are balanced to meet your kitten’s nutritional requirements, and it is a good idea to feed your pet a variety of flavours so they don’t become too attached to a particular one. A balanced diet is a must for cats. Do not feed your kitten cow’s milk as this can also cause stomach upsets.
Your kitten will need separate bowls for food and water; these should routinely be washed with soap and water and rinsed thoroughly.
Your kitten should have access to fresh, clean water at all times.
• Grooming: All kittens will benefit from regular grooming. If you are taking on a long haired cat then it is essential to get it used to grooming, as you may need to do this every day, so it should be made into a pleasant experience. Your pet shop can advise on a brush and comb suitable for your kitten’s coat type.
• Worming: Your kitten must be wormed regularly with a proprietary worming preparation – ask your vet or pet shop if you are unsure.
• Flea control: Regular flea treatments will be needed to prevent fleas and other skin parasites – ask your vet or pet shop if you are unsure. Never use a dog flea product on a cat – some can be fatal.
• Neutering: If you are not going to breed from your cat then you should have it neutered to prevent unwanted litters and certain health issues. Pet kittens can be neutered from four months old. For females, it needs to be done before the kitten comes into season, which can be between four and six months old. For males, it is recommended to wait until at least six months of age.
• Insurance: Kittens should be registered with your vet and insured against unexpected veterinary costs.
• Identification: You should consider having your kitten microchipped in case it gets lost or injured away from home. If you are putting on a collar then ensure it is a snap-open type and is fitted properly. Collars can be used from six months old and may need to be adjusted as the kitten grows.
• Outside: Your kitten should not be allowed outside until it has had all of its vaccinations and has been neutered. Many people wait until kittens are around 6 months old before giving them free access outside. Kittens can get themselves into all sorts of trouble so supervise outdoor activity at first. Bring kittens inside in the evening and gradually let them have more free access as they get used to the garden and surrounding area.
Your kitten will enjoy playing with toys, which is a good source of exercise, entertainment, and socialisation. Offer an assortment of toys which are safe, firm favourites are toys that mimic a bird or mouse and allow you to play together. Cats like being at a height, so playhouses, platforms and climbing frames made especially for cats strengthen their limbs, give lots of fun, and often incorporate scratching posts too.
If you buy a pedigree kitten it is likely to have already been vaccinated before you can take him/her home at around 12 to 14 weeks old – always ask for a record of the vaccinations so far. If you take on a moggie kitten, it is unlikely to have been vaccinated and is probably around eight weeks old when you first take him/her home.
Kittens typically have their first vaccination at around 9 weeks of age, followed by a second dose 3-4 weeks later. It can take up to four weeks for your kitten’s vaccinations to be fully functional after their second dose, and therefore they should not be allowed outside until this time. It is best to keep your kitten inside until it has been neutered and is a little older.
Kittens will require vaccinations against: Infectious Enteritis: The disease is also known as Panleucopaenia
or Parvovirus, fortunately it is now less common thanks to highly effective vaccinations.
Upper Respiratory Disease: Commonly known as ‘cat-flu’.
Vaccine immunity does not last a lifetime, so your cat will need annual boosters.
Leukaemia: This infection may not show any symptoms for months or even years, meaning many other cats can be infected before the owner is aware of the illness. Only early vaccination and annual boosters can protect your cat from the virus.
Other vaccinations are available depending on your cat’s lifestyle – your vet will advise you on this and how often boosters are required.
Always pick your kitten up with one hand behind the front legs and the other supporting its rear legs and bottom. Give your kitten a few days to settle in and feel comfortable before allowing children and visitors to handle it.
Kittens are naturally clean and will normally use a litter tray. Initially try to use the type of litter the kitten has been used to. You can change to a different one by gradually mixing in the new type. The litter must be changed regularly and the tray washed, disinfected, rinsed and dried. Encourage your kitten to use a litter tray by placing your pet on it when it wakes up and after meals.
Food and food bowl
Basket and bedding
Litter tray, litter, and scoop
Brush and/or comb
Collar and tag
Book on cat care
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 means all pet owners have a legal duty of care to their pets. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or is found not to be providing the five animal welfare needs, as listed below, can be fined and sent to prison.
Animal Welfare needs:
1. Environment: Pets should be given the correct housing according to its size, this includes shelter, space to exercise and a secure, comfortable place to rest…
2. Diet: Pets should be offered the correct type and volume of food to cover all their nutritional needs alongside access to clean, fresh water.
3. Behaviour: All pets should be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns and should be provided with the facilities to do so.
4. Company: Some animals require the company of their own kind, whilst others should be kept on their own.
5. Health: All animals should be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease, and given veterinary treatment if they become sick or injured.
Credit to The Pet Charity www.thepetcharity.org.uk
Registered Charity No: 1052488