For the first few days keep your kitten in one room with her carrier (to retreat into), her bed, food bowls, litter tray and toys. Cats thrive on routine so feed her at the same time and in the same place each day. Gradually introduce her to other rooms, after ‘kitten proofing’ them. Always supervise her when she is exploring, and if she is in danger of getting into mischief distract her by calling her or offering a toy.
A young kitten is a fast and eager learner, particularly in the first weeks and months of life. This is the time when you should try to expose her to a wide variety of new experiences – new sights, sounds, smells and people. This will help ensure that she grows up feeling confident and secure.
Before you introduce your kitten to everyday sights and sounds around the house, like the radio, television, washing machine and vacuum cleaner, make sure that she has a bolt hole to escape to if she gets frightened.
Introduce your kitten to all kinds of different people – for example, children, men, women, people with glasses and with beards. Let the kitten approach the new person in her own time as her confidence grows. Also let her meet other pets, but again make the introductions slowly, and never force the issue. Don’t leave your kitten alone with another pet unless you are certain that the fur won’t fly the moment your back is turned.
Your kitten needs to learn the house rules – for example that climbing the curtains, sharpening claws on the sofa, stealing food, and frightening the budgie, are not allowed. If she gets into mischief, a sharp ‘No’ or a clap of the hands should be enough to distract her. Never smack a kitten - she won’t understand. Once you have made a rule, be consistent. Ensure that all of the family follow the same rules, to avoid confusing your kitten.
Feeding your kitten
Growing kittens have specific nutritional requirements, and the simplest way to fulfil them is to buy a good quality complete diet from a reputable manufacturer. For the first few days after your kitten comes home, continue to feed the food she’s used to, to help prevent tummy upsets. Then you can gradually introduce a new food. Moist or dry kitten food? It’s up to you. There are many options are available such as pouches, cans, trays or packets of dry food. However dried foods are more convenient to feed and help to keep your cat’s teeth free from a build up of tartar which can quickly lead to dental decay.
Exercise and play
Play is the key to kitten learning – and also provides exercise. When kittens are with their mother and siblings, boisterous play develops their physical and mental abilities, strengthens their muscles and increases their social skills. Now that the kitten lives with you, make time to play so that she can continue to develop her ‘cat skills’ – like stalking and pouncing. Toys should be small and light enough to bat and carry around in her mouth – but not small enough to be swallowed. Pieces of rolled up paper or a table tennis ball are ideal and a large cardboard box, with several holes cut in the sides, makes a great place for kitten hide and seek. Check toys regularly and discard any that become damaged.
Start grooming your kitten when she is young and she’ll love the attention. Grooming removes dead hairs and stimulates the circulation. It also gives you an opportunity to check for fleas and to see that your kitten’s eyes and ears are clean and her claws are not overgrown.
Short-haired kittens only need grooming once or twice a week, but long-haired breeds need at least 15 minutes every day. Until your kitten is used to being groomed, keep sessions short, and stand her on a folded towel, to help her feel secure while you brush her.
- A soft bristle brush
- A fine-toothed cat comb (for shorthairs)
- A wide-toothed cat comb (for longhairs)
- A rubber brush such as a Zoom Groom
Fleas and other external parasites
Any kitten or cat can pick up fleas, but Cara Vets can advise you on safe and effective products to treat your pet and your home (to kill eggs and larvae in her bedding, the carpets and soft furnishings). Fleas make your kitten uncomfortable, can spread disease and cause allergies. Severe infestations can cause anaemia, particularly in very young kittens. If untreated, parasites can lead to skin infections, so if you spot them, or if your pet is itching or has a rash, ask us for advice.
Internal parasites (worms)
Kittens and cats can pick up worms, particularly if they catch and eat prey. Your kitten may have worms when you get her but Cara Vets can provide treatment. Even if you don’t see any evidence of worms you should discuss a preventive worming programme with us as soon as you get your kitten. Some worms can be passed to humans, especially young children.
The main types of worms are:
- Roundworms – look like tiny strands of fine spaghetti. They can be passed to the kitten in her mother’s milk, so kittens should be wormed from three weeks old.
- Tapeworms – made up of rice grain like segments forming chains up to 50cm long. One kind of tapeworm can be picked up if fleas are swallowed and another if cats eat prey.
- Lungworms – can be picked up from small prey such as slugs, snails, mice or frogs. Some cats are symptomless; others may have a dry cough.
A kitten’s baby teeth come through when she’s about three to four weeks old and her adult teeth start to erupt at around four months. Being a carnivore without a good set of teeth isn’t much fun, so you need to pay attention to your cat’s teeth throughout her life. Cats are particularly prone to dental decay, often occurring where the tooth meets the gum, so start inspecting her teeth regularly so that you will see when it’s time for a trip to Cara Vets.
Look for teeth that are dark, loose or chipped and check that the gums are not bleeding, puffy or discoloured. If your cat has difficulty eating she may have a tooth or gum problem, so make an appointment with us, so we can check whether she needs a ‘scale and polish’, or any other treatment.
There are vaccinations that will protect your kitten from a number of serious and highly infectious diseases. Vaccinations prime the cat’s immune system so that if she comes into contact with the disease later, her body is better able to ‘fight back’.
All kittens and cats should be vaccinated against:
- Feline Influenza (cat flu)
- Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE/panleucopenia)
- Feline Leukaemia Virus
- A vaccine against Chlamydia is also sometimes recommended.
These vaccinations are generally given at approximately nine weeks with a follow-up dose three weeks later. Thereafter booster vaccinations are usually recommended every year, to keep protection up to date. Having your cat vaccinated each year also means that Cara Vets can give your cat a thorough health check to spot any possible problems early.
Unless you plan to breed from your cat, and can find good homes for all the kittens, then neutering is the responsible thing to do. The male operation (castration) is very straightforward and usually doesn’t require stitches. The female operation (spaying or hysterectomy) is a more complicated procedure, when the ovaries and womb are removed through a small incision in the cat’s side or belly. She’ll need stitches and will take longer to recover. She may need to wear an ‘Elizabethan collar’ if she starts picking or nibbling at her stitches. Both operations are carried out under a general anaesthetic. Kittens and cats are generally neutered at any time from around five to six months onwards..
If your kitten or cat goes outside – and even indoor cats can escape – she should have some form of identification. If your kitten can be identified she is much more likely to be returned to you if she gets lost. A microchip is a reliable and permanent form of ID. A tiny electronic device – the size of a grain of rice – it is injected under the loose skin at the back of the neck. The unique numbered chip is entered into a central computer database with your name, address and contact telephone number. If your pet is found, its chip can be read with a hand-held scanner, and checked against the database.
Ask us for details of microchipping – it is a very simple and inexpensive procedure. Remember if you move house you will need to inform the microchipping database. You can also use a collar and engraved metal identity disc, or barrel containing a piece of paper with your name and address, so your kitten can be identified. Be sure to buy a collar with a ‘quick release’ catch so that your cat can escape if she becomes snagged or caught.
Taking out pet insurance will give you peace of mind so that you won’t need to worry about vet’s bills if your cat is ill or injured. Ask your Cara Vet for advice, and shop around, as policies vary greatly. Generally, if you pay higher premiums you get a higher level of cover. Watch out for exclusions. If your cat already suffers from a condition when you take out insurance you may find that this condition (and related conditions) will not be covered. If your cat develops a long-term health condition, e.g. kidney problems, you will find that some insurance companies will pay for the first year, but in the future you may not be able to claim for that condition, while other companies will continue paying (up to a maximum amount each year).