A curious, cuddly new kitten will bring love and laughter into your home. But, to keep everyone healthy and happy, you have to introduce your furry new friend into your home the right way — here’s how.

Bringing home a new kitten is exciting — you’ve suddenly got a cute, cuddly, incredibly curious new friend! Kittens can leave their mother and littermates after they have been weaned, usually around 8 to 10 weeks old. But don’t plan on bringing Kitty home and letting her loose, because just like human babies, kittens require special care, especially during the first couple of days while she’s adjusting to her new surroundings.

Getting the Timing Right

The best time to bring home a kitten is when you have a day or two in your schedule to help her get used to her new home. Remember, leaving her mom and littermates is a big deal, so everything you can do to make her feel more comfortable will go a long way — that includes taking her home in a secure, cozy carrier that doesn’t smell like another pet. A clean, soft towel will provide warmth and absorb any accidents your kitten might have. As a matter of fact, you should probably bring an extra towel along for just that reason!

Making Introductions

If Kitty isn’t going to be the only cat in the house, you need to make sure she isn’t bringing anything in that could get the rest of the household sick. You should have her tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. She should be given a physical examination, tested and treated for parasites, and vaccinated before introducing her to your other felines. Your vet can give you more information on introducing your kitten to her new furry friends.

Providing a Safe Space

Even though your kitten is sure to be best of friends with your other pets in no time (hopefully!), you should have a small room or space available just for her for the first few days or weeks. This will help her become comfortable and confident in her new home. Be sure to put her litterbox (which you’ll clean daily, of course) on one side of the room and food and water (which you’ll freshen daily) on the other. You don’t want to eat stale food next to your toilet, and neither does she!

Offering hiding spaces, either under furniture or in cardboard boxes, will help your kitten feel safe, and a cozy, warm bed will help her sleep soundly. Covering the bed with a soft shirt you’ve worn will help her get used to your scent more quickly.

Letting Your Kitten Loose

Once you’ve got her room ready and you’ve brought her home in her carrier, set the carrier in the room and open the door, but don’t force her to come out until she’s ready. Even after she’s out, leave the carrier in the corner — this will provide an additional, familiar hiding spot. She may hide quite a bit upon arrival, but rest assured that she’s out exploring when you’re not looking. Before you know it, she’ll be seeking attention from you day and night!

Settling Into a Routine

After your kitten has been to your veterinarian, becomes comfortable in his or her room, and develops a regular routine of eating, drinking, and using the litterbox, you can let him or her venture into the rest of your house. Still, you’ll need to keep an eye on her, making sure she has privacy to eat, sleep, and use the litterbox. Leave familiar items like the litterbox, food and water dishes and her bed in the same spot so she knows where to find them.

Staying Up to Date on Veterinary Care

Although kittens get some protection against disease from their mothers at birth and through nursing, that immunity slowly wears off and it’s up to you to keep them safe by following a vaccination schedule, which should start around 2 to 3 months of age. Your veterinarian can give you more information on which vaccines your kitten needs and when.

In addition to vaccines, your vet will check for intestinal parasites, a common problem for kittens. If your kitten tests positive for intestinal parasites, your vet will repeat fecal examinations and treatments, also known as dewormings, until two consecutive exams come back negative. If external parasites like fleas, ticks and mites are found, your vet will treat them with products approved specifically for kittens.

You will also want to talk with your vet about spaying and neutering. Kittens should be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age. Not only will this reduce the likelihood of behavior problems and certain medical conditions, but it’s the best way to control pet overpopulation.

Providing Your Kitten With Proper Nutrition

Your little cat needs two to three times as many calories and nutrients as adult cats, making proper nutrition particularly important. Kittens get everything they need from a mother cat’s milk for the first four weeks of life and are usually able to chew dry food by 6 to 7 weeks and completely weaned by 8 to 10 weeks of age. Once a kitten is weaned, don’t offer milk, as it can give her diarrhea. The same goes for adult cats, for that matter.

Choose a name-brand kitten food with the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag or label until your kitten is approximately 9 to 12 months old. When your kitten is 3 to 6 months old, feed her three times per day, cutting back to twice daily after six months.

Socializing Successfully

A kitten’s first lessons in socialization come from her mom and littermates, which is part of why it’s best for your kitten to stay with them until she’s close to 10 weeks old. However, human contact during that time period is important as well — kittens who have human contact before they’re 10 to 12 weeks old are more likely to interact well with people throughout their lives. This is why feral kittens who haven’t been exposed to humans are likely to fear people their entire lives. By handling and playing with your kitten, you’ll help her develop a bond with you.

Introducing your kitten to other pets could be tricky and should be done with care and supervision. Your veterinarian can provide advice on how to make this introduction as successful as possible.

Enjoy your new kitten, and let your veterinarian know if you have any questions.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.