Spring is in the air! There's an abundance of new life in this warm, gentle season, including, you guessed it, kittens. Late spring marks the beginning of "kitten season", bringing litter after litter to animal shelters across the nation. If you're thinking of giving one of these bundles of love and fur a forever home, we have the scoop on everything you need to know before bringing your baby home.
Before you can bring kitty home, make sure you have the following items:
A litter box and cat litter
A cat carrier
Kitten food (see more on this below)
Food and water bowls
Toys for your kitten to play with
You will also need to "kitten proof" your home. Make sure that all string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, paperclips, or other items that your kitten can get tangled in or choke on is put away where they can't get to it. You will also want to move any houseplants that could be dangerous for your kitten, such as chrysanthemum, azalea, tulip bulbs, and oleander, out of reach. Lilies are especially poisonous to cats.
Adoption and Signs of a Healthy Kitten
When looking for a kitten, it's a good idea to look for signs of poor health before bringing it home. Some things to look out for include runny nose or eyes, sneezing, or lethargic behavior. If kitty seems sick, ask the shelter or breeder about possible health issues. The best age to bring a kitten home is about six to 12 weeks old. This allows them plenty of time with their litter mates. Finally, before adopting, spend time with your prospective pet and make sure they have the right temperament and energy level for your family.
Diet and Nutrition
Kittens are in a stage where they are growing rapidly, which means they need a special diet to support that growth. Kittens should be fed specially formulated kitten food until they are one year old. If you decide to feed your kitten dry food, be sure to watch them and make sure they are able to eat comfortably. If your kitten has difficulty with dry food, try mixing in wet food to soften it up, or switch to wet entirely.
Visiting the Vet - Spaying, Neutering, and Vaccinations
Starting around eight weeks of age, your new kitten will need to start visiting your veterinarian for vaccinations. The core vaccinations considered vital for all kittens and cats to have include protections against panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calici virus, feline herpes virus type I (rhinotracheitis) and rabies. Other non-core vaccinations include feline leukemia virus. Talk to your veterinarian to determine if your kitten needs any non-core vaccinations.
During these visits, it is also important to start talking about spaying or neutering your pet. This important procedure is the number one way to help curb the rapidly growing cat population and reduce the stress felt by animal shelters and rescue organizations for the next kitten season. Spaying and neutering also provides many health benefits for your cat. For females, spaying can help to reduce the risk of mammary and uterine cancers as well as reduce risk for uterine infections. For males, neutering can reduce desire to roam, stop spraying, and decrease risk of testicular disease.
Training and Socialization
The number one thing we "train" our cats to do is use the litter box, but this doesn't require much training. Cats instinctively eliminate in soil or sand, so your new kitten should take to their litter box quickly. Place it in a quiet place and be sure your kitten knows where it is. If you are having trouble with kitty "going" outside of the box, make sure it is nice and clean, and remove other bathroom options from around the house. Aside from litter training, you can actually teach your kitten tricks, and the younger you start the easier it is. Check out our Teach Your Cat A New Trick pet fact to learn more.
Finally, for socialization, you'll want to start socializing and bonding with your kitten as soon as possible. If you got your kitten from a breeder, be sure to ask them beforehand about how much your kitten was socialized before coming to you. Expose your kitten to all of the things you want them to be comfortable with in adulthood: car rides, family members, other pets, etc. It's important to go slow and don't force anything too soon, especially when introducing your kitten to other pets. Play is a very important part of socialization, so break out the toys and enjoy spending time with your new family member!