If you’re about to get your first kitten, prepare to be charmed. Kittens are full of joy and mischievousness. You’ll have hours of enjoyment watching your new pet at play, running, jumping, hiding and pouncing at a passing human foot or dog.
But first things first. You’re on your way to pick up your new kitten. A secure cat carrier is a must. The last thing you need on that first journey home is a frightened kitten on the loose in your car. Put a towel or old T-shirt in the bottom of the carrier and put the carrier somewhere where it’s not going to roll or be thrown about.
At home, put the carrier in a quiet place and open the door. Of course your kitten will be nervous – this is all new – but eventually curiosity will triumph over nervousness and your kitten will come out to explore its surrounds.
Have food and water on hand
Have a bowl of water and a bowl of food handy. A good quality kitten food, wet or dry, is formulated to provide all the nutrition needed for healthy development. Cats and kittens like to graze rather than eat big meals so have dry food and water available through the day.
Organise bedding and litter trays
At least for the first few days, put a cat basket or a box lined with soft material in a quiet corner so your new kitten has a place to retreat to. Don’t be too disappointed if it chooses to ignore the designated bed and sleep on the sofa or carpet.
You’ll also need a litter tray with a supply of good quality litter. Depending on its age, your kitten may already be toilet trained. If not, it’s up to you to play mother cat and teach it to use the litter tray. Put your kitten in the tray after every sleep and every meal and last thing at night. It will soon get the idea.
Bear in mind that cats are very fastidious animals. You’ll need a scoop to remove wet and soiled litter or your kitten will avoid the tray!
A visit to the vet for your first kitten
A visit to your vet is a priority, first for a general health check-up and second, to have your kitten vaccinated and wormed. If you’ve got your kitten from an animal shelter or pet shop, they will generally have received their first temporary vaccination at eight weeks.
A second vaccination is due at 12 weeks to protect against the main cat diseases: feline respiratory disease, chlamydia and feline enteritis. You should keep your kitten away from other cats (except your own vaccinated ones) until a couple of weeks after the final vaccination.
While you’re there, get your vet to check that your kitten is microchipped and ask about de-sexing, which should occur before your kitten is six months.
You should also check your local council laws on cats. Most now require cats to be registered and many impose a night-time curfew.
In or out?
Early on you have to decide whether your kitten is going to be confined to the home or let out to roam. If it’s the latter, consider installing a cat flap, especially if no one is home during the day.
More and more people are opting to keep their cat indoors, to protect native birds and small mammals and to keep their cats safe. That means you’ll have to provide the stimulation your cats would otherwise find themselves. A variety of cat toys, balls and mobiles will entertain and stimulate your kitten.
A scratching post is a necessity for indoor kittens and cats, enabling them to stretch and climb, two of their favourite pursuits. Watch your kitten embed its claws into the post and stretch luxuriously, muscle by muscle. Two or three scratching posts are even better. They will pay for themselves by keeping your pet contented, as well as saving your furniture, curtains and floors.
Meeting the family
If you have other pets, they will be curious – or even agitated – about the new arrival. An older cat may hiss, a dog may bark. When you feel it’s time for the introductions, do it one pet at a time. If your dog or cat shows aggression towards the kitten, reprimand it in a firm voice. When the aggressive behaviour stops, reward your pet. It will soon get the message.
It’s natural to worry about the safety of the kitten with a dog. Rest assured that the kitten will almost certainly end up top dog of the household!