One of the Best Ways to Ensure Your Cat's Forever Home

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

tips for raising a kitten

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’ve just added a kitten to your family or plan to soon, I know you want to ensure you raise your little one into a confident, well-balanced adult cat
  • Items on the to-do list for new kitten parents include crate training, providing species-appropriate nutrition and helping kitty learn to use appropriate scratching surfaces
  • Kittens from 8 to 15 weeks are at the prime age for wide-ranging socialization opportunities and kitten kindergarten classes

The New Year is here, and so is your new kitten! Or maybe you’re planning to adopt a tiny feline friend in the near future, because let’s face it, there are few things more irresistible than a fluffy kitten at your feet peering up at you with enormous eyes, or curled into a tiny ball of adorableness on your lap.

As I’m sure you’re aware, caring for a kitten requires some expertise if you hope to end up with an adult cat who is healthy, happy and well-balanced.

To-Do List for New Kitten Parents

1. Create a refuge for your new kitten — Providing your kitten with a safe haven of her own for at least a week will help her get acclimated to her new life on her own terms, which is the way cats prefer things. Put her litterbox, bedding, food and toys in her separate space, and keep noise, confusion and foot traffic to a minimum.

2. Provide warm, safe sleeping quarters — Felines, especially tiny ones, like their environment quite a bit warmer than humans do, which is why kitties tend to appreciate round pet beds they can curl up in to preserve body heat. A nontoxic pet bed can help reduce your kitten’s exposure to PBDEs and other types of indoor pollution.

3. Consider crate training — Most cats fight against being put into a carrier because it only happens when someone’s about to take them somewhere they don’t want to go. That’s why it’s a really good idea to set up a carrier for your kitten on his first day home, and help him learn to enjoy it. It will make life a lot easier for both of you when you need to travel with your kitty or take him for veterinary appointments.

4. Introduce family members gradually — Introduce other members of the household to the new kitty one at a time. Ideally, introductions happen in a neutral location, say, the living room, and the new kitten has ventured out on his own to investigate. However you arrange these meet-and-greets, they should be done in a calm, quiet, low-stress environment so as not to scare or further stress the new kitten.

5. Feed your kitten like a true carnivore — To provide your new kitten with the very best start in life, feed her either a homemade or commercially available nutritionally balanced, fresh food diet (preferably raw) designed for cats at all life stages. If you go the homemade route, you must absolutely ensure the diet is nutritionally balanced. It doesn't matter whose recipe you follow, but it does matter that it's balanced.

6. Help your kitten learn to love his litterbox — Most kittens at about 4 to 5 weeks can use a litterbox. Just make sure the walls of the box are low enough that he can hop in and out on his own. Occasionally it takes a few tries, but he should catch on quickly and begin to seek out and use the box on his own.

7. Provide appropriate climbing and scratching surfaces — Climbing and scratching are natural feline behaviors. Cats scratch to mark their territory with scent in their footpads as well as visually. They also scratch as a way to relieve stress, to stretch and to shed the older layers of their nails. Scratching feels good to your kitten, too, which is why it's important to give her access to a variety of scratching surfaces.

Try burlap, cardboard and carpeted scratching surfaces, placed vertically and horizontally, to see which your kitten prefers. Keep the scratchers in areas she hangs out in.

8. Train your kitten to use her scratching post — Initially, you can apply catnip or silver vine or attach a feather toy to make the scratching area especially attractive to your kitten, and praise her when she responds to it.

At the same time, discourage her from scratching on inappropriate surfaces by attaching foil, double-sided tape, plastic sheeting, carpet runners (with the bumpy side up) or inflated balloons to furniture or other surfaces you don't want scratched. Getting kitty accustomed to nail trims as a little one is also a smart choice.

9. Offer toys that bring out the hunter in your kitten — Think like a cat and buy or create toys that draw out his hunting instincts. A piece of string wrapped around the end of a stick that you drag on the ground will bring out the stalker in almost any cat. Also consider investing in a few interactive toys. Again, think in terms of appealing to his natural instincts to stalk and bring down prey.

10. Indulge your kitten’s love of boxes — When cats in the wild feel threatened, they head for trees, dens or caves to seek safety. Captive kitties don’t have that option, so their obsession with hiding in boxes may be an adaptation. And studies show access to hiding boxes reduces feline stress, especially in shelter cats.

Providing your new kitten with hiding boxes may help him acclimate faster to his new home and family. In addition, they provide insulation and help him preserve body heat.

11. Provide your kitten with safe access to the outdoors — Just because your kitten will be indoors only doesn't mean she doesn't need or deserve to spend time outside exploring the world beyond her front door. One way to broaden your kitten’s horizons is to train her to walk on a harness and leash; another is to build or buy a safe, secure cat patio she can hang out in when the weather is good.

12. Consider adopting two kittens at the same time — One of the best ways to avoid many common behavioral problems is to adopt a pair of kittens. Because they crave stimulation and interaction, adopting two means you have instant playmates to occupy each other's time.

Two kittens, eating, sleeping, playing and even fighting together teach one another acceptable limits. And on an emotional and social level, kittens raised with one of their littermates (or another similarly aged kitten) tend to be better socialized and happier.

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Tips for Raising Your Kitten To Be a Well-Adjusted Adult

Kittens, like puppies, develop a big part of their adult personality during their first few months. The experiences your kitten has during this important period of brain development will influence his behavior and temperament for the rest of his life. Animal behavior experts agree that one of the best ways to ensure kittens find and remain in forever homes is to socialize them by giving them them positive experiences with lots of different people, animals, unfamiliar cats, new environments and human handling.

Kittens exposed to these things during the critical developmental period of 8 to 15 weeks are more likely to be friendly and social adult cats. They’re also better equipped to successfully handle the everyday stresses of life, such as a change in their human's work schedule, or the arrival of a new member of the household.

The following recommendations from veterinary journal dvm360 are a good way to get your tiny furry family member off on the right paw in life.1 Just remember not to force anything on him. Make sure each step is done in a way that’s comfortable for your kitten, and if he shows signs of fear in a particular situation, don’t keep exposing him to it.

1. Be a hands-on pet parent (literally) — Make a point to touch your kitten all over his body. Don’t ever be forceful or push to the point of struggle. Just touch and hold gently and reward his acceptance with a special treat or gentle pet (kittens love to be stroked on both sides of their faces).

Remember that eventually you’ll need to be able to trim his claws, clean his ears and brush his teeth. If your new kitten is conditioned to enjoy these rituals, or at least tolerate them, it will be much less stressful for both of you.

2. Turn your kitten into a social butterfly — Let your kitten meet people of all shapes, sizes and mannerisms to learn there’s nothing to fear from all kinds of different humans. Introduce children, men and women, and even people with hats or costumes. Warn everyone to go slowly and speak softly, because kittens can be cautious by nature.

3. Crate your kitten early and often — Since your kitten will need to visit the veterinarian throughout her life, and perhaps travel in the car or by air, you can make the experience much less stressful by training her early not to fear the cat carrier.

4. Go adventuring with your kitten — You and your cat will experience all life has to offer together, but the experiences won’t be as fun if he’s afraid or difficult to handle. Take your kitten wherever you can for exposure to new places. Visit your veterinarian just to say hi and offer kitty some yummy treats. And don’t forget to make his carrier into a kitty nirvana, because that’s the way you can keep travel with him the safest.

Consider Enrolling in Kitten Kindergarten

Kitten kindergarten is designed specifically for kittens 8 to 15 weeks of age who have received their first set of kitten shots. During the classes, young cats have the opportunity to interact and play with people and other kittens. The classes are typically equipped with a variety of cat toys, scratching posts and litterboxes, and involve games to help kitties develop proper social and play behavior.

The goal of kitten kindergarten is to teach positive behaviors, which will help prevent the development of troublesome behaviors in the future. For example, it's especially important for kittens who were taken from their mother and littermates too soon to engage in activities that teach bite inhibition.

Another benefit of the classes is that they typically take place over several weeks, which helps kittens get accustomed to going in and out of their carriers and riding in the car. And if the classes happen to be held at a veterinary clinic, kittens get accustomed to that environment as well.

When they have the skills to cope, cats are much less likely to "act out" as kitties do when they're stressed — by spraying, for example, or eliminating outside the litterbox. They’re also better able to be full members of the family rather than fearful cats who live under the bed.