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How To Take Care of a New Kitten (The Complete Guide)

Nicole Cosgrove

Kittens are amazing. They’re cute and curious; they’re mischievous and hyper. They’re bundles of fun to have around! Seriously, who doesn’t love kittens?

If you’ve never had a kitten before, though, you may find you’re not quite sure how to take care of it past feeding and cuddling it. As fun as they are, kittens can be quite a lot of work, and there are several things to know before making the decision to adopt one.

We’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to take care of a new kitten, so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you bring home your fluffy ball of joy. From nutritional needs to socialization to kitten health and more, you’ll find everything you need below!

Step-By-Step Guide: How To Take Care Of A New Kitten

Kittens on a blanket
Image Credit: David Mark, Pixabay

Preparation

There are a few things you’ll need to do before you go and adopt a kitten.

  1. Seriously consider whether a kitten is right for you and your lifestyle. Cats tend to live anywhere between 10-15 years nowadays, which makes them a big commitment. If you don’t have a lot of time and resources to dedicate to a new kitten, you might want to think about a pet that requires less. Other factors to consider are whether you have other pets who might not get along with a new kitten, any allergies you or your family may have, and if you have children, will they be able to handle a kitten appropriately?
  2. Decide what kind of kitten you want. Can you believe there are about 40 different cat breeds? If you already know what breed you want, excellent! If not, it’s best to do a little research to find which you might be interested in. Consider your lifestyle when doing so. Are you home all day? Then you might be okay with a more energetic breed. Too tired to play with a kitten when you get home from work? Then you might want one that’s less active.
  3. Decide where you want to get your kitten. Once you’ve found the breed you think will work best for you, it’s time to figure out where to get it. Options include a breeder, a shelter, or even online. If you’re not so picky about the kind of kitten you want, going to a shelter or adopting one online might be better (it will certainly be less expensive!). But, if you want a specific breed or a purebred, you may not find what you want at a shelter or an adoption site.

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Adopting

Hauling three kittens
Image Credit: Olgaozik_Pixabay

Once you’ve decided on where to get your new pet, you’ll need to make sure you get all the info you should before adopting.

  1. Know what to ask the workers at the shelter, breeder, etc. When you’re ready to get the newest member of your family, you should be prepared to ask whoever you’re adopting from, a few questions. How did they receive the kitten? If its current owners gave the kitten up, was it because of a behavioral issue or another reason? What is the kitten’s medical history (health issues, shots already received, etc.)? What is the kitten’s personality like? Is the kitten a picky eater? Finally, ask if you might be able to spend a bit of time one-on-one with your potential kitten.
  2. Verify the kitten’s age. Kittens should remain with their mothers (if momma cat is still in the picture) until between 12-14 weeks. Adopting a kitten younger than that could result in health or behavioral issues.

Before You Bring Your Kitten Home

You’ve found the kitten that’s perfect for you, and you’re almost ready to bring it home. Now what?

1. Find a good vet.

cat ear checked by vet.
Image Credit: Ivonne Wierink, Shutterstock

You’ll need to take your new feline buddy to the vet straight away, so now is the time to find a good one. If you picked your kitten from a shelter, ask them who they recommend as they will likely have one they use a lot. You can also ask your friends who are pet parents who their vet is or go online and read reviews for vets in your area to find a good vet.


2. Kitten-proof your home.

Your new kitten will get into everything. Literally. Block off any way your kitten might be able to escape your home, such as windows or vents. Put away items your kitten might like to sink its teeth into, such as power cords or plants (some plant species can be toxic to your cat). Put away any items you love that could be shredded by tiny claws.


3. Get all the items your new little one will need.

Your kitten is going to need a variety of things to keep them happy and healthy. This list includes a litter box they can easily get in and out of plus litter, food, food and water bowls, collar and tag, cat carrier, brush or comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, plus plenty of toys and scratching posts.

Know The Right Food For Your Kitten

kitten eating wet food
Image Credit: Elizabett, Shutterstock

Your kitty needs to be well-fed, but there’s more to it than how many times a day you feed them. Your kitten will have specific nutritional needs that must be met for them to grow up to be strong and healthy.

  1. Understand that your kitten has different nutritional needs than that of a full-grown cat. Your kitten will be growing fast – particularly in the first few weeks – and they will have way more energy than an adult cat. So, while some aspects of their nutritional needs will remain the same throughout their life, when it comes to amino acids, minerals, and proteins, they will require more than an adult cat. Your kitten will also need more protein and calcium. When it comes to protein, they should be getting between 30-40% of their nutrition from it.
  2. There are upsides and downsides to both wet and dry foods. Wet food has a higher water content which aids your kitten in staying hydrated. However, it can also stick to your kitty’s teeth, causing dental problems down the road. Dry food, depending on the type, may help when it comes to dental health by scraping off tartar. Plus, if you have a multi-cat household, it’s easier to deal with at feeding time. On the flip side, dry food is easier to overeat, which can cause weight gain that in turn leads to health issues.
  3. Know how many times a day to feed your kitten. Till approximately 6 months of age, your kitten will likely need to be fed three times a day. After that, it should be fine to drop to two feedings a day.
  4. Research brands of pet food to see what is the best fit for your kitten. Pet food brands are not all created equal, so you want to be sure you’re feeding your kitten the healthiest food you can. You don’t want to pick a food with a lot of fillers, but something with real ingredients. Compare labels amongst brands or ask your vet what their recommendation is. Also, check to see which brands carry a statement from the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which makes sure minimum standards in foods have been met.

Your Kitten Is At Home! Now What?

Now that your new little one has finally arrived, where do you begin?

1. Take your kitten to the vet.

You should take your kitten for a check-up within the first couple of weeks of its arrival. Your new feline friend might have had some shots before you adopted them, but kittens receive vaccines up to the age of 4 months, so they likely will not have had them all. Your vet will also need to test for worms and start them on medication to ward off fleas when they’re old enough. This is also a great time to have a conversation about when your pet should be spayed or neutered if they aren’t already. Your vet can also advise you of signs to look for that could indicate ill health.


2. Train your kitten to use the litter box (if they don’t already know how)

two kittens cats litter box
Image credit: galsand, Shutterstock

Kittens should start being introduced to the litter box around 4 weeks old, so your new kitten should know how to use it, but there are always exceptions. Plus, being in a new home, they’ll need to figure out where everything is. Start with making sure your litter box is one a kitten can get into (lower sides or one that isn’t covered). Next, be sure it’s in a place your pet can easily get to and in an area with few things to distract them from the task at hand. If you have more than one floor in your home, place a box on each floor.

Once you’ve placed your box (or boxes), it’s time to introduce kitty! Bring them to each box and let them give them a good sniff. Once they’ve done that, place the kitten in the box. They may not use the box at this point — if not, put them in it after each feeding till they get the hang of things. Finally, keep the litter box extra clean during training. If you can’t get your kitten to use the box, you can try a different type of box or litter, try cleaning the box more often, and if all else fails, take your kitten to the vet to make sure everything is okay.


3. Keep an eye on your kitten’s poop.

kitten in a litter box
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

While cats can come down with stomach ailments at any age, intestinal parasites and bacterial and viral infections are more common in kittens. Checking your pet’s litter box after they use it is a useful tool in catching any issues early. Poop should be well-formed and brown — other colors and textures could indicate trouble.


4. Keep your kitten in a single room.

The first few days in your home, keep your kitten in a single room, then slowly let them into the rest of your home.

This will make them feel safer as they get used to all the newness surrounding them.


5. Socializing your kitten is vital, so start the process early.

Play with and pet them often to enable a bond between the two of you. Then begin introducing your new pet to other people (and pets) slowly (always keep an eye on children and kittens to make sure things are going well). Now is also the time to start teaching them how to ride in a pet carrier, wear a collar and sit for grooming. Your kitten may be scared of some things, but with a bit of reassurance, they’ll quickly adapt to all the new stimuli!


6. Play with your kitten in a variety of ways for around 40 minutes a day.

Kittens need to be mentally stimulated, so they don’t get bored and start behaving badly, so use different types of play. Engage your pet with the all-time kitty favorite laser pointer, toss around small balls they can run after, get a toy that dangles from a stick so they can jump around, or stimulate them with puzzle feeders when it comes to treats. Do not, however, let them play with your hands and feet as that will teach them that parts of the body are toys — a behavior that’s much less cute in adulthood than kittenhood.


7. Groom your kitten.

Cats are known for their fastidiousness, so for the most part, your kitten will take care of its own grooming. There are a few things you can do to help them out, though. To save yourself and your furniture from any scratches and to keep your pet’s nails healthy, you’ll want to start regularly clipping their nails when they are old enough. You can do this yourself if you’re feeling brave or have your vet do it. Brushing your kitten a couple of times a week will help to remove dead hair, flaky skin, and dirt. Brushing your kitten’s teeth once a day is ideal but not always realistic. If you can’t do it each day, once a week should suffice. Grooming your kitten should start sooner rather than later so they can get used to it. If you have any issues with grooming, your vet should be more than happy to demonstrate the best way to do something.

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And Now You Know!

As you can see, taking care of a kitten requires a lot, but the rewards are more than worth it. Once you’ve chosen your kitten, gotten all the needed supplies and a good vet, and made your home kitten-ready, all that’s left is the work of raising your kitten (and that’s the fun part!). With the above step-by-step guide, you’ll be able to nurture and handle your new pet like a pro when you finally adopt.


Featured Image Credit: Lubava, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.