Kitten 101

Bringing home a new kitten can be one of the most exciting days in our lives. It also can be the beginning of some very trying times. Baby animals are no different than human babies. They depend on their human family for their every need, and they don't come "trained". With patience and consistency you will create an enjoyable pet, and a love that will last a lifetime.

Tips for a Happy, Healthy Relationship with your Cat

Keeping your kitten safe and comfortable is an important ongoing task. Be sure to start off on the right foot by bringing your kitten home in a carrier. Once home, establish a quiet, secure areas as a safe haven for when the kitten is not supervised. Remove any items that might be harmful, and cover small areas where the kitten might hide and get trapped. Include an appropriate sized litter box (one with lower sides for small kittens), food and water bowls, a scratching post and a comfortable resting place. In the first few weeks, slow supervised access to the home will allow safe exploration and times isolated with the litter box are appropriate to help solidify good litter box habits. Kittens are inquisitive and lively; it is important to provide adequate stimulating play. If given sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys and playtime, kittens will be less likely to use people or inappropriate objects for these activities.

Kitten Training and Body Handling

Encouraging appropriate human-cat interactions should be started immediately. The kitten should be introduced to new and novel things in a calm, nonthreatening manner and rewarded for good behavior. You can reward kittens for coming when called, behaving calmly and quietly and responding to their name. Also consider rewarding good litter box use. Make sure to handle your kitten gently every day. Handling exercises will make future medicating and grooming easier; these can be started using food rewards to facilitate learning and acceptance of these techniques. Gentle grooming and manipulation of the feet and face should be done when the kitten is calm. Keep initial sessions short, and stop before the kitten becomes restless and agitated.

Promoting Kitten Socialization

Cats have a sensitive period of socialization (from 2-9 weeks of age) that is important in their development. Early handling is essential for well-socialized kittens; it increases the likelihood that the kitten will relate well to people when placed in a home between 6 and 9 weeks of age. Calm, positive exposure to other cats and dogs during this time is also beneficial. When introducing your new kitten to other pets in the home, controlled meetings are very important. Dogs should be on a leash and controlled in a sit or down position so they do not lunge, chase, bark or scare the kitten. Initial introductions should be short, with food rewards for both the kitten and the dog so they begin to associate good things with the presence of the other animal. Gradually, the time together can be increased, but a dog and a kitten should be separated when not supervised to prevent injuries. When introducing resident cats to a new kitten, initial contact should be through a closed door to allow the exchange of smells and sounds. Next, use food tidbits or a toy play to help make the association pleasant and foster good relations among the animals. A young kitten may be too energetic and overwhelming for older cats, so owner-initiated playtime and periods of separation can be useful. Remember to have plenty of litter boxes, food and water bowls and resting areas in multiple locations throughout the home to help promote harmony. Pheromone products may ease tensions between cats and aid in a harmonious introduction.

Establishing Good Litter Box Habits

Kittens will begin to spend time in the litter box as early as 30 days of age! Cats are very fastidious and clean and want their toileting area to be kept clean as well. They must be provided with a clean, quiet and secure location for elimination. Initially, kittens may need a smaller litter box, but as they grow, they will need a full-sized box. Litter box cleanliness is essential; many cases of non-litter box use can be traced back to poor litter box hygiene. The waste material must be cleaned out daily and the entire litter box emptied, washed, and refilled at least once a week. In a home with multiple cats, it is absolutely essential that there be at least one litter box per cat and that the boxes be spread throughout the house. In a large home, multiple litter box locations may be needed initially even with just a single kitten in order to allow the kitten easy access to an appropriate toileting area which will help avoid mistakes.