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Besides being adorable, a kitten offers many other benefits as a pet. They are naturally very clean animals, and can also be quite independent when they grow up, meaning they often require less of your time than dogs, for example.
Kittens are playful and highly entertaining to be around, but you can’t go into cat ownership lightly. Your kitten could go on to live between 15 and 20 years, so it’s important to be prepared for a long commitment to your new feline friend.
In this article we’ll look at what you’ll need before the kitten arrives, how to make the first few days as relaxed as possible, and how to spot signs of a poorly kitten.
Basic necessities for your new kitten
There are a few basic things that kittens need in order to get the very best start in life and grow up into healthy, happy, and friendly cats.
First things first – a kitten will require a litter tray or two. Remember that these are just like a toilet for us. We wouldn't want our toilet right next to our dinner table or somewhere where everyone could watch us going! It’s the same for cats. Your kitten is much more likely to use a tray if it’s away from their food and in a quiet area of the house.
Most kittens will have been shown how to use a litter tray by their mum and siblings. For many, it’s instinctive, but some need a little more encouragement to go in the right place. You can help your kitten learn where to go to the toilet by placing them in the tray after eating or after they have woken from a nap, and keep an eye on signs they’re looking for somewhere to go. Have several trays around when your kitten is young so that there’s always one within easy reach.
Your kitten will also need access to a scratch post - scratching is a natural, normal behaviour for cats to help them stretch, exercise, maintain their claw health and deposit important pheromones in the environment. If you don’t provide an appropriate scratch post and/or pad, your kitten may choose your furniture or carpets instead!
Diet and nutrition is also a very important aspect in taking care of a kitten. Your kitten can only develop into a healthy, strong cat if they get the right food and nutrition. Always feed them a high-quality, complete, and balanced food designed for kittens not adult cats, as growing cats have different needs to adults.
Kittens have tiny stomachs, so they’ll need food available all the time to start with and then 4-6 meals a day. Timer feeders are really useful if you’re out and about during the day. Remember that fresh water should always be available.
Your kitten also needs to visit a vet on a regular basis for check-ups and vaccinations, then for neutering. Vaccinations usually start around 8-9 weeks and neutering is usually done between 4 and 6 months of age. Ask your vet at what age they recommend vaccinations and neutering for your kitten.
Be prepared for your new arrival
Cats are very subtle and complex creatures, so do plenty of reading up beforehand to make sure you can provide for all their needs.
A new home is daunting, especially if there are children or other animals. You should be prepared to patiently let your kitten settle into their home over a few days and feel safe and comfortable. Put your kitten in a quiet place, such as a spare bedroom, to start with and don’t worry if they hide away. Make sure that they have access to food, water, a litter tray and a scratching post in their safe space and let them come to you when they’re ready. Try not to overwhelm them with cuddles and attention, as this could be very frightening.
Cats are naturally solitary, often don’t like being hugged or picked up, and make use of three dimensional space. That means they'll need plenty of high places to rest, survey, explore, and get away from the hustle and bustle of human life when they need to.
Recognising when your kitten is ill
Make sure you know what’s normal for your kitten. Cats are very good at hiding when they are ill and clinical signs are not always as obvious as a bout of diarrhoea, for example. Being observant to their eating, toileting, playing and sleeping habits means that when your kitten is sick, you can recognise the signs early and get them the right medical attention as soon as possible.
Kittens can become very weak quickly when they’re ill because of their small size. Look out for signs like runny eyes or nose, sneezing and coughing. It’s normal for a kitten to sleep a lot, but if they’re not playing regularly through the day, or they’re not eating or drinking, get help from your vet as soon as you can. If you see vomiting or diarrhoea, speak to your vet. Sometimes an upset tummy is normal from the stress of moving house, but kittens can get dehydrated quickly so always stay on the safe side and ask for advice if you’re worried.