All About Kittens: A Comprehensive Guide for New Pet Parents

Published by
min read

Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a dog food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

Bringing home and raising a new kitten is an experience that's loaded with challenges and rewards. Whether you're considering getting a kitten or have already welcomed a fuzzy little bundle of joy into your life, you no doubt want to be the best pet parent. Keep reading to learn all about kittens and how to give your tiny friend the best start in life.

All About Kittens: What to Expect

Raising a kitten is an entirely different experience from having an adult cat. Kittens have boundless energy and curiosity, which means they require a lot of your time and energy. Not only do new kittens need lots of affection and playtime to be properly socialized, but they also require a ton of supervision to keep them out of trouble. The truth is that kittens, while charming and lovable, can be exhausting. Keep in mind that the kitten stage doesn't last forever, and your cat will never be this small or cute again. Enjoy this time — the bond you form with your kitten will last their entire life.

Preparing for Your Kitten

Tabby kitten sitting in a travel crate on a blue blanket staring intently with big blue eyesFor life with your new kitten to run smoothly, make a few preparations before bringing them home.

Kitten-Proof Your Home

First, ensure your kitten's safety by viewing each room from their eye level and checking for any possible hazards. Close or block off windows, vents, and any nooks or crannies they might be tempted to explore. Move power cords, window blind cords and any other strings out of reach. Remove small objects that might pose a choking hazard if swallowed.

Purchase Supplies

You'll need a number of supplies to help care for your kitten. Here are the basic items you should stock up on before bringing them home:

  • Quality kitten food
  • Cat treats
  • Food and water dishes
  • Litter box and cat litter
  • Cat bed
  • Cat carrier
  • Collar and ID tags
  • Cat brush and/or flea comb
  • Toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste
  • Scratching post and kitten-safe toys

Set Up a Base Camp

Set aside a quiet area as a "base camp" for your kitty to get used to their new surroundings. This space should be off-limits to other pets, and young children should only be admitted with adult supervision. Furnish the space with a litter box, food and water dishes, comfortable bedding, a scratching post and a toy. Keep the food and water away from the litter box, as cats don't generally like to eat near where they do their business — then again, who does?

This base camp will serve as a safe space for your kitten to get to know you and get used to the strange sounds and smells of their new home. If you have other pets, keep the door closed or use a pet gate to keep them out. Wait until your new kitten has had their shots and received a clean bill of health from your veterinarian before introducing them to other animals. Then, gradually allow your other pets to meet the kitten by approaching the gate, where they can sniff each other from a safe distance. Once they appear to accept one another's presence with no signs of aggression, allow them to make full contact under supervision.

Feeding Your Kitten

Ideally, kittens remain with their mother and litter mates until they're at least 8 weeks old. By this point, they should be fully weaned and able to regulate their own body temperature. If, however, you find yourself in the position of caring for newborn or infant kittens, you must keep them warm and bottle-feed them kitten formula every two hours. In cases like this, it's best to consult your vet about a proper feeding schedule and other special considerations.

Typically, though, when you bring home your new kitten, they'll already have been weaned onto solid food. If possible, ask the prior guardian or the shelter to supply you with a week's worth of the food they're currently eating. You may decide to continue feeding them the same brand and type of food. If you change their food, though, do so slowly to prevent digestive problems. Mix a small amount of the new food with the old food, and gradually increase it over the course of a week.

Whatever you decide to feed them, look for a quality food that's specially formulated for growing kittens. Kitten food should be formulated to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional profiles for growth or clinically tested to meet all requirements for growing kittens. Adjust your kitten's feeding schedule by age:

  • Up to 6 months: Feed your kitten three to four times per day. At this stage of rapid growth and development, kittens require a lot of calories. It might be easier at this stage to free-feed your kitten by leaving a bowl of kibble where they can access it whenever they're hungry.
  • 6 to 9 months: As your kitten reaches sexual maturity and their growth slows, they'll need fewer calories and shouldn't be overfed.
  • 9 to 12 months: By 12 months, your cat is no longer a kitten. As they approach adulthood at 9 months, you can begin transitioning them to adult cat food. You should also start keeping an eye on their weight to make sure they're not being overfed.

Along with quality kitten food, make sure your kitten has easy access to clean, fresh water. Avoid giving them milk. Despite what you might have heard about cats enjoying a bowl of milk or cream, they can't properly digest dairy and it might upset their stomach.

Training Your Kitten

Small gray and white kitten in plastic litter box on floor

Litter Box Training

Litter box training should be one of your top priorities on your kitten's first day home. Kittens that stay with their mothers until they're fully weaned usually learn a litter box's purpose by watching their mothers. Typically, your kitten will already know what to do, and your only job will be to show them the box. You may need to remind them where the box is and use positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise, until they get used to using it on their own without prompting. At this stage, it might be helpful to have a couple of litter boxes around the house to make sure they have easy access to one while they're figuring things out.

Obedience Training

Beyond potty training, training a kitten is usually about establishing and reinforcing boundaries and household rules. Again, rely on positive reinforcement to train your kitten, and avoid punishing or speaking harshly to them. Never hit or shake your kitten. Instead, ignore them when they're behaving badly and give them affection, treats and praise to reward their good behavior. If ignoring them isn't an option, redirect their attention to something else. For example, if your kitten bites or scratches your hand, give them a toy to play with instead. If they scratch the furniture, redirect them to a scratching post or pad. If all else fails, give them a timeout by confining them to their base camp until they calm down.

Despite what you may think, cats are trainable in other ways, too. Much like puppies, kittens are smart and have the capacity to learn — even if their independent nature may make it seem otherwise. Training any pet takes patience. Start with something simple, such as teaching them to "come" when called by name. Then, you can slowly introduce other commands, such as "sit," "lie down" and "stay." It's important to use positive reinforcement if you want these actions to continue as they get older.

Socializing and Playing With Your Kitten

Kittenhood is a crucial time for socializing your cat. In order for them to grow into a well-balanced adult, you should play with them frequently and expose them to new sights, sounds, smells and sensations. Kittenhood is the best time to get them used to routines such as wearing a collar, riding in a pet carrier and car, and tolerating grooming tasks such as bathing, brushing, nail trimming and tooth brushing.

Throughout, remember that they're still a kitten and are experiencing the world for the first time. There may be moments when sights or sounds frighten them. In these cases, comfort them, acknowledge they're overstimulated and take them back to their safe place to rest. As they start to get used to these things, you can slowly introduce more stimuli. However, you might be surprised at how their curiosity and fearlessness lead them to explore more than you'd think. How else can you explain a small kitten willing to snuggle up next to a large dog?

Beyond socialization, kittens need to be played with to get exercise. Play helps form a bond between the two of you and helps get the blood flowing for them, which is vital to their healthy development. Set aside time each day to play with them to ensure they get enough exercise. Play will also help ensure your kitten is tuckered out before bedtime.

Creating a Sleep Space for Your Kitten

Kittens sleep a lot at a young age — between 16 and 20 hours a day. For this reason, it's important that they have a comfortable place to take a nap and sleep at night. You might be tempted to keep them in your bedroom, but unless that's where you want to keep their litter box, it's best to section off somewhere in the house that's just for them. This will allow them to get comfortable in their own space without disturbing yours. While it's not uncommon for kittens to wake up in the middle of the night and meow loudly, hoping to get your attention, do your best to ignore them. Slowly, they'll learn that nighttime is for sleeping and you're not going to come to them every cry.

Scheduling Your Kitten's Vaccinations and Health Checks

Take your kitten for a health check within a week of coming home. On the first visit, your vet should check for parasites and other health concerns and administer your kitten's first round of vaccinations if they haven't had them yet. Vets are a wonderful resource for everything from nutrition to behavioral concerns, and building a strong relationship with your vet is key to getting the support and advice you need as your cat matures. So, think of this initial visit as the start of a lifelong partnership.

After the first visit, your kitten will need to go back to the vet every two to four weeks for a physical examination, weight check, parasite checks, feline immunodeficiency virus and leukemia virus testing, and vaccine boosters as needed. Your vet will likely talk to you about internal and external parasite control, spay/neuter surgery and nutrition — follow their recommendations. These visits are great times to ask your vet any questions you have about your kitten's care, behavior or feeding.

Raising a kitten can be challenging, but the reward is years of love, loyalty and affection — not to mention the satisfaction of watching your cat grow from a tiny fluff ball into a sleek and healthy adult. And remember: Your vet is here to guide you along the way. Now that you know all about kittens and how to raise them, you're well equipped to provide your new kitten with a welcoming home and a great life.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.