Discover how you can help your kitten get the very best start in life
Adorable bundles of fluff and mischief, kittens need dedicated care from their human to grow into healthy, happy adult cats.
Cats Protection advises: “Kittens do not stay young for long and the correct care in the early weeks and months can help them behave in a way that is best suited to you and your home, leading to a lasting relationship.”
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing adds: “There are lots of things to consider when taking on a kitten, and ensuring they are set up for the best start in life is essential. Feeding them the right amount of high-quality kitten food and making time for the correct amount of exercise from day one will help them stay a healthy weight and grow into a happy adult cat.”
CATS PROTECTION’S KITTEN CONSIDERATIONS
- Kittens are very mischievous, full of energy and often time consuming. If you are particularly keen to protect your curtains, sofa or other furniture, then you may like to consider adopting an adult or older cat.
- If you are thinking of getting a pair of kittens, a sibling pair is often preferable to two unrelated kittens and character is more important than gender. If you are looking for a family pet for a busy home, look for a kitten that is alert, keen to approach visitors and playful with their litter mates. Be aware that the quiet one may potentially grow up to be an anxious or more fearful cat who may be less suited to a busy or noisy household.
- Although two kittens homed from the same litter may remain sociable with each other as they approach adulthood, it’s important that they have access to separate resources, such as litter trays and food bowls. Kittens may grow apart as they approach social maturity between 18 months and four years of age, so will need their own territory and resources to avoid conflict.
When will my kitten eat solid food? When will my kitten start to purr? When will my kitten be able to go outside? Mark your meowing munchkin’s milestone moments with our comprehensive kitten timeline >>
What will you need for your new kitten?
Small kittens need quite a lot of kit! Check out our kitten essentials list:
- Food and water bowls: Water and food should be placed in separate locations and avoid plastic dishes where possible as they are more difficult to keep clean. Wide and shallow ceramic or non-slip stainless steel bowls are a better choice.
- Food: A complete food is recommended. For kittens, it must contain the essential nutrients needed to grow and develop.
- Bedding: Cats will typically choose their own sleep location. However, providing them with a quiet, cosy and warm place to sleep will help them settle in. For kittens, a blanket from their first home with familiar smells from their mother can help them settle in.
- Litter tray: Position the litter tray away from the food bowls. Blue Cross recommends: “You’ll need to use a small litter tray with low sides that’s easy for your kitten to hop into at first. But make sure you get a large one once they grow – cats need to be able to comfortably turn around to toilet. If you have more than one cat, you’ll need one for each cat plus another one.”
- Scratching posts: Sturdy scratching posts allow cats to exhibit their natural behaviours. It’s a good idea to keep one in the room they sleep in as many cats like a morning scratch!
- Toys: Cats will find fun in all sorts – you included! A varied selection of toys can act as boredom breakers when you’re not at home.
- Cat brush or comb– A wide toothed comb for long haired cats or a bristle brush for short hair. It’s much less stressful for the cat if they have been introduced to grooming at a young age (with lots of praise and some food treats so that they form a positive association). Grooming is also a great way to bond with your cat and is also a useful opportunity to check for injuries or lumps.
- Collar with ID tag– if you’re planning on putting a collar on your cat, Blue Cross advises getting a quick release collar.
- A cat carrier: Blue Cross recommends one that comes apart with the top half able to be removed from the bottom and has some advice on cat carrierson how to get your kitten used to them.
- Vet visit: Register your kitten with a cat friendly vet clinic. They will be able to advise you about vaccinations (kittens should be vaccinated from eight or nine weeks of age and require a second vaccination from 12 weeks of age to protect them against serious infectious diseases) and protection against parasites. Your vet will also be able to give you information on neutering, which can be carried out at around four months of age. As well as stopping unwanted pregnancies, neutering prevents some cancers and reduces straying, fighting and spraying. Also ask about microchipping. As of 10 June 2024, it will be a legal requirement for all cats to be microchipped in the UK. You may also want to consider getting pet insurance.
Bringing your new kitten home
You want to give your new kitten a warm welcome, but it’s important not overwhelm them and let them investigate their new home at their own pace.
Cats Protection advises: “The first few hours after bringing any cat home can really affect how well they accept their new life. First and foremost, be prepared to be patient and never attempt to rush your kitten into doing things they may not be ready for.”
- Before collecting your kitten, set aside a dedicated, secure room. This area should include their food and water bowls, litter tray and ideally something that smells familiar that they have previously put their own scent on.
- When your kitten arrives, feline welfare charity International Cat Care suggests: “Place the cat basket on the floor gently and open the lid; allow the kitten to explore in their own time. They may be experiencing many of the room’s sights, sounds, smells and textures for the first time so be patient and allow a period of investigation.”
- It is best not to leave a kitten alone until they have settled. Provide them with a warm, secure bed at ground level – a cardboard box will do.
- Once they’ve had a look around, show them where their litter tray, bowls and bed are by gently tapping these items. They may feel a little unsettled if they are used to living with their mother and siblings, so when you are not there, a soft toy or low-volume radio might help them feel at ease.
- During the first couple of days, International Cat Care recommends that any handling should ideally take place when the kitten initiates it. After the first 48 hours, handle the kitten throughout the day for short periods of time, rather than providing continuous physical contact.
How to keep your kitten safe from harm
Inquisitive kittens love to explore, so it’s essential to kitten-proof your home. Cats Protection suggests adopting the following safety measures:
- Block off any gaps between cupboards, furniture and kitchen appliances.
- Screen off open fireplaces and always supervise your kitten if you have lit a fire.
- Keep cupboards, washing machines and tumble driers closed.
- Toilet lids should be kept down, to avoid the risk of drowning or coming into contact with cleaning chemicals.
- Ensure that hot liquids are never left unsupervised.
- Keep all cables and wires securely protected and out of reach.
- Kittens should never have access to balconies and all external doors and windows should be kept closed, or safely fenced over with strong wire mesh, ensuring there are no gaps that your kitten could fall through.
International Cat Care adds: “There is nothing cruel in putting a kitten to bed in a cosy, warm and secure environment (such as the kitten cage) until you wake in the morning. Any bed provided for a kitten should have high sides to keep out draughts and a low front for easy access. The lining material should be thick and thermal to keep the kitten warm.”
Socialising your kitten – and why it matters
The first two months of a kitten’s life is the most important period in which to expose them to all the things that we expect them to consider normal and safe when they grow up. Anything they don’t encounter within this brief time slot may be treated with fear and caution later on. This includes things they might see, hear and feel, as well as human interaction.
Cats Protection advises: “Your kitten learns what is normal and safe during a very sensitive period of development that occurs between two and eight weeks of age – the so-called ‘socialisation period’. During this time, kittens’ brains and sensory systems are still developing, and the things they see, hear, touch, smell and taste affect how this development occurs. This allows young cats to quickly understand what is normal about their world and what they should avoid.
“The greater the variety of positive experiences kittens have between two and eight weeks of age – such as different sights, sounds and smells – the more likely they are to be able to adapt to whatever life throws at them in the future.”
Examples of socialisation include:
- Meeting different types of people from babies to adults.
- Being gently touched and handled.
- Getting used to hearing different sounds – such as the noise of the washing machine and vacuum cleaner – while ensuring the kittens find these experiences enjoyable rather than threatening.
- Kittens exposed to unrelated, non-aggressive cats while they are very young are more likely to be able to cope with the presence of other cats as adults. Introducing a new cat – is it really possible for two cats to become best feline friends? >>
- Kittens are also more likely to form positive associations with dogs if they have positive interactions with canines during the socialisation period. Can cats and dogs be friends? >>
Cats Protection adds: “When kittens over eight weeks of age are introduced to new experiences, it is important to go at a slow pace. Providing them with a quiet, dedicated room and allowing them to explore at their own pace will help them to build confidence and reduce the risk of anxiety and behavioural problems.”
The importance of encouraging the right style of play
How we interact with, play with and ‘train’ a new kitten will have a big influence on their behaviour around people as an adult cat, so it’s important to go about it in the right way.
Cats Protection says: “In the home environment, people often make the mistake of playing with kittens with their fingers or by moving their feet around under the duvet. Although this maybe fun with a young kitten, it can start to direct play or predatory behaviours towards the owner, which may be painful as the kitten becomes an adult cat.”
Top tips for teaching your kitten to play nicely with you
- NO HANDS Don’t let your kitten play with your hands or feet. While it’s tempting when they’re tiny, as they grow, the strength of bites and claws increases – and it can become very painful and even draw blood. This also sends the message that your fingers and toes are prey for pouncing and may escalate into running at grabbing at whatever is going past. Instead, use a fishing-rod type toy or throw a toy for them to chase.
- WRESTLE THIS Give your kitten something to wrestle with. This is one of the ways kittens play with each other, and a way they try to play with human feet and hands, so it’s important to provide an alternative, such as a catnip-filled Kong Kitten Kickeroo cat toy.
- BITING BAN If you’re stroking your kitten and they start biting you, immediately say ‘no’ and carefully take your hands away. Give them a toy to play with instead and don’t try to pet them again until they’re tired out from playing.
- WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE Kittens always seem to want to play with whatever you’re using – pens, the computer mouse, headphone cords etc. If your kitten starts ‘attacking’ you when you’re working, firmly say ‘no’ to disrupt their behaviour. Then give them one of their own toys. Be sure they are not attacking when you give them a toy, or they may think they’re being rewarded for biting.
- STALKER ALERT Kittens also like to ‘hunt’ you while you’re walking around. They’ll jump out from behind a door or under a chair and pounce on your ankles. If they emerge but don’t pounce, praise them, but say ‘no’ if they aim for your ankles.
And, of course, there’s the innate feline desire to scratch stuff. PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing says: “Scratching is a natural part of feline behaviour – it helps to keep their claws in good condition, stretches their bodies and helps them mark their territory. It’s essential to encourage your kittens to use a scratching post (and not your furniture!), which should be high enough for your them to stretch up on, and sturdy enough not to wobble or fall over.”
The key to successful litter training
Blue Cross advises: “Cats are very hygienic pets and can easily be house trained with the right encouragement. Kittens usually pick up on how to use litter trays by watching their mother, but they may also need a helping hand from us.”
If your kitten messes elsewhere in the house, it might be that they have been given too much access to your house too quickly – so never, ever punish your kitten for any little accidents. Blue Cross says: “Kittens have tiny bladders and are very inquisitive – they may get ‘caught short’ if exploring an area far away from their litter tray.”
The charity’s top tips for litter training success are:
- You will need a plastic litter tray, which can be filled with cat litter available from all pet shops and supermarkets. Place it on newspaper to catch any litter pushed over.
- Make sure it is not too deep for your kitten to climb in. You may need to buy a kitten sized tray to begin with so they can get in easily at first, but you will need to buy a larger one suitable for an adult cat as your kitten grows.
- If you want to let your kitten out to use the garden in the future, then a simple open tray will do for the first few months. But, if you want your cat to continue to use the tray, you may want to buy one of the covered types which gives them more privacy, stops smells from escaping and prevents mess.
Cats Protection adds: “Kittens learn an association between going to the toilet and the material that is under their feet. The kitten forms a preference for toileting on that type of surface and will generally prefer this material throughout life. Try to provide the litter type they have been accustomed to using already, and make any changes gradually.”
Picking the right location is also key, so your kitten will be able to find the litter tray and access it easily. Cats Protection suggests: “It is best to place it in a secluded corner of the room, which is away from their bed, food and water bowls – avoid busy walkways. It is important that your kitten is not disturbed while using the litter tray.”
Always be kind and consistent with your kitten
Kittens are curious, which can lead to mischief and mishaps, but never punish them as this will only make them anxious or fearful. Instead, Cats Protection advises: “Gently say ‘no’ and ignore them for a short while or distract them with a toy. Reward the behaviour you do want by offering praise or a small treat.”
The charity also emphasises the importance of consistency, stating: “Be consistent in your approach to a kitten, particularly with regard to what you will and won’t allow, and make sure everyone in the household works to the same rules. For example, don’t let them in a room one day, but not another – it will confuse them and may lead to behaviour you don’t want.”
Feeding quality kitten food will help your young cat grow into a healthy, happy adult
Choosing a high quality, complete kitten food will ensure your young cat will get all the essential nutrients they need for the very best start in life.
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing says: “With so many different options available, choosing the right food for your kitten can be confusing. Young kittens need a good quality, commercially available, complete food designed for kittens, which supports all their nutritional needs for growth – neither adult cat food nor human food contains the correct balance of nutrients!”
Cats Protection adds: “Kittens should have access to fresh water and be given commercial kitten food to ensure their nutritional needs are met. Their food should be checked and replaced at least four times daily. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid giving more than the total daily recommended amount as this can lead to obesity.”
Burgess Kitten Chicken has a unique recipe that contains a balance of highly digestible proteins and essential amino acids to help build muscle, calcium to support developing bones and teeth, antioxidants to support your kitten’s immune system, and essential fatty acids to support healthy skin and a shiny coat.
Every kitten deserves a delicious, nutritious dinner. At Burgess, all our cat food is made using premium ingredients and is high in protein, to ensure excellent quality and superior taste to help keep your cat happy and healthy – from kitten, to adult and mature and our award-winning variety for neutered cats.
CARE MORE Get more advice on caring for your cat from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It’s all here >>
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