How To Take Care Of A Kitten: A Guide For New Pet Parents

by Richard Walther, DVM
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How To Take Care Of A Kitten
Wondering what kittens need and how to take care of one? This post will teach you everything you need to know about kitten care.

Congratulations on adopting a kitten! Now that you’re a new pet parent, there are several things you’ll need to consider. Quality kitten care should focus on helping the pet adjust to its new home and ensuring their well-being to promote healthy development.

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There are several stages in a kitten's development, and it's crucial to understand how your pet's needs will change as they mature.

We've compiled some helpful kitten advice that covers all the basic aspects of kitten care you’ll need to know, including:

How to prepare for a new kitten

Kitten-proofing the house

Kittens are playful and curious, which can lead them into trouble unless you take adequate preventative measures. So, before bringing home a kitten, you will need to kitten-proof your house and keep a close eye on your new pet to avoid your kitten destroying your stuff or, even worse, injuring themselves.

This includes:

  • Inspecting your home from a kitten’s perspective to identify possible cubby holes, high places, breakable items, etc.
  • Protecting your furniture and rugs from kitten scratches
  • Protecting cables and wires from kitten chewing
  • Securing cabinets and other unsafe spaces
  • Putting away any poisonous ingredients and cleaning products
  • Sweeping your house for any small, harmful items
  • Removing all dangerous chemicals and tools from the garage
  • Keeping your kitten out of the backyard and using fertilizers carefully and sparingly

How to Kitten-Proof Your Home Step-by-Step

Essential kitten supply checklist

When you first bring your kitten home you’ll want to ensure that all items on your kitten supply checklist are in place.

You’ll need to think about essential items such as food, water, bowls, litter box, and a cat bed, as well as nonessential items like a collar and identification tag, flea comb, grooming brush, nail clippers, scratching post, and toys.

Get the New Kitten Checklist

Bring a kitten home with care

For a young kitten, a new home with loud noises, unfamiliar smells, and strange sights can be a frightening place. Here are things you can do to make the adjustment smoother.

Driving in the car

The trip to your house should be as comfortable as possible. Place a towel you used to rub the kitten’s family members or even the interior of the kennel in a cat carrier, and carefully lay your kitten inside. Remove the top of the carrier rather than nudging the kitten through the door if they refuse to get inside.

Arriving at home

Once you get home, place the kitten and carrier in a small, quiet room in the house (for instance the bathroom or laundry room). Allow the kitten some time to come out of the carrier by opening the door. Keep fresh water, food, and a litter box near the carrier's entrance, and allow the cat to explore the room as they please.

Initial introductions

Once your kitten has gotten used to the quiet room, introduce them to the remainder of the rooms in the house one at a time. If you have other pets, make sure to introduce them slowly and safely. When introducing the new kitten, keep your dog or cat on a leash or have someone hold them. Allow the pets to investigate each other, and intervene only if signs of impending hostility are detected.

Staying home alone

Create a safe and secure environment where you can leave your kitten when you are unable to supervise them. A food bowl, water bowl, litter box, toys, and a resting spot should be available in this area.

Welcoming your kitten with love

Settling in

Avoid pressuring the kitten to get out of its hiding place during the first days in your home. Instead, spend time on the floor at kitten level if you want to appeal to your new pet. Also, rather than crowding into the room all at once, allow family members to visit individually.

Any handling should ideally take place when the kitten initiates it during the first couple of days. After the first 48 hours, handle the kitten for small amounts of time throughout the day instead of providing constant physical contact. Allow only minimal supervised interaction with the kitten at first if you have young children to avoid the cat being over-handled.

Preventing problems before they start

Identifying and providing suitable outlets for all of a kitten's needs is the key to preventing behavior problems. From the first day in your home, encouraging safe and acceptable play activities will make life much easier for you and your cat.

Consider providing predatory play sessions with mobile toys, miniature lights, or wands, as well as serving food within foraging toys and hiding treats inside boxes or paper bags to encourage your kitten's interest in investigation.

Climbing alternatives and scratching posts will help prevent furniture destruction. Highly sociable and playful cats may also benefit from having a second social and playful cat in the house, as long as a safe hierarchy has been created.

Correcting inappropriate behaviors

Because cats can be demanding creatures, it's critical to develop their good manners at a young age. Biting, swatting, and excessive vocalization are all examples of inappropriate conduct that should not be condoned.

If your kitten starts to display these behaviors, leave the room immediately and quietly, stopping all interactions. Restart interactions after the kitten has calmed and quieted down.

If a kitten's behavior towards people or property is unacceptable, disciplining may be necessary, but the punishment should be avoided. A firm "No!" may be all that is required to bring your kitten to a halt. You can clap your hands or make another loud noise to redirect their attention.

How to care for a kitten at each stage of development

A kitten's first few weeks are a whirlwind of developmental changes. Welcoming a new kitten into your family is fun but also a lot of responsibility. Your new baby pet will have different needs each week in terms of food, warmth, medical assistance, and bathroom help. It's critical to determine what kind of care your kitten needs and how to help them grow into a healthy and happy adult cat.

How to take care of a newborn kitten

Newborn kittens completely depend on their mother for food, warmth, bathroom support, and cleaning. You can handle the newborn kittens for a few minutes at a time if the mother is okay with it. Early engagement with newborn cats can help lay the groundwork for a future companion that is happy and well-adjusted.

Wondering how to help a cat weaned too early? Kittens should ideally stay with their mothers for at least eight weeks so that they can get the full benefit of the mothers' milk, which contains important antibodies.

If a newborn kitten is orphaned, they will need to be bottle-fed with kitten formula every two hours, kept at an appropriate temperature, and stimulated to go to the bathroom.

How to take care of a 2-week-old kitten

2-week-old kittens may begin taking a dewormer. Talk with your veterinarian about a kitten deworming schedule. Your kitten’s eyes should be open by this point. If they are not open by day 10, try gently wiping the lids clean with a wash cloth.

Download the Kitten Deworming Schedule

How to take care of a 3-week-old kitten

At this age, you can place a kitten-safe litter box in their environment. 3-week-old kittens start controlling their own potty breaks, so there’s no need to specifically "train" them. If you are bottle-feeding the kittens, you can scale back to four to six hours between meals.

How to take care of a 4-week-old kitten

4-week-old kittens should become used to being around and handled by people. At this stage, you may also try introducing them to new sounds and toys. Orphan kittens of this age should be bottle-fed every five hours, including overnight.

How to take care of a 5-week-old kitten

5-week-old kittens may begin the weaning process. At this age, kittens should be offered a mix of solid kitten food mixed with kitten formula or kitten food soaked in water until soft in addition to access to their mother’s milk or a bottle if orphaned. If the kitten is weaned, food and water should be provided at all times.

How to take care of a 6-week-old kitten

If they are weaned, 6-weeks old kittens should be given plenty of wet kitten food. Ensure that they have constant access to food, water, and a suitable litter box. To protect kittens against viruses, they should receive their first FVRCP vaccine at the age of six weeks (rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia).

How to care for a kitten from 2 to 3-months-old

At 2 to 3 months of age, your kitten should get their initial vaccines. They should also be eating solid canned food or kibble about 4 times a day. 8-week-old kittens can be slowly introduced to other pets.

Gently play with your kitten at least once a day so they’ll bond with you but don’t take it personally if they are not interested in playing with you. After your kitten is about 12 weeks old, they will probably be more interested in playing with objects even more than other cats. Use food and treats to teach and reward good behavior.

How to care for a kitten from 4 to 6-months-old

At 4 to 6 months of age, your kitten should eat a combination of wet and dry formulas three times per day. By the time they’re six months old, female kittens should be spayed and male kittens neutered, provided they are healthy and weigh two lb. Like humans, a kitten's first set of teeth is replaced by their adult teeth, so it is important to start and keep up with dental care regularly at home.

Kitten care milestones for the first year of life

First vet visit

During the first vet visit, the vet will ensure that your kitten is healthy and clear of parasites that can be transmitted to humans, such as intestinal parasites and fleas. Detecting viral illnesses like feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus might help you plan how they will interact with your other cats.

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The vet will also check for congenital abnormalities and health issues in cat breeds like a heart murmur, hernia, or cleft palate during the physical exam, and will give your kitten a full round of immunizations and boosters, which will need to be repeated at least once a year after that.

Pet insurance enrollment

Consider enrolling in cat insurance while your feline friend is still young and healthy. Pet insurance helps you save on unexpected veterinary bills by reimbursing you for the cost of covered services.

Most insurance plans for treatments related to illnesses and/or accidents, but you can also purchase a wellness add-on to reimburse preventive care costs.

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Core kitten vaccinations

Even indoor cats and kittens require protection from pathogens that can be carried in on your shoes or by other pets in your household. Core kitten vaccines include feline panleukopenia (a parvovirus, also known as feline distemper), feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, and rabies.

Download the Kitten Vaccination Schedule

Vaccinations should begin at 6–8 weeks of age and be repeated every 3–4 weeks until the kitten reaches the age of 16 weeks. In a year's time, this initial course will need to be boosted again, and then at intervals after that (as recommended by your veterinarian).

Microchipping

Microchipping is an essential way to identify your pet if they escape or get lost. The microchip can be inserted under the skin during vaccinations or while your kitten is sedated for spaying/neutering.

Spay or neuter procedure

Sterilization, i.e. spaying or neutering should be done before the kitten matures into an adult capable of having kittens. Female cats can become sexually mature from just four months of age, whereas males reach sexual maturity at about seven to nine months.

Preventive kitten care

Flea and tick prevention

Fleas and ticks are one of the most common parasitic dangers for cats. If left untreated, these external parasites can cause infestation, discomfort, skin issues, and disease.

There are many different safe and effective flea and tick treatment solutions for kittens available, both prescription and over-the-counter. Talk to your vet about your feline friend's lifestyle and proper flea and tick prevention.

Heartworm prevention

In addition to worms/intestinal parasites, your kitten can contract heartworms. If a cat develops heartworm disease, there’s no treatment. Therefore, we recommend consistent heartworm prevention for cats and kittens, even those living indoors.

Annual wellness exam

All cats should visit their veterinarian for a routine wellness exam at least once a year. This annual wellness exam for pets establishes a baseline of the cat's optimal physical state, allowing the primary care vet to quickly notice changes in the cat's health status during an emergency or illness.

Caring for a kitten’s basic needs

Quality nutrition

Kittens under one year should be fed high-quality commercial kitten food to make sure that a balanced diet is provided. Avoid giving unsafe food for cats and cow’s milk and instead provide access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Wet vs dry cat food

Whether you feed your kitted dry or wet cat food is a personal decision that should be based on which one best suits your kittens and your lifestyle. Both dry and wet food designed especially for kittens has extra minerals, vitamins, protein, and extra fat to help them grow big and strong.

Litter box and toileting

If possible, start out using a litter your kitten is already used to. Place the litter box in a quiet corner, away from water and food, and where your pet won’t be disturbed when they need to use the toilet. Be sure to keep the litter box clean by pooper scooping every day.

Sleep and safety

Provide a quiet and cozy area for your kitten to snuggle down safely. You can use a cardboard box lined with fleece or a comfortable bed with bedding that’s safe and can be easily washed.

Little kittens need to sleep a lot because they have a lot of growing to do. Don't wake your kitten up and wait for them to come out to play. For their own safety, consider keeping your cat indoors and away from any outdoor hazards.

Scratch posts and scratching

Scratching is normal behavior for cats to keep their nails healthy and to exhibit natural behaviors. A scratching pole (or several scratching poles) should be placed throughout the house to keep your kitten from scratching and damaging your furniture. Cover the furniture with protective material if your kitten begins to scratch it, and provide lots of appropriate alternatives to divert their scratching behavior.

Climbing and perching

You’re probably already aware that cats love to climb, so be sure to provide your kitten with a tall cat tree, preferably one with numerous raised levels for them to perch on. This will prevent your feline friend from climbing the drapes while at the same time satisfying their natural desire to be high up.

Toys and play

Another thing that kittens love is playing because it allows them to practice their hunting skills. Give your kitten a variety of safe toys to chase, toss, swat, and pounce and play with them for several minutes at a time throughout the day. This will provide your kitten with necessary activity, keep them from becoming bored, and allow them to bond with you.

Socialization

Kitten socialization is essential when it comes to raising a kitten who will become a well-behaved, healthy adult cat. However, keep in mind that cats have a very short socialization phase, which means that the first 4-16 weeks of life are a critical time for social and behavioral development.

The training and socialization your feline friend receives during kittenhood will influence how well they will interact with people and other pets when they grow up, so do everything you can to get your kitten exposed to as much as possible – strangers, loud noises, walking on leashes, other animals, children, etc. to help them become a better-adjusted adult cat. Just ensure that your kitten has a positive experience out of any socialization exposure you provide.

Save the Kitten Socialization Checklist

How to raise a social kitten

Kittens require a lot of love and interaction from their parents. The more gentle petting they receive from you, the friendlier and more social they’ll become. Every day, devote two or three sessions to petting and handling your kitten. When the veterinarian needs to inspect them, this will make them feel more at ease. Rubbing their paws and toes will help them relax when it's time to cut their claws.

Introduce your kitten to guests visiting. Try to expose your pet to people of various ages, ethnicities, sizes, and sexes as they grow up, as they might develop a fear of humans if they meet too few of them. If there are children in the house, all interactions should be supervised, and you should teach them how to handle your kitten in a safe, respectful, and proper manner.

How to take care of a kitten’s hygiene

Grooming

Introduce your kitten to a comb and brush from a young age and allow them to play with the tools so that they grow comfortable with them.

Begin grooming your baby pet as soon as possible so that the grooming sessions become a pleasurable bonding experience and a part of everyday maintenance.

Reward your pet with a treat, patting, or vocal praise for allowing you to groom them. This will teach your kitten that grooming is a good thing, making it easy for both of you.

Dental care

By the age of three, more than half of all cats will have dental problems. If left untreated, this can have a devastating impact on your feline companion's health and could result in early death due to severe inflammation, kidney disease, or heart problems.

Brushing a cat's teeth on a daily basis is ideal, but once a week is more realistic. Try to get your kitten accustomed to having their teeth brushed early on. Start by putting flavored gel treats on the toothbrush and letting your kitten lick it off, then gradually work your way up to brushing their teeth.

Cat baths

Many pet parents wonder if kittens need baths, and the answer is not really. In general, cats don’t need to be bathed on a regular basis and most of them actually find bathing quite stressful. Therefore, you should avoid bathing unless recommended by your veterinarian for medical reasons.


Final kitten care tips all pet parents should know

Don’t forget to set time aside to play with your kitten every day. Not only is playing fun, but it also alleviates boredom, reduces bad behavior, teaches your kitten coordination, and helps socialize them.

Think about whether you’re going to let your cat venture outside. Studies show that indoor felines have less risk of injuries, parasites, and infection compared to those allowed outdoors.

However, staying indoors also has risks, such as behavior problems and obesity. Partial outdoor access might be the best solution for better physical and mental wellbeing, but your cat should never be left without supervision.


FAQs on Kitten care

Where should kittens sleep at night?

The best place for a kitten to sleep is a warm, safe, and draught-free spot. For the first few nights, it's okay to keep the kitten near you.

How long do kittens sleep?

Young kittens tend to sleep more than adult cats. A kitten will often sleep for 16 to 20 hours per day and spend the rest in nonstop activity.

When do kittens start walking?

Most kittens begin walking when they’re about three weeks old, although coordination takes a bit longer. You can safely assume that a kitten who is walking and playing is at least four weeks old.

What does a kitten need?

According to AAHA, some of the most essential items your kitten will need include kitten food, bowls, litter box, brush, cat bed, toys, a scratching post or scratching pad, a safety cat collar with an ID tag, and a travel carrier.

How much to feed a kitten?

Young kittens typically eat 1/4 to 1/2 cup of food at a time. If your kitten is underweight, the daily calorie requirement may need to be increased. If, on the other hand, your kitten is gaining too much weight too rapidly, you'll need to reduce the amount of food they are consuming.

If you are not sure how much food is enough for your kitten, talk to your vet or use our kitten feeding chart. The vet will use a tool called a body condition score to assess your pet’s weight and recommend an adequate amount of food.

How to raise a kitten to be cuddly?

According to VCA Hospitals, “In order for the cat to learn to accept and enjoy physical contact from people, it is critical that the human hand only be associated with positive experiences and that physical punishment is not used.”

Pet your kitten, speak to them in a gentle voice, scratch them behind the ears, and give them a gentle squeeze. Every cat has certain body regions that are more sensitive than others, so try to figure out where they don't want to be touched and avoid that area. Most cats are more sensitive to their bellies. For reluctant kittens, consider using treats during the petting sessions.

How do you train a kitten?

Reward-based training is the most effective and humane way to train pets, according to the RSPCA. It involves rewarding your cat when they perform a ‘desired’ behavior. Rewards can be in the form of patting, treats, or verbal praise.

When does a kitten become a cat?

Your kitten will have grown into an adult cat after a year. They will be playful and well socialized at this age, as well as healthy, with a shiny coat, strong muscles, and great hunting instincts.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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