By Dr. Becker
There are few things in life more precious than the sight of a kitten bouncing sideways across the room or curled up like a tiny ball of fluff in your lap.
If you’ve just welcomed a new kitty into the family, congratulations! Your days (and nights) for the next several years will be filled to overflowing with the fun and fascination of feline companionship.
If you’re like most new kitten parents, you probably have a few questions like the ones that follow about how to give your tiny pet the best start in life.
10 New Kitten Owner FAQs
- How do I know if she’s healthy?
New kittens should receive a complete veterinary checkup before being introduced to other pets, children, or anyone in the household who might have a weakened immune system.
Your veterinarian will check your kitty for external and internal parasites, ear mites, fungal and bacterial infections, and also viruses [e.g., feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV)], and prescribe the appropriate treatment(s) as required.
- What color will his eyes be?
Most tiny kittens, once they open their eyes around their first or second week, have grayish-blue irises. Sadly, as completely gorgeous as those baby blues are, chances are they won’t stay that way. Your kitty’s eyes will become the color nature intended them to be when he’s from 4 to 7 weeks old.
- When will he be able to eat real food?
Mother cats tending a litter begin leaving their kittens alone for longer periods of time starting at about 5 weeks. This is nature’s way of letting the little ones know they need to start feeding themselves. Most kittens are able to eat real kitten food (a balanced raw diet) or canned food at 4 to 5 weeks of age.
If you’re hand-raising an orphaned kitten, he might need a bit more time to get the hang of eating solid food. Signs that he’s ready include biting the bottle nipple and licking formula from your finger.
- When is she ready to use the litterbox?
Most kittens at about 4 weeks can negotiate a litterbox. It’s usually this simple: after she eats, put her in the box, and let nature take its course. Make sure the walls of the box are low enough that she can hop in and out on her own. Occasionally it takes a few tries, but she should catch on quickly and thereafter seek out and use the box on her own.
If she’s avoiding the litterbox, there’s probably a reason:
- Is it the location (e.g., a high-traffic area of your home)?
- Is it the type of litter you’re using? Most, but not all cats prefer unscented clay clumping litter with no odor control additives.
- Is the box meeting her cleanliness standards? Is it being scooped at least once a day and thoroughly cleaned every week to two weeks?
- Is she sharing the litterbox with other cats? The rule of thumb in multi-cat households is one box per cat, plus one extra.
What about vaccinations?
Many of my clients with indoor-only cats opt not to vaccinate their pets at all, since the risk of exposure to disease is minimal to non-existent, and vaccines carry their own risks. A good way to make vaccination decisions for your own pet is to consider the following criteria:
- Your kitten should be healthy. If he has allergies, endocrine issues, organ dysfunction, a genetic disorder, or another medical issue, he’s not a candidate to receive vaccines
- The vaccine you’re considering is for a life-threatening disease (this eliminates most on the list immediately), and your kitty has the opportunity to be exposed to the disease
- The vaccine is considered both safe and effective (most aren’t)
- Your cat has not had any sort of vaccine reaction in the past. Animals that have had a previous vaccine reaction should never be vaccinated
- If you decide to vaccinate your kitten or cat, ask your holistic vet to provide a homeopathic vaccine detox such as Thuja (a common choice for all vaccines except rabies)
Why does she cry so much?
Most cats meow when they want something – usually food or attention. Talkative kitties will also chat back and forth with their humans if encouraged.
As your kitty matures and throughout her life, she’ll likely exhibit a whole range of feline vocalizations, such as purrs, murmurs, growls, howls, and moans.
Ouch! Why does he seem to enjoy biting me?
Nature is compelling your little fellow to learn to stalk prey, and since there’s no actual prey around, any moving object – including you – will suffice.
To prevent those tiny puncture wounds, offer him cat toys instead, and don’t let him nip at your hands when you play with him. Another solution is to adopt 2 kittens who can grow up stalking each other instead of you (hopefully)!
What’s the kneading thing all about?
Kneading, also known as “making bread” or “making biscuits,” is an instinctive feline behavior that kittens display shortly after they're born. The reason for the movement in kittenhood is to stimulate the flow of milk from the mother's mammary glands.
Cats that continue the behavior into adulthood with their owners might be showing contentment, calming themselves during periods of stress, or marking their human with the scent from the sweat glands in their paws.
More than likely, kneading is an instinctive lifelong behavior that is simply comforting to felines. The behavior might also have its origins in wild cats who built nesting places with grass and leaves in which to rest or give birth. Also, some intact female cats will knead more frequently as they're going into heat.
For some cats, kneading can be come an obsessive behavior. These kitties may also try to suckle on their person's skin, stuffed toys, blankets, clothing – even the family dog.
How do I teach her to not to scratch my belongings?
Using her claws is a perfectly natural feline behavior and provides a number of positive benefits for your kitten. Among them:
- It helps her stretch and tone her shoulders and legs
- It sheds the older layers of nails and keeps the claws clean and smooth
- She uses clawing to mark her territory both visually and with the scent of her paw pads
- It reduces stress
For some great suggestions on how to protect your household belongings and redirect your kitten’s scratching to appropriate surfaces, read Cat Scratching: Tips & Tricks for Saving Your Sofa. Introduce your kitten to nail trims (one nail at time) early on. Your vet can teach you how to do this.
When is the best time to spay or neuter?
If you adopted your kitten from a shelter or rescue organization, the surgery has probably already been done. For intact privately owned kittens, spaying or neutering is typically recommended at around 6 months of age.
As of yet, research has not shown that cats have the same negative long-term physiologic consequences associated with desexing that dogs do. Potential links may be identified in the future, but for now, it appears dogs are more negatively affected by spaying/neutering than kitties are.