Getting a kitten is a special time in a household. Whether the cat is a Siamese, a Maine Coon, a Ragdoll, a Persian, a Bengal or a mixed- or unknown-breed, you want to make sure you’re raising a kitten properly.
The first few months are a crucial time in shaping your kitten’s emotional and physical well-being. Not sure how to raise a kitten? Here are seven things to do when raising a kitten.
1. Wait to Bring Him Home
Never take a kitten away from his mother and siblings before he is 8 weeks old. The early months are fundamental in starting his life off healthy and naturally.
Kittens receive some protection against disease from their mothers through nursing, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Experts recommend kittens stay with their mothers until they are weaned, which is around 8 weeks.
They also learn how to socialize with each other by interacting with their mother and littermates. Proper socialization can help prevent behavioral issues down the road. More on that later.
2. Provide Proper Nutrition
During your kitten’s third month, refrain from feeding him anything but veterinarian-approved kitten food and kitten wet food. Kitten food is specially formulated to provide kittens with the extra nutrients they need to grow into healthy cats. Most experts recommend feeing your kitten specially formulated kitten food until the age of 1.
Don’t forget to provide your kitten with plenty of fresh water.
3. Socialize Your Kitten
When raising a kitten, socialization is crucial in providing proper kitten care. Exposing your kitten to new people, animals and experiences will help build a foundation for a lifetime of positive behavior. A kitten who hasn’t been properly socialized may develop fear aggression and avoid human contact.
The main socialization period for kittens occurs between 3 and 9 weeks of age, but socialization opportunities should continue to be provided through the first year of life, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. During this time, safely and gradually expose your kitten to people within your household, as well as friends and family members who do not live with you, to other pets and to general life experiences, such as being groomed or going to the vet.
4. Use Cat Toys, Not Hands
To prevent cats from attacking human hands later in life, teach kittens that hands are not playthings.
“Do not play with the kitten with your hands, allowing him to claw or bite them,” says Jamie Thomas, executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue in Washington. “Kittens learn to play rough, if you allow it, and they will not just grow out of it. You should use only toys to play with your kittens and have a zero-tolerance policy for your kitten putting his mouth on you.”
If you do allow this behavior, you will have a kitten that bites and scratches—both for fun and out of frustration or anger. If you have a single kitten, he will overuse his mouth and claws because he has not experienced the other side of it since he has no siblings. This bad habit also can cause problems with vet visits as well as introducing children or new people to the pet.
5. Handle Your Kitten Regularly
Kittens who receive human contact around 10 to 12 weeks old are more likely to get along well with people than kittens who don’t receive regular contact, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
Help your new kitten get used to being patted, groomed and picked up. Do not shy away from holding and grooming your kitten, even if he appears skittish. With regular, gentle practice, he will grow comfortable with the handling.
6. Avoid Overprotection
Sounds, movement and new surroundings initially might frighten your fur baby. However, it’s important to gradually introduce your kitten to new sounds, sights and smells so he will grow to be comfortable around any sensory stimuli, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, owner of Cat Behavior Associates in Nashville, Tennessee.
Expose your kitten to different environments, including a variety of floors such as wood, tile and carpet. Your kitten also should be familiarized with a mix of cat toys offering various textures, colors and shapes.
7. Restrict Your Kitten’s Space
“Do not give a new kitten free reign of the entire house right away,” Thomas says. “Kittens are easily overwhelmed, and giving them space stresses them out.
“What they actually prefer is a very small world to start, until they adjust, and then you can increase their range,” she continues. “If you give them too much space too soon, they will be stressed, hide and can even develop litter box issues as a result.”
Instead, Thomas recommends the “slow release plan.” This means the kitten is stationed in one room where he has everything he needs: food, water, litter box, toys, scratcher, etc. Let your new kitten mingle or wander from the room with supervision, but when you leave or are sleeping, return him to the room and close the door.
After a short time—usually a week or two depending on the cat—the kitten can navigate a bit more and know where his “safe place” is, Thomas says. Should he become overwhelmed or stressed over something, he can return to that safe place when on his own as needed. All cats need a safe place where they can go to adjust and feel safe, and where no other animals will intrude.
Kittens can be raised to be well-adjusted, kind and sociable pets with the right guidance from knowledgeable owners. Start training as early as possible to project them in a promising direction for years to come.
Leah McCormack is a New England native and dog lover. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with her bachelor’s degree and started her animal care business, Winni Pups. Her published articles and features can be found in The Boston Globe, The EveryGirl, The Improper Bostonian, Mane Addicts, WGSN and Chewy!