Adopting a kitten
The most important considerations when choosing a kitten are temperament and good health.
When selecting a kitten consider the following:
- Is the kitten confident and friendly?
- Does the kitten come to you when you call to it?
- Does the kitten appear nervous? If you have young children, this might not be the kitten for you.
- Is the kitten comfortable when being handled? Look for a kitten that purrs when being stroked and remains calm.
- Is the kitten playful and curious? Shake a toy or a piece of string and observe the kitten’s response.
- Older kittens have an emerging personality, so it is often easier to identify one with a suitable temperament. They are also bigger and stronger, and this makes supervising them with young children a little easier.
Making your home safe
Kittens are naturally inquisitive and will set about exploring every corner of its new home. To ensure a safe environment, go through your home looking at everything from your kitten's perspective.
Listed below are a number of things you can do to make your home safe for your new kitten (or adult cat):
- Put away breakable ornaments and sharp objects.
- Keep all medicines, cleaning chemicals and laundry detergents in a secure cupboard. If you have used a cleaning chemical in your bath, sink, toilet, or on the floor, keep your cat out of that room.
- Keep doors to the oven, fridge, microwave, dishwasher, tumble-dryer and washing machine closed.
- Keep the toilet lid down. Kittens can not only drown if they fall in, but can be poisoned if they drink water that contains cleaning chemicals.
- Keep all external doors and windows shut when your cat first arrives home, to discourage it from escaping, unless you an outdoor enclosure set up.
- Kittens/cats should not be around naked flames. Put a guard around any open fireplaces and place candles and oil burners out of reach.
- Do not spray aerosols near your kitten's/cat’s food and water bowls.
- Keep plastic bags safely out of reach.
- Many cats are attracted to firelighters, which are toxic, so keep them in a secure cupboard.
- Clear scraps promptly and do not leave food lying around. Cooked chicken bones can be very dangerous, as they splinter when chewed, and the string around some joints of meat is potentially deadly. Chocolate and onion are also toxic to cats.
- Place all houseplants out of the way. Prevent access to any toxic plants in the garden. Provide safe alternatives, such as cat mint or catnip, in case your kitten wants to nibble on some greenery.
- Ensure that all cords (electrical, phone etc.) are hidden securely under carpets, or tape them to the floor or wall. Cords can be painted with a deterrent such as bitter apple, or encased in a cable protector (available from hardware stores), to stop your cat from chewing on them.
- Remove or shorten overhanging tablecloths. Many kittens are experts at clearing a fully-laid table!
- Be mindful of food wraps, such as cling film and aluminium foil, which can be swallowed.
- Cover hotplates when not in use.
- Secure heavy gardening equipment and tools stored in your garage. Clean any hazardous substances, such as oil that has leaked from your car, off the floor.
- Do not use snail pellets, slug bait, or mouse/rat poisons in areas your cat can access. These can be fatal. Avoid using weed killers or insect sprays where your cat wanders or sleeps.
Items you need for your kitten or adult cat.
In order to care for your new pet there are a number of items you will need:
Litter tray and cat litter. There is a wide variety of cat litters to choose from. Litter trays come in all types and sizes, such as self-cleaning, covered or uncovered, and hooded. Ideally you should have two for each cat.
Scratching post. Cats need to scratch. Providing your cat with its own scratching post reduces the chances of it scratching your furniture or carpet.
Food and water bowls. There are many types of bowls, from cheap plastic to metal, pottery, automatic and even drinking fountains.
Cat carrier for trips in the car to the vet.
Toys. There are numerous toys available for purchase, but items such as paper bags, ping pong balls or scrunched-up paper can be just as appealing to your cat.
Cat bed. A kitten will be happy with a cardboard box and a soft blanket, but you can purchase a specially-made cat bed.
Cat food. Select food that is appropriate for your cat’s age. Premium quality is often better, but it is recommended that you continue to feed your cat the same food it was eating in its previous home. Cats can have delicate stomachs, so if you want to change to another brand, do so gradually.
Fresh, clean water to drink. Some cats enjoy milk, but it is not essential to their diet and can cause tummy upsets. Some supermarkets, pet stores and vets sell milk formulated for cats.
Identification tag. An identification tag is essential for rapid identification of your kitten. Record your cat's name, and your address and phone number, or the phone number of your vet for emergencies.
Microchip. This provides permanent identification if your cat strays or is lost. Remember to update your details if necessary.
Collar. Pick a collar that has an elastic section, or a clasp that snaps open under the cat's weight, so your cat can slip out of the collar if it becomes hooked on anything. The collar should fit snugly, but you should be able to place two fingers between it and the cat's neck.
Bringing your kitten home
Before you bring your kitten home ensure that you have prepared your home and have all the items you will need to care for your new pet.
Kittens can be unsettled for the first few days in their new home, possibly missing their mother or littermates. To help your kitten settle in it is advisable to confine it to one room of your house. Provide a litter tray, food and water bowl (away from the litter tray), a comfortable bed and some toys.
Once your kitten has had time to settle in and become familiar with its surroundings, slowly increase the area that it can explore.
Tips to help your kitten settle in:
- Plan to spend time as much time as you can with your new kitten.
- Give the kitten a warm water bottle. Make sure it is not too hot, and wrap it in a blanket.
- If your kitten is reluctant to eat, encourage it by slightly warming its food in the microwave.
Introducing your kitten to other pets
Your kitten should have time to settle into its new home before being introduced to other pets. The introduction should be slow and controlled as some pets will become firm friends immediately, but others will be upset for weeks or even months after the arrival of a new pet.
Introducing your kitten to children: Actively supervise or separate
Introducing your new kitten to children needs to be done slowly and carefully. Let the kitten settle in before you introduce it to children. Never leave young children unattended with the kitten and actively supervise all interactions. Ensure you teach your children how to handle a kitten responsibly and provide the kitten with a safe place it can retreat to should it need to get away.
Explain to your children that cats should never be disturbed if they are sleeping or eating.
Training your kitten
Start training your kitten as soon as possible, as the earlier you start the greater your chance of success.
Introduce your kitten to new experiences early so that it becomes familiar with different people and situations. If you do not expose your kitten to a wide variety of situations it can result in it being fearful of particular circumstances, people or animals for the rest of its life.
Whenever kittens encounter something new constantly re-assure it with either its favourite treat or patting to make the association a positive one. This demonstrates to your kitten that there is nothing to fear.
Repeatedly say your kitten's name during enjoyable experiences, such as while eating or when being patted. This ensures that your kitten associates its name with pleasant experiences and will be more inclined to come to you when you call.
Never shout your kitten’s name if you are angry as it will become scared and act accordingly.
Kittens need to scratch! Scratching helps cats to shed their nail sheaths and leaves a visible and chemical scent marker that defines their territory.
It is important that you teach your kitten where it can scratch so it does not ruin your carpet or furniture. Introduce a scratching post, encouraging your kitten to scratch it by dangling toys from it. Putting some catnip on the post can also encourage your kitten to scratch.
Kittens are generally litter-trained from an early age, as they learn by observing their mother. However, using a litter tray is not a natural instinct for your cat.
Here are some tips to assist in litter-training your kitten:
- Choose a litter tray that is easy for your kitten to use. You can improvise with a shallow, disposable container for the first few weeks.
- Your litter tray should be deep enough that your kitten/cat does not scatter cat litter when it digs and large enough for your cat to turn around in.
- Place the litter tray in a position that is easily accessible and has some degree of privacy. Avoid damp, dark, inconvenient or noisy areas and keep it away from your kitten’s food.
- Keep the litter tray clean, as most cats will not use a soiled litter tray. The tray should be cleaned daily and washed with hot water and detergent weekly. Avoid the use of disinfectants as they can be toxic to pets.
- After eating, playing, drinking and sleeping, place your kitten or cat in the litter tray. Remember to reward with praise.
General training tips
Be patient with your kitten as it has a lot to learn. Reward good behaviour with praise and affection. Never smack your kitten. Instead, interrupt annoying behaviour and direct your kitten to a more appropriate activity.
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