Kitten care may be intimidating to the uninitiated but spending time bonding and learning to communicate with your kitten now can help them grow into a happy adult cat. Introducing your kitten to a variety of foods, catifying your house, and carefully choosing a natural litter and litter boxes can help your kitten feel secure in their new home. From playtime to dinner time, here’s what we recommend to help your kitten have the best life possible.
What Should Your Kitten Eat?
Kittens need foods that are higher in protein and calories than adult cats. Your kitten should eat a food with at least a 36% dry matter (DM) protein level and 1% DM calcium and 0.8% DM phosphorus. All cat foods labeled all life stages or growth formulas should meet or exceed nutritional requirements and will be safe for your kitten to eat. Don’t forget that dry matter percentages aren’t listed on the pet food label. Ask a Muddy to convert from listed to dry matter if you need help.
A high-quality kitten food won’t require much supplementation, but adding Omega-3-rich fish oil, green-lipped muscle, or seaweed to your kitten’s diet will encourage healthy brain and eye development.
Adding Moisture and Variety
An essential part of kitten care is adding variety to their diet when they’re young. Kitten raised on a single food form or protein can become tied to that particular food for their entire life. That’s why many of cats as adults get a reputation for being picky: They were never exposed to a wide variety of foods as kittens.
From the moment your kitten is weaned, you should take the opportunity to introduce as many different moisture-rich foods as possible from a large variety of protein sources. Cats remember what foods are safe to eat from what they learn as kittens. Introducing different food forms, textures and flavors will prevent your adult cat from becoming overly selective about what they’ll eat. If you’re concerned with digestive upset adding a prebiotic supplement with a digestive enzyme will reduce this risk of stomach upset while ensuring your kitten’s overall digestive health.
Choosing plenty of moisture-rich foods, such as wet or raw food, ensures that your kitten will avoid the dehydration risk of eating only kibble. As desert animals, cats evolved to eat water through the prey they eat. Many adult cats who eat only kibble develop urinary and kidney problems later in life due to chronic dehydration. Putting an emphasis on moisture-rich foods—such as frozen raw food and wet food—can reduce that risk while adding less processed protein sources into your kitten’s diet.
Kitten Care: Catifying Your House
Catification can help protect your kitten from hazards, but it also makes your house a better environment for a cat. Start by eliminating poisonous plants in areas accessible to your cat and try to keep cords neatly coiled to prevent accidents. Using cabinet guards made to protect babies can also prevent your kitten from chewing or tasting hazardous things.
Place your kitten’s bed in a warm, quiet area in the home. For added stimulation, think about adding a fish tank, window bed, cat tree or other enhancements to your indoor space. Vertical space is also important: some cats aren’t comfortable living life only on the ground. Pay attention to where your kitten likes to spend their time, and try placing more items at that general height if you suspect your kitten is one of these cats.
Scratching posts are also an essential tool for catifying your house. Cats have an instinctual need to use scratching and scent to mark their new home, reduce stress, and release pleasure inducing endorphins into their bodies. Putting an approved scratching post in an area where your kitten tries to scratch will prevent unwanted behavior while allowing your kitten to follow their instincts.
Also, consider a cat fountain in addition to a traditional water bowl. While cats prefer to eat their water rather than drink, most cats are chronically dehydrated. Anything you can do to make drinking water more appealing may prevent dehydration and prevent health problems in adulthood.
Embracing the Play-Eat-Groom-Sleep Cycle
Cats are known for keeping their own schedule, but by working with their instincts, you can help create a timetable that will work for all the species in your home. Cats evolved to hunt several small meals a day, groom after eating, and then nap before their next hunt. So, if you want your kitten to sleep longer during the night, consider some vigorous play time and a meal or snack before you go to sleep.
While mealtimes will need to follow your household’s schedule, consider if you can feed your kitten four times a day. Many working adults try feeding their kittens immediately after waking, before work, immediately after returning from work, and before bedtime. Evenly spaced mealtimes aren’t as important for kitten care as small, high protein meals are. If you’re concerned about giving your kitten something to eat during the day, consider a puzzle toy with some freeze-dried food to encourage individual playing and eating.
Grooming Your Kitten
Work on making any grooming routine pleasurable and a pleasant way to bond with your kitten. Trim your kitten’s claws every week and practice lightly touching their paws often. Find a brush that your kitten can tolerate and try a few strokes every day, especially if your cat has long hair.
Using a finger toothbrush or dental wipes to gently clean your kitten’s teeth will also help establish good oral health. There are also dental supplements that can be added to food to keep your kitten’s teeth in excellent health. If your kitten will consume them, it can be an easy way to reduce the risk of dental disease. However, avoid dental supplements that go into water because it could prevent your kitten from drinking.
Kittens and Litter Boxes
Make using the litter box easy by finding a box and litter your kitten likes. Litter box avoidance is the number one reason why cats are abandoned at shelters, so you can protect your kitten by making litter box use easy. Make sure that you have at least one litter box, plus an extra one, for every cat in your home. All boxes should be located away from loud and high traffic areas that could scare your kitten.
Keep in mind that your kitten might have different preferences for litter boxes and litters than the other cats in your home. A new kitten may also have difficulty entering and exiting certain types of litter boxes. Making sure your kitten is comfortable with the location, size and shape of their new litter box will help you avoid accidents.
When choosing a litter, avoid sorghum litter for very young kittens or if you have dogs, because some pets like to eat this cereal grain. Wood, walnut, paper and corn are all great options, but do be on the lookout for signs your kitten might be snacking on natural litter between meals. If you notice that your kitten might be eating the litter, try a different litter that’s less palatable to your cat.
Kitten Care: Bonding with Your Kitten
Learning to speak cat and bonding with your kitten can be an immensely rewarding experience. When you bring a new kitten home, give them plenty of space. Kittens like to hide and wait until they feel safe before they come out. Waiting patiently and allowing them to initiate interactions can help your new pet feel safe in their home. Other pets and children should be carefully introduced to the new kitten with several short interactions over the course of several days.
When brushing or petting your kitten, beware of overstimulation, which can cause biting. If your kitten is getting too excited or anxious, take a break and come back to the activity later. Watch your cat for cues to what they’re feeling. But don’t overlook playtime as a way to bond with your cat! Interactive play is a great way to tire an energetic kitten while bonding. And don’t forget to reward long play sessions with a small, high protein treat to encourage your kitten to groom and take a nap.
We strongly encourage you to keep your cat indoors while unsupervised, but outdoor exploration via a catio or leashed walk can be a lot of fun. If you do decide to take your cat outside on a leash, be sure to get a well-fitted harness beforehand. Then, be prepared for a leisurely ramble throughout your yard or other outdoor space: Most cats don’t walk like dogs on a leash, but it can still be enjoyable for everyone. Giving your cat a chance to enjoy the fresh air may mean watching them stalk a bug or do nothing at all.
Some kittens may mouth or suck fabric when they are young. This behavior can be a sign that they’ve left their mother too soon or that they like to chew. Dried turkey tendons and other small chews may satisfy a kitten’s need to chomp.
When to Visit a Veterinarian
Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure your kitten is fully vaccinated and in good health. It’s also a good time to go over any health questions you have around kitten care: Your veterinarian sees hundreds of kittens every year and can tell you what’s normal for cats. You may want to also search for a veterinarian who prioritizes cat care over other types of animals. Many cat owners report that cat-only veterinarian offices know how to make a vet visit less stressful for their cats.
During the appointment, you may also want to discuss deworming, flea protection and microchipping to protect your kitten from common health hazards. You may also want to schedule your kitten’s appointment to be spayed or neutered; research suggests that cats should be altered before five months of age and can reproduce when they are only three months old.
And if you’re considering declawing, please reconsider: cats who are declawed can become aggressive and anxious because they rightly feel they can’t defend themselves from attacks or climb as easily. Part of kitten care is working with your kitten to stop unwanted behavior while they’re young to prevent unwanted scratching as adults.
Bringing a new kitten home can be incredibly rewarding, but be sure to plan for unexpected veterinarian visits and behavior challenges. Each kitten has their own needs and personality, but if you work together you can learn to communicate and build a fulfilling relationship. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out for help: Your veterinarian, cat-loving friends and other cat experts can help you troubleshoot the best ways to bond with your cat.