New Kitten
Kitten love! I can’t think of much on this earth that is more fun than a new kitten. He’s soft and funny and acrobatic — make that “acrocatic.” With the right start in life, he’s likely to be your best furry friend for a good 10 to 15 years, or more. The first 30 days with him are critical to developing a great relationship, and I want to share some tips with you on how to make the most of them.

Going Home

Whether you’re driving a short distance from the local shelter or carrying your kitten home on a plane after picking him up from a breeder, it will be a big day for him. Prepare his carrier beforehand by scenting it with a pheromone spray that can help your kitten feel comfortable and secure. Stash some treats inside it, and keep handing them out throughout the trip. These tactics will help him learn to love his carrier, an important step that will benefit him throughout life.

Continue the carrier love at home. Keep it out so he can nap in it, continue making it smell good with pheromone spray and toss in some treats whenever you see him in it. You can also leave treats inside it for him to find. Your kitten should think his carrier is the best place in the world — next to your lap, of course.

Your kitten will be curious, confused and excited — all at once — when he reaches his new home. It’s tempting to set him down and let him roam, but he’ll adjust better if you limit his access at first. This is also important if you have other pets in the household — separating them initially helps prevent the potential of sharing parasites or diseases, and it lets them get accustomed to each other gradually, by sniffing each others’ scent from under a door.

Keep him in a small area, such as a guest room, which you can close off with a door or very tall baby gate. Stock his area with a litterbox, bed, toys, scratching post and food and water dishes. (Keep the litterbox well away from the other items; cats like their privacy when it comes to bathroom functions.) A box, paper bag or other space in which he can hide out is important, too.

Open his carrier and let him come out on his own terms — no matter how desperate the kids are to see and play with him. Only gradually give him access to the entire house, once he has become accustomed to you and you’re sure that he has the hang of using the litterbox (most kittens already have that down, fortunately). He may need as little as 24 hours in his new, safe space or as much as a week or two, depending on his age and personality.

Before you give him free run of his new home, make sure it is thoroughly kittenproofed. Put away or cover up anything that could possibly hurt him: dangling cords on blinds, electrical cords, yarn, thread, string, medications, toxic plants, dental floss, wand toys, bottle caps, potpourri — I could go on. You never know where a kitten’s curiosity will lead him, so when in doubt, don’t leave it out.

Love on him and talk to him, so he gets to know the sound of your voice and feel of your hands. This is a great time to start teaching him that it’s OK for you to handle his paws, check his teeth, look inside or sniff his ears, touch his tail and groom him with a soft brush.

You’ll want to get your kitten to the veterinarian within 48 hours of bringing him home. That will ensure he’s in sparkling good health and doesn’t have any parasites, respiratory diseases or other medical problems.

The first visit can be strictly for a physical exam and weigh-in. It’s a good opportunity for your kitten to meet some nice, new people, get handled by them and eat some yummy treats. Take in a fecal sample as well, so it can be tested for internal parasites. Many kittens need to be treated for them.

Depending on when his first vaccinations took place, you can then schedule the next visit for his second or third round of vaccinations, plus testing for the feline leukemia virus and feline infectious peritonitis. You’ll also want to make an appointment for spay or neuter surgery and microchipping before your cat is 6 months old.
Kitten Eating

Eating, Playing and Scratching

Feeding your kitten is an essential part of building a bond. Start with the food he’s used to eating. If you want to change it, gradually mix in the new food over a week to 10 days to limit tummy upset. Feed him three times a day until he’s 6 months old; then you can cut back to two meals daily.

Consider talking to your veterinarian about feeding your kitten canned food instead of dry food. A high-protein diet is typically better for cats than one with lots of carbs. Cats also really need to stay hydrated, and feeding wet food is a good way to help them take in more water.

One thing I can’t emphasize strongly enough is to avoid free feeding your kitten; that is, leaving food down all the time. Cats who have constant access to food often never get satiated. It can make them prone to obesity and diabetes. Giving canned food at a regular mealtime ensures that your kitten has something to look forward to and helps you to gauge whether he’s eating more or less than usual — both are potential clues that he might not be feeling his best and needs a trip to the veterinarian.

If you want to include some dry food in his diet as a treat or as a convenient alternative when you’re away from home, place it in puzzle toys, so he has to work and hunt to get at it. He’ll enjoy the crunch of the kibble, and pushing the toy around to get the food out helps him to stay active and stimulates his brain.

Other fun playthings for kittens include large peacock feathers or pole toys at which your cat can bat, catnip-stuffed mice (by the way, did you know that not all cats react to catnip?), small tennis balls or Ping-Pong balls he can chase down the hall and toys that crinkle, chirp or make other intriguing sounds. Choose toys that are tough — they shouldn’t have any pieces that your kitten can chew off and swallow (especially strings of any kind) or stuffing that can be ingested if he rips the toy apart.

A scratching post is another kitty essential. Scratching is one of the ways cats mark their territory, so make sure the post is tall, sturdy and in a prominent position in your home.

Learning Starts Early

You don’t have to send him to kittygarten — your kitten is always learning. One of the fascinating facts about felines is just how early they start learning and developing social behavior. By the time they are 5 to 7 weeks old — much too early to go to a new home — their early experiences have intertwined with their genetic heritage to shape whether they will be friendly, active and curious or antisocial, sedentary and grumpy. It’s best if your kitten has had plenty of early human handling before you take him home at 8 to 12 weeks of age.

Confident and happy kittens seek out attention from people and bounce back quickly from unexpected experiences. You should already have a good idea of your kitten’s temperament from observing him before bringing him home, but you can still help mold it by providing him with an enriched environment.
That means plenty of handling by different people (take him out to meet delivery people, invite neighbors and friends over), fun and interesting toys with which to play and exposure to many different household sights and sounds: think blenders, vacuum cleaners, doorbells and, of course, other pets, such as dogs. Car rides (safely ensconced in his carrier) to the drive-through ATM or your fave fast-food place are also good ways to accustom him to change and help develop his personality — especially if you give him a tiny bite of your burger (no onions, please) as a reward.

You can teach him tricks, too — some just for fun, like jumping through a hoop, and some that could save his life, like coming when you call. This kind of training keeps his mind and body active and helps the two of you learn how to communicate. There’s nothing cooler than that!

A little adversity during this time is good for your kitten’s adventurous soul. Moderate amounts of stress during the socialization period can prepare a kitten to be ready for anything and to accept change readily throughout his life. This can be as simple as requiring him to hold still for a minute while you comb him or surprising him with a toy while playing peekaboo. These simple things can help him become unflappable as he matures.

Six things your kitten should learn:
  • No teeth or claws on people — ever!
  • Always potty inside the litterbox (keep it superclean, so he doesn’t have any reason to avoid it).
  • Meeting people is great!
  • Being held and handled is nice!
  • The best place to scratch is the scratching post!
  • Going to the vet is fun!
Most importantly, be sure you play with, teach and interact with your new cat throughout his life. Keeping him mentally and physically active helps ensure that he stays young at heart for many years to come.

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