Kitten Care 101: From Birth To a Year Old
Congratulations on getting a new kitten! Here’s everything you need to know about being a good kitten parent.
Adding a new kitten to your family is an exciting time! Raising a kitten to adulthood can be an incredibly rewarding way to bond with your pet. From the time they're born up to their first birthday, these easy care tips can help you keep your pet happy and healthy throughout their first year.
How To Care for a Newborn Kitten
A mother cat will provide everything a young kitten needs until he is about 4 weeks of age. All you need to do is keep the family warm, dry, and in a dark, private location. Mom will do all the feeding and cleaning. Sadly, however, sometimes the mother of a baby kitten is not around or unable to care for her little ones. If that's the case, you’ll need to step in to help keep the kitties warm and fed.
One of the most important things you can do to keep a kitten alive in his first few hours is by keeping the kitten warm. If a young kitten has cold ears, lips and paws, slowly raise his temperature by wrapping him in a blanket and holding him close to your body. Once he warms up, you can begin feeding him milk replacer formulated for kittens.
Love On Your New Kitten
Every interaction you have with your new kitten helps socialize him, says Carlene Strandell, Director/Founder of Smitten with Kittens, a non-profit, foster-based kitten rescue that operates in Tallahassee, Fla. “Hold your kitten, play with [him], interact with [him],” she says. Consider adopting multiple cats so your kitten has a friend. “Two kittens are better than one,” says Standell. “Kittens don’t like being alone. They love companionship,” she says. “We encourage people to adopt two.”
How To Care for a 4-Week Old Kitten
Most kittens begin to eat solid food when they are between 4 and 5 weeks old. The mama cat (or you in the case of orphaned kittens) will still be nursing the kittens, and it’s time to start weaning them onto solid food. Mix a little canned cat food formulated for kittens in with the formula and try serving it on a tablespoon or a very shallow dish. You may need to encourage your kitten to eat by rubbing a little on his lips, but he should catch on quickly. Also, have a very shallow dish of clean water available at all times. This is also a good time to add a low litter box that these little guys can climb in and out of easily.
RELATED: How to Litter Train Your Kitten
How To Care For a 6- to 8-Week Old Kitten
By the time your kitten is 6 weeks old, he should be eating both solid and canned kitten food. At this age, your kittens should also be started on health vaccinations to prevent them from feline distemper, feline herpes, calicivirus, and ultimately rabies. Shots are repeated every 3 to 4 weeks until the kitten is 4 months old.
How To Care For a Kitten 8 Weeks to 6 Months Old
By now, your kitten will resemble a miniature adult cat, but he still needs canned and/or dry food formulated for young felines. This is also a great age to get your kitten used to having his nails trimmed, using a scratching post, bathing, grooming, and traveling in a carrier to the veterinarian’s office. The more experiences you introduce to a kitten at a young age, the better. Just do it slowly and calmly.
Caring for Your Kitten’s Hygiene
Kittens are generally kept clean by their mothers. And once they are weaned, they are fairly fastidious. But if they are overzealous eaters, you can wipe off their faces with a fragrance-free wet wipe. If they’ve gotten into something really messy, you can give them a bath.
Essential Gear For Kitten Care
Kittens don’t need a lot of gear to keep them happy. They are pretty self-entertaining, but there are essential cat supplies you should have on-hand.
- Litter Box: These essential items now come in a wide variety of styles and sizes, so pick one that works for you and your kitten. If you have more than one kitten or cat, you may want to have at least two boxes located in different areas of your home. You'll need to make sure you clean the litter box daily, scooping out solids and disposing of them to ensure your kitten stays healthy. And while litter boxes aren't always the most lovely to look at, these modern litter boxes in particular blend beautifully into existing home decor and can make this aspect of kitten care a little bit nicer.
- Bowls: You’ll need two sets of food and water bowls. This way you can put one set in the dishwasher every day to sterilize them while the other set is in use. If you are often traveling or gone from home during feeding time, an automatic cat feeder can also be helpful to ensure your cat maintains a consistent, healthy diet.
- Brushes and Combs: Cat brushes are essential, particularly if you have a long-haired kitten. Even short-haired cats require frequent brushing to remove dead and loose hair.
- Scratching Post: All cats need to keep their claws in ideal condition. Therefore, you should have at least one sturdy scratching post located in an area your cat frequents the most. In addition to a scratching post, this cat scratching toy has over 6,000 five-star reviews and keeps cats entertained for hours.
- Toys: Although most cats are content playing in an empty cardboard box, having a variety of toys will keep your pet stimulated. Avoid any toys with small parts that could be accidentally swallowed by your pet. You might also want to rotate your pet’s toys so he doesn’t get bored with the same ones all the time.