Slideshow: Pet Health - Taking Care of Your Kitten

  • Reviewed By: Amy Flowers, DVM
Reviewed on 3/31/2015

Where to Adopt a Kitten

Woman snuggling fluffy kitten

There are millions of homeless pets, so it’s a great idea to adopt your feline friend from an animal shelter or a rescue group. Pet stores and breeders can also be reputable sources, but anyone can call themselves a breeder and sell cats. Adopt from a shelter or a rescue group and you get two feel-good bonuses: You save money -- and a life.

One Cat or Two?

Two kittens with white paws sleeping

As you cuddle kittens, you may be tempted to take home more than one. Many people who have more than one cat say that two cats give each other company and exercise. Do you have enough space? Time? Money? If the answer is yes, prepare for double the commitment -- and double the rewards!

Prepare for Kitty's Arrival

Cat carrier, kitten food, litter box, and toys

Before you bring home your kitten, make sure you have a litter box, cat carrier, kitten food, food and water bowls, a collar and tags, and toys to entertain your new pet. Cat-proof your house before kitty arrives. Put away cleaners and pick up anything she could swallow.

Indoors or Outdoors?

Kitten in grass about to pounce

Many vets suggest keeping cats indoors because indoor-only cats usually live longer, healthier lives. If you choose to keep your kitten indoors, make sure he has window perches and toys.

Do You Really Need Kitten Food?

Two kittens looking at bowl of kitten food

Until they’re 1 year old, kittens need up to three times the calories as adult cats. So look for food made especially for kittens and feed your kitten the amount recommended on the label. Talk to your vet about using canned food, dry kibbles, or a mixture of both. Be sure to put the food somewhere the dog can't get to, as kitty food can upset a dog's stomach and add unwanted pounds.

Water, Water Everywhere

Kitten drinking water

Always have lots of cool, clean water for your kitten. Put several water bowls throughout the house and keep them clean. If you notice your kitten isn’t drinking much, try a flatter dish that doesn’t surround her small face so much. Some cats prefer moving water and may like a kitty water fountain rather than a regular bowl.

The Scoop on Litter Boxes

Scooping out kitty litter

Cats have an instinct to eliminate in soil or sand, so your kitten will likely use a litter box right away. Put it in a quiet spot and show her where it is. Kitty litter choices include regular and clumping clay litter, crystal litter, as well as litter made from wood chips, grains, and newspapers. Some cat boxes are too high for kittens to get in and out easily, so you may need to start with a low-sided box until your kitten grows.

Choose a Cat Bed

Kitten sleeping

Cats sleep as many as 16 hours a day, kittens even more. As much as you love cuddling with kitty, she’ll probably enjoy a spot all her own. She’ll happily curl up on a perch attached to a window ledge, a cat tree, a fuzzy pad on a chair, or in her very own snuggly cat bed. If you have a dog, it’s important to give your kitten a safe and private place to sleep.

Play With Your Kitten

Playing with kitten

By gently playing with your kitten daily, you teach her the people skills she needs to be a good pet. You also help her keep fit, develop coordination, and find an outlet for behaviors like chasing and pouncing. If kitty likes to use her teeth or claws, give her something to bite on or cling to as you play. Don't use your hand as a toy! If she thinks hands are toys, she might accidentally hurt someone.

Keep Kitty Safe

Kitten playing with ribbons

Cats often interact with the world through their mouth, and as cute as your kitten looks playing, not everything in your house is a good toy. Keep string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, plastic milk jug rings, paper clips, pins, dental floss, and other temptations away from your curious cat. Also, put away cleaning supplies, pills, and drugs, as well as antifreeze and motor oil.

Teach Your Kitten the Rules

Kitten using scratching post

Your kitten is new to the world and your house -- so she’ll need to learn the rules. To stop some behaviors, give her other outlets. For example, to keep kitty off the curtains, give her a sisal-covered pole to climb up. Don’t want kitty clawing the couch? Put up scratching posts. Tip: To show her scratching posts are OK to use, pretend to sharpen your claws on them, or sprinkle some catnip on them. Make sure the posts are well secured, so your cat will feel safe using them.

A Word About Declawing

Kitten's sharp claws and whiskers

Declawing kittens and cats is controversial. Because a cat’s claws are attached to their bones, surgery removes the last joint of each "finger." People who are against declawing say it's inhumane. Those on the other side say it makes a cat a better pet, and possibly less likely to end up in a shelter. If you choose to declaw your cat, surgery should be done before 6 months of age. Declawed cats should always be kept indoors because they have trouble defending themselves.

How to Manage Scratching

Nail clippers for cats

Try these tips for your kitty’s claws. Nail clippers: They’re easier to use than you think, and usually you only need to clip the front claws. Don't cut the central pink part or "quick," -- the blood supply to the nail. Gently press on the foot pads to extend the nail before clipping. Ask your vet to show you how. Scratching posts let cats do the work. Claw caps (or nail caps) are tiny vinyl sleeves that fit over your cat’s claws, keeping them from scratching where they shouldn't.

Food Harmful to Your Kitten

Kittens hissing at garlic and onions

Drinks like alcohol, coffee, and tea are dangerous for your cat. To help keep kitty safe, avoid onions and garlic, as these foods cause anemia in cats. Offer your kitten his own goodies, like a pot of catnip or oat grass. Think your cat has eaten something dangerous? Call your vet right away, or call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Plants Harmful to Your Kitten

Kitten sniffing red potted flowers

Several house or outdoor plants can be dangerous to your kitten, including chrysanthemum, azalea, tulip bulbs, and oleander. Lilies are particulary poisonous to cats, and even small amounts can make your kitten very sick. Not sure if a particular plant is kitty-safe? Talk to your vet. And if you think she’s eaten something poisonous, call your vet right away, or call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Time to Spay or Neuter

Vet with kitten ready for spay/neuter

With an estimated 6 million dogs and cats entering shelters every year, there are not enough loving families for all of them. That’s why groups like the Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend spaying or neutering your cat, which can be done as early as eight weeks. Some groups can help with the cost of surgery.

Fight Fleas

Kitten scratching with hind leg

If you notice your kitten is losing hair, has irritated skin, is chewing and licking often, or is scratching a lot, he may have fleas. Ask your vet which flea control he recommends for kittens (some products also prevent heartworms), and then treat all the pets in the house. Some flea treatments used in dogs can be very toxic to cats, so always read the package carefully.

Protect Against Intestinal Worms

Common roundworm, toxocara canis

You can’t really avoid these parasites, but you can decrease likelihood of infestation by working with your vet. Roundworms (which cause diarrhea, vomiting, and pneumonia), hookworms (which can give your kitten anemia) and tapeworms are the most common parasites your kitten will face. If you see what looks like rice grains in your kitten's stool or around her bottom, see your vet for medication. A lot of the heartworm medications have monthly dewormers in them.

Vaccinate Your Kitten

Kitten getting vaccinated

Your kitten’s vaccinations will help keep her healthy. Vaccines can prevent common illnesses such as rabies, feline distemper, feline leukemia, and upper respiratory infections. Talk to your vet to see which vaccines are right for your kitten.

How to Tell When Kitty Is Sick

Close-up of of sleepy looking cat

There are signs to look for that tell you your kitten may be sick, including refusing food or water, panting, sleeping much more than usual, hiding, coughing, sneezing, vomiting, or losing weight. If you think your kitten isn’t up to snuff, talk to your veterinarian. Never give your cat something from your own medicine cabinet. Some medicine can be deadly to cats.

How to Pick a Vet

Vet holding kitten

A good way to find a great vet is to ask people you trust for recommendations. Then, visit each clinic. Does the clinic look and smell clean and well-managed? Do the vets listen to you? Answer your questions clearly? Are the staff members calm and caring? Don’t be shy about changing clinics if necessary.

They Grow Up So Fast!

Cat stretching in grass, inset kitten photo

Like all babies, kittens seem to grow up right before your eyes, and before you know it they’re braving the world on their own. So be sure to take lots of pictures and enjoy every moment as your rough-and-tumble little kitten changes and grows into your cat companion.

Slideshow: Pet Health - Taking Care of Your Kitten

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