Looking after a kitten is a pretty big responsibility. For the first few months, you’ll be dealing with routine check-ups, vaccinations, insurance, litter training, and protecting your home from potential destruction. We’re here to help you understand what it’s really like looking after a kitten so you can be poised and ready for action.
Kittens are adorable! With their big round eyes, super soft fur, and pathetic natures, their cuteness can make even the hardest person melt on the spot. It’s no wonder that 25% of the UK’s adult population own a cat. But looking after a cat can be demanding and labour intensive. In April 2019, animal rescuers across the UK reported that they were taking in three unwanted cats every single hour, which sparked a warning from the RSPCA to potential owners. There is plenty of allure to having a kitten, but the drawbacks are time and expense.
Preparation for Kittens
Before you rush out and buy a kitten, please, please, please continue reading our guide to looking after a kitten, to ensure you have the time, money and dedication required to look after your furry friend until the bitter end. Be warned that this is a long term commitment, and having a pet of any kind will impact on your flexibility. The main ongoing factors you’ll need to consider are the following:
Vets: Find a veterinary practice that is near to you. You may have to visit a vet more frequently during your cat’s first few and final months, so it’s handy to have a vet nearby. Check also that their out-of-hours surgery is local. You never know when you might need to take a late night trip.
Insurance: If you don’t fancy paying out for treatment, then insurance is essential. Pet insurance will cover treatment required (minus the agreed excess) for injuries, health problems and procedures such as spaying. Remember though that each insurance policy is different, so make sure you shop around and read the small print. Some policies will not cover ongoing medical conditions, so you may wish to take out a lifetime policy which will pay out for conditions year on year.
Cattery: For the times when you’re away from home, you’ll need to find alternative arrangements for your cat. You may want to ask friends or family if they would be willing to look after her during these times. If this isn’t possible, then consider the cost of catteries before you find one. Research cat hotels, catteries and pet share schemes in your local area. Share Your Pet and Pawshake list carers who are willing to take care of your pet while you’re away.
It is vital that you factor in the cost of all of the above considerations in order to make sure that you can afford to take care of your cat long term.
Buying a Kitten
Adopting a cat: Our preference is that cats are adopted from a rescue centre like the RSPCA. They take in thousands of unwanted and abandoned kittens each and every year, so looking here is a great place to start. As cats age, their chances of adoption decrease, so by getting a rescued cat you’ll be helping out no end. You’ll also benefit from knowing that your kitten has received a full health check and been given all of her essential kitten treatments, including vaccinations and microchipping.
Finding a breeder: If you’ve got your heart set on a particular breed, then you’ll want to find a reputable breeder to purchase your cat. Always take the necessary precautions when looking for a breeder, to ensure they aren’t part of a breeding ‘farm’. Thankfully, in 2018 the UK Government pledged to ban some pets shops from selling dogs and cats, as many of their ‘stock’ were coming from animals farms, where animals are forced to breed and kept in abhorrent conditions.
There are other owners who make the decision to breed cats to earn money, which is often at the detriment of the cat’s welfare. These are frequently referred to as ‘backyard breeders’.
Never accept cats advertised as ‘free to a good home’. An offer like this is typically too good to be true and could mean that the cats haven’t had the necessary health checks or been looked after, which may lead to long term health problems that you’ll have to pay out for.
Always look for reputable breeders that are knowledgeable about the breed and aren’t willing to sell kittens before they’re 8 weeks old. A kitten needs to be with her mother until she is 10 weeks or until she is fully weaned off her mother’s milk. A breeder willing to wean early is a breeder willing to compromise a cat’s health and overall welfare. A good breeder should ask about your home, experience, and preparation. Don’t be offended by these enquiries; instead see this as a positive indication of a good and trustworthy breeder.
Bringing Your Kitten Home
Bringing your cat home is an exciting time but a potentially frightening experience for your kitten. It’s natural that she will miss her mother, the rest of her litter and the familiar surroundings. The best thing for this is to bring home a blanket with her mother’s scent to comfort her while she settles. If you have young children, explain to them that you need to be quiet around the kitten so that she doesn’t feel scared or intimidated.
Bond with your kitten by being with her. Spend lots of time stroking her, sitting with her and talking to her. This will help her to understand that you are her owner and that you are there to protect and care for her.
Most breeders will give you a few weeks’ worth of cat food, but, if they don’t, make sure that you have the same food in the house for her arrival. If you wish to change her food at a later date, do this by gradually introducing new food over a few weeks.
Show your kitten where her food and water bowls are so that she can help herself to drink throughout the day. Show her around her new home. Make sure she knows where her bed is and that she can access her kitty litter, even though she might not yet know what this is for.
You may find that your new kitten longs to be with you, even at bed time. If you’re not planning on letting your cat sleep with you, make sure you create a cosy, safe environment where she can sleep. If your cat meows or cries at night, it’s probably because she is lonely and anxious. Remember that she has been used to sleeping with mum and her siblings, so it may take a few nights for her to settle. The best way to help her is to give her a scented blanket along with a heat pad. This should comfort and reassure her throughout the night.
Make sure you give her plenty of cuddles and affection before you go to bed and leave her with enough water and food throughout the night.
You may wish to cordon off an area in which she can roam around and do her business. Kitten pads are super absorbent and therefore a great way of saving your carpets from wee mishaps, though don’t expect her to know what she should be using these for. After a few nights to a week, your cat should feel more comfortable with the idea of being left in the evening. It can be heartbreaking to hear your new kitty crying out for attention, but keep the end goal in mind. If you put the effort in early on, your kitten will eventually become a confident, content and independent cat.
Kitty Litter Training
Like any other living animal, cats (no matter how cute) need to do their business. Since they can’t leave the house in the early days, this means they will be finding places in your home to do it. Yuk! Having said that, a lot of kittens will have learned from their mothers where to go, but if you have a very young or stray kitten, they may not have been provided with any formal training. Like everything else, crack it early on so that you don’t have to deal with an adult cat’s mess.
Cats naturally like to do their business on gravelled or loose surfaces in order to bury it afterwards. Wild cats also do this to make it harder to be traced and detected – clever stuff! A cat litter tray should therefore be a naturally preferred spot for your cat, but she will need some coaching from you. In the early days it’s best to dedicate some time to observe your cat. If she starts to go, quickly pick her up and put her in the cat litter. Put her in her litter after every meal, drink, playtime, and at regular intervals. Reward her when she goes in the tray. Do this repeatedly, and she’s soon learn that she needs to go in the tray.
Our top tips:
- Use a big litter tray. Kittens don’t possess accuracy, so make sure you start off with a tray large enough for roaming room.
- Some cats value privacy, so you may want to try both covered and open litter trays.
- Use several litter trays around the home, and place them next to walls or in corners if possible. Cats don’t generally like to do their business in wide open spaces, so location is key.
- Keep the tray away from where her food is served. Cats will avoid messing near to where they eat, sleep or drink, so place her tray far enough away from these things. Try the litter tray in different areas to see if she has a preferred location.
- Avoid noisy, high traffic areas so that she isn’t disurbed.
Reputable and responsible breeders will not allow a kitten to go to a new home until they are between 9-12 weeks and fully weaned. Find out when and what treatments your cat will need prior to and after being adopted.
Neutering: Cat neutering has many benefits and is a straightforward procedure. As well as having a positive impact on behaviour, for female kittens it can stop unwanted pregnancies. Take a look at our full guide to cat spaying and cat care after spaying.
Although you can neuter a cat at any age, the ideal age is around 6 months, once it has reached sexual maturity. Therefore, this won’t typically be the responsibility of the breeder, unless they chose to do it as part of the adoption agreement.
Microchipping: It is a legal requirement to microchip your cat. If the breeder doesn’t get it done, you definitely should. The cost of microchipping is around £20-£40 and can vary depending on the breed and size of your cat.
Vaccinations: Cats will need vaccinating at around 8 weeks and will require a booster at around 12 weeks and throughout their lives. Your breeder should have had the first set of vaccinations and a health check carried out prior to adoption.
Essential Shopping List for Your Kitten
These are the things on our essential list to keep your cat happy, clean and content:
Carrier: To bring your kitty home and transport her safely, you will need to get a cat carrier or crate. Folding, soft fabric carriers are ideal and make trips to the vets so much easier.
Food: Kittens need feeding little and often. Always use the same food that she has been weaned on, and transition slowly onto your preferred munch. The best cat foods are a little more pricey but are nutritionally balanced, good on digestion, and some will be approved by your vet. IAMS and Royal Canin are recommended brands. We have a great guide on the foods can can eat, so please read it for more information.
Treats are great as rewards and for bonding. Look for enjoyable and healthy treats that they’ll go crazy for.
Feeding bowls: Stainless steel bowls undoubtedly make the best bowls for pets. Compared with plastic bowls, they’re durable, easy to clean, and less likely to harbour any nasty bacteria.
Litter trays: Get a couple of litter trays and boxes to plant in ideal locations. For the trays, you’ll also need cat litter, which is specially formulated to be absorbent and trap odours. There are many different types, from clumping litter, clay litter to biodegradable litter. The best thing to do is try them all out to see which you prefer. Zooplus have a good selection of special offer products and trial packs.
Beds: Like cat litter, cat beds come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and materials. Don’t get too bogged down with the type and style of bed for your cat. Just go with whatever looks cosy. Rinpoche uses a bed similar to this Cosy Cat Cave Bed when she wants some proper peace and quiet but also likes to be elevated off the floor. You can often find her taking naps in the day in her radiator cat Kradle.
Heat pad: Heat pads make great comforters for your new kitten. Conveniently, you can just pop them in the microwave and they stay warm for around 8 hours. Never use a hot water bottle for animals with sharp claws and teeth.
Toys: Keep your cat from getting bored and wrecking your house by supplying her with a selection of toys. Look for toys that going to entertain and stimulate her mentally, like these challenging cat feeders.
Scratching posts and things that they can climb are a great way of distracting cats away from your sofa and curtains. This pawsome scratch barrel has inbuilt beds/nesting places and tempting dangling toys, combining beds, toys and scratching posts all into one object. Purrfect!
Collar: As well as microchipping your cat you’ll want to get a collar to easily display her name and contact number should she get lost. Keep your kitty safe with this reflective collar, which also has a bell.
Flea treatment: Flea treatment is a must. Even if your cat doesn’t have fleas, you need to protect her against catching them from other cats and animals that she comes into contact with. Frontline is a well recommended brand and kills fleas, ticks and flea eggs.
Wormer: If not provided by your vet, make sure you worm her regularly. The treatment will vary, depending on her age and the product you use, and remember to check that any products are suitable for kittens.
There is a lot to consider before rushing out and getting a cat. Cats, like any pets, are a huge responsibility, and you have to be prepared and willing to look after them. Before making your final decision, make sure you weigh up the financial costs of owning a cat, factoring in vet costs, insurance bills and money spent on essential items.
If you do decide to get a cat, you won’t regret it. Although cats are notoriously independent, they love attention, cuddles and playing, and these are honestly the best aspects of cat ownership. Cats can be loyal, affectionate and attentive and don’t require as much work as a dog, making them the ideal pet. We hope you’ve found our guide to looking after a kitten useful. Please remember to share your experiences with us by leaving a comment below.