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Bringing Home a Kitten

Kittens are irresitable and lots of fun but they need very special care and attention to ensure that they grow in to happy, healthy cats.  Take some time to consider the responsibilities of caring for a cat over many years before making the decision to invest in a kitten and prepare yourself and your home for the introduction of this mini-whirlwind!

Before bringing a curious kitten home, it is essential to “kitten-proof” the house to ensure that it will be safe. Keep small items such as rubber bands, buttons and beads out of reach and be aware that some indoor cleaners and plants may be poisonous to kittens.

Get down low and look for any nooks and crannies behind cabinets or under sofas that the kitten might want to explore.  Block these off with cardboard or attach double-sided tape as kittens won’t like the sticky surface.  Remove dangling cords and precious ornaments from shelves and always close drawers and cupboard doors.

KITTEN SOCIALISATION
Socialising is the time during which a kitten develops relationships with other people and animals in its environment and allows it to get used to household noises and activities such as vacuum cleaners, music and car travel.  Kittens that have had human contact and regular gentle handling as early as possible are more likely to be calm around other people and unusual noises.

Kittens begin this socialisation stage at just a few weeks old so by the time the kitten finds its new home at about 8 weeks, some of its socialisation skills would have already been developed.  To continue this, handle the kitten as much as possible and try to expose it to other pets and humans of all ages.  For the first few days in the new home provide a safe and quiet area that contains the kitten’s food and litter tray and from where it will begin to explore its new surroundings.

Cats can be trained to enjoy grooming, bathing, nail clipping, trips in a car and walking on a lead if started from a young age.  Kittens shouldn’t be forced to try something new if it seems fearful but rewarding positive, non-fearful behaviour with praise and treats will help. Gradual introduction to these will result in a well-adjusted cat that trusts its owner when new things are presented.

When introducing a kitten to an older cat, chances are that the newcomer will be distanced and ignored for a few days. The older cat may hide or even act up to persuade the kitten to retreat.  Giving the kitten an area such as a spare room to escape to with the door closed will give both cats a few days to get used to the others scent.  After that, keep their litter and food areas separate to allow them their own privacy.

OUTDOORS OR INDOORS
This is a personal choice but cats kept indoors can’t fight with other cats or dogs and there is no risk of them getting lost or hit by a car. Generally cats that live their life indoors live to a much older age than those that roam outside.  Cats adapt extremely well to life indoors providing they are given stimulating toys, a scratching post, a warm bed and a sunny window sill.

Many cat owners choose to erect outdoor enclosures to provide their cat with fresh air and outdoor stimulation. These are a safe way to offer any feline friends the best of both worlds.

KITTEN PLAY
Kittens spend most of their waking hours playing.  They stalk, pounce, ambush and act like little tigers around the home.  Kittens will play with almost anything that moves or makes noises such as cardboard boxes, ping pong balls and feathers. Try tying a folded piece of paper on to string and hanging it from a stick as an easy way to play with a kitten whilst relaxing on the sofa.  Cat tunnels are heaps of fun for kittens as they race through, jump around in and eventually fall asleep in.

Catnip in toys will give cats a “high” which lasts five to ten minutes.  They will roll around and play with the toy and then eventually wander off for a relaxing cat nap.

Kittens often play aggressively because that’s what comes naturally.  It is part of their normal development to play rough but most will grow out of this stage to become adorable, loving cats.

Resist the urge to wrestle with a playful kitten whilst it bites and scratches.  This might be cute when it is tiny but will be painful as it grows older. Instead, use soft toys for play and if the kitten gets too rough, take the toy away.  If the kitten bites or scratches simply end the game, say “No” at the same time as giving a loud clap and then walk away.  Just as a kitten would have learnt from its siblings or mother, it will also learn from its owner as well.

If a kitten is to be left on its own for many hours throughout the day, having a playmate will help keep it happy and stimulated.  Kittens often bond very closely with others and will provide each other with hours of entertainment and will be lots of fun to watch.

FEEDING
Kittens usually start eating solid food at around 4 weeks of age but will still suckle on their mother as well. Premium dry or wet cat foods are available for such young kittens and are a convenient way to provide total nutrition at this important stage of life.

Kittens require about twice the energy per gram of body weight as a mature cat and tend to prefer taking in a number of small meals throughout the day.  At the youngest age kittens should be fed three to four times a day and then from seven months to one year, this can be decreased to twice a day.

Throw away uneaten food and don’t be tempted to put it back in the fridge as it could be contaminated by bacteria.

Do not give cats or kittens cow’s milk as many are lactose intolerant and it can cause tummy upsets and severe diarrhoea. Specific cat milk is available to offer as an occasional treat.  Dog food is not suitable for cats or kittens either as their requirements are very different.

Kittens and cats will often refuse to eat from a dirty bowl so these should be washed well between each meal. Stainless steel or ceramic bowls are hygienic and easy to wash. Cats also prefer very fresh water that is fresh from the tap so refresh their water bowl regularly or try offering them a cat water bubbler which circulates the water keeping it fresh and aerated.

SCRATCHING POSTS
Scratching on trees and posts is just what cats do.  Some believe they do this to mark their territory and others feel it is to sharpen their claws.  Either way, it is one of their habits that have to be managed in the home.

Scratch posts come in many shapes and sizes and some provide opportunity for play as well as rest areas.  Provide two or three posts in areas that the cat enjoys.  If a cat scratches the furniture, cover the area with plastic or double sided tape and place the scratch post nearby as an alternative.

Encourage a kitten to use the scratch post by attaching dangle-toys to it or spraying it with catnip.  If a kitten continues to scratch the furniture, say “No” firmly and clap hands loudly.

SLEEPING
Kittens seek out warmth as they are used to snuggling up to their mother and their siblings and although the temptation is there to let a kitten sleep on your own bed, it is important to realise that this is forming a habit that will last a life time.

There are many different cat beds available and any lined with a blanket or baby quilt will be ideal.  Place the bed in a quiet place away from busy areas and encourage the kitten to sleep there when you go to bed.

LITTER TRAYS
Cats are fastidiously clean and learn quickly to use their litter tray.  Place the kitten in the tray at regular intervals and always after a meal.  If the kitten begins sniffing in corners of the room or squatting, put it immediately in to the litter box and gently scratch its paws in the litter.

If the kitten has an accident elsewhere in the house, wipe it up with a paper towel, place this in to the litter box then place the kitten in to the litter box as well to reinforce that this is where the waste belongs.

Covered trays are ideal for cats that are indoors all the time.  When introducing these, allow the kitten to get used to it without the cover on before placing the cover on top a few days later.  Visit any Better Pets and Gardens store to view the wide variety of cat litter available and to choose the best type for your kitten.

Cats can be very fussy about the cleanliness of the litter box and the type of litter used.  Be sure to keep the box as clean as possible and as well as regular changing of the litter, wash the box with soap and warm water to prevent odours being absorbed by the plastic.

VACCINATIONS
Kittens are protected against infectious diseases by the antibodies present in their mother’s milk but this only lasts for the first three months.  This is why the first vaccination is scheduled at between 6 and 8 weeks before this protection has ended.  Two further vaccinations every four weeks are then required after which Annual Boosters help to keep the cat protected.  Cat vaccines protect against feline leukaemia, feline distemper, upper respiratory infections and rabies.  Consult a veterinarian to determine the vaccination needs of each individual kitten.

FLEA AND WORM CONTROL
Fleas on very young kittens can cause anaemia and may even be fatal but most flea products cannot be used on kittens under the age of 9 weeks. To treat young kittens it is best to talk to a vet but generally the key is to treat the mother as this will provide ongoing protection to the kitten.  Easy-to-apply flea control products are available for kittens from 9 weeks and should be applied every month.

About 95% of the flea life cycle does not occur on the pet, but in the environment where the pet lives and sleeps.  That’s why the environment has to be treated as well as the pet.

Kittens can become infected from their mother through their milk or before they are even born. They should be wormed every two weeks until 16 weeks of age and then every 3 months for life. Spot-on applicators, tablets and pastes are available at any Better Pets and Gardens store.

Symptoms of worms in kittens:

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