The time may come when you will need all the help you can find on kitten care. This could be by chance: discovering a box of dumped kittens along the road, or by intent: bringing home a litter of feral kittens to socialize them for adoption, or adopting a young kitten yourself.
In any case, unless you are an old hand at kitten care, you'll need all the assistance you can get. This article touches on the basics, with plenty of links to more thorough discussions of the elements of caring for kittens.
Cat-Proofing Your Home
Kittens are inveterate snoops and their favorite toys might be harmful to them: things like the cords on blinds, electrical cords, or yummy (and toxic) plants to nibble. They can also do a certain amount of damage with their little needle claws by climbing curtains or your good furniture. Therefore a certain amount of catproofing will be necessary.
The first thing you need to do is place yourself physically down at the level of a cat, by sitting or even lying on the floor. Look up and around at all the interesting things to play with. From this vantage point you can make a list of hazards and breakables that you will need to deal with.
Don't wait until you've brought your new kitten home to discover you forgot to buy a litterbox and litter. Here are articles with shopping lists for the essentials you'll need to make life easier for you and healthier and happier for your new kitten.
The Importance of Quarantine
If you have no other household pets, integrating a new kitten into your home is a fairly simple matter. You'll automatically make it one of the family, and will no doubt spend a great deal of time with it, bonding and generally "spoiling" it.
It's another matter entirely, however, if you have existing dogs and/or cats in your family. First, it's important to quarantine the little newcomer(s) until they have had their veterinary exam, to prevent spreading diseases or parasites they may carry. Feral kittens often have ear mites, fleas, and other parasites. Sadly, they may too be carriers or be infected with FIV or FeLV. Kittens adopted from shelters quite often have URIs (upper respiratory infections), including Bordetella (kennel cough). Even kittens from breeders occasionally may have the former, as often URIs have an incubation period of up to three or four weeks, thus even a reputable breeder may be unaware of this condition.
The Safe Room
Put your kitten in a separate room for a couple of days - we call it a "Safe Room." Make sure she has her own bed, food and water dish, and litterbox. After she has been cleared by your veterinarian, you can open the door to her "safe room" a crack, to allow the other cats to sniff and peek at her. Rub her with a towel to impart her scent on it, then put the towel in the sleeping area of your existing cats, so they'll become accustomed to her smell. Reverse the tactic by giving her a towel or blanket with the scent of your older cats.
In a couple of days you can put her in a carrier and allow the other cats to come in and sniff her. Expect a bit of growling and hissy-spitty behavior at first; it's instinctive. However, soon-- within a week or two, the bunch of them should settle down and be getting along just fine. The key is not to rush things, and to give both sides a lot of individual attention in the interim.
Baby feral kittens will be addressed in a later section.
- Preparing a Safe Room
- Introducing New Kitten
- How To Introduce a New Cat
- Introducing Kittens to Older Cat
As discussed in the previous section, it is imperative that you get your new kitten checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible, not only for her own health, but to ensure she doesn't bring with her any serious communicable diseases, such as FeLV.
Ideally, it would be before you even bring her home, but you should aim for within 48 hours if the kitten appears to be healthy, and without delay if it is showing symptoms of watery eyes, sneezing, respiratory distress or failure to eat.
Note: You will need to isolate your kitten from other cats until this veterinarian check is complete.
This is a typical examination schedule for young kittens:
- 3 weeks: fecal exam
- 6 weeks: fecal exam
- 9-10 weeks: FHV/FCV/FPV vaccine, ELISA test for FeLV, FeLV vaccine, fecal exam
- 12-14 weeks: FHV/FCV/FPV vaccine, FeLV vaccination, Rabies vaccine, fecal exam
It is also important that you arrange to have your kitten spayed or neutered within a reasonable time. Although some veterinarians still prefer to wait longer, many are now advocating these procedures as early as 6 to 8 weeks. If you are adopting kitten from a rescue group, most of them either have arrangements with local veterinarians for discounted fees, or require adoptive parents to pay for the procedure before taking their kittens home.