Who doesn’t love kittens? They’re cuddly, playful, and an all-around good time. Kittens are a fun addition to any household, but they need proper care during their early days to set them up for long-term success. At The Pet Clinic of Salem, we love seeing kittens for veterinary visits, and educating owners about their needs. To help with your new kitten’s care, here are our top five tips to get your pet started on the right paw.
#1: Start with good kitten nutrition
Solid nutrition is an absolute must for keeping your pet healthy. Kittens should eat a diet specifically for their age group until 1 year of age, when they can switch to adult food. To avoid a finicky adult cat, ensure your kitten is exposed to a variety of food textures, including canned and dry foods, treats, and fresh foods like chicken or eggs. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat to thrive. As such, look for kitten foods high in protein and fat, fortified with the amino acid taurine, and low in carbohydrates.
#2: Take your kitten to the veterinarian
Take your kitten to the veterinarian for a checkup a few days after you bring them home. Your veterinarian will ensure your kitten is healthy, design a custom vaccination schedule, and answer all your questions. Plan to visit every few weeks for vaccine boosters and deworming until your kitten is about 4 months old. Spaying or neutering them between 4 and 6 months of age is crucial, to avoid behavioral problems like urine spraying, vocalizing while in heat, and fighting with other cats, as well as to decrease the likelihood of reproductive cancers and infections.
#3: Socialize your kitten
The socialization period (i.e., the time when social experiences are most important for development) is between 2 and 7 weeks old for cats. Your kitten likely won’t come home with you until they are 6 to 8 weeks old, so most of this time is spent with mom, littermates, and the humans helping to raise the kittens. You should still continue to socialize your kitten as much as possible once they are home, because the process continues long after the end of the critical period.
To socialize your kitten, introduce them to new people, pets, objects, and experiences like travel, the outdoors, grooming, and handling, keeping each interaction positive, so they will better accept them as an adult. Ask your veterinarian if they know of kitten kindergarten classes in your area that can help with socialization.
#4: Choose appropriate toys and play with your kitten
Kittens love to play! Almost anything can be a toy, which could be dangerous if you aren’t careful. Ensure they cannot swallow anything in their environment, such as loose string, ribbon, or hair ties, which are notorious for causing intestinal obstructions. Avoid using your hands during play, to ensure they view you as a human to be loved, not a toy to be bitten and scratched. Purchase your kitten a variety of toys to see what they enjoy most, and let the good times roll!
#5: Set up your home for kitten training and enrichment
To ensure successful litter box training and avoid overwhelming your kitten with too much space, set them up in a single room when you first bring them home. Choose a room that can be their future “safe space” that provides refuge if they need alone time. Place the litter box, food and water dishes, toys, and bedding in this room at the start. Most kittens will naturally use the litter box, but the box must be cleaned daily, to encourage continued use. After a few days, you can gradually enlarge your kitten’s range until the whole home is available. As you expand their space, add more litter boxes, and ensure your cat knows their location. A good rule of thumb is one box on each house level, or one box per cat, plus one extra, for multiple cats.
Your kitten will be happiest if you set up the house with them in mind. Cats like to climb to observe from above, so place perches or cat trees in areas with a good view. Make your kitten’s carrier a cozy napping spot, so they are comfortable when they travel, and consider boxes or baskets for additional hiding places. Your kitten also needs an outlet for their urge to scratch, so provide a variety of scratching surfaces and posts, and encourage their use.
Following these tips will help your kitten grow into a healthy, well-adjusted, and happy feline household member. We know that kittens can be a handful, and you may still have questions, so The Pet Clinic of Salem is here to help with all your kitten needs. Call us to schedule your kitten’s next vaccine visit, nutrition consultation, or spay or neuter, or if you have questions about your kitten’s care.