Bringing home a new kitten is an exciting time for a family, but a little time and preparation must be given in making sure his arrival is as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Before you bring him home, set up a room for him to move into. Unless you live in a small flat or apartment, confine the kitten to one or two rooms until he’s a bit more settled. This can be your bedroom, a bathroom or office. I recommend a room where the floor is either tiled or has floorboards so if he has any accidents, they can be easily cleaned up. It should be warm in winter and cool in summer. Kittens are much less efficient at maintaining body temperature than adult cats.
Most kittens settle in very quickly, but it can take a few days.
Before your kitten arrives home, walk around the house and remove any potential dangers.
- Kittens, in particular, are curious and are more likely to eat things they shouldn’t so make sure you get rid of all toxic substances such as medications and plants which could poison your cat.
- Keep the toilet lid down and washing machine/tumble dryer doors closed.
- Move breakables to safe locations such as behind glass doors or very high.
- Be careful with candles and oil burners. Keep them out of reach of your kitten.
- Keep reed diffusers out of reach, they can cause chemical burns to cats.
- Ribbons, string, elastic bands, hair ties all have the potential to be swallowed by a curious kitten.
- Blind cords can be a choking hazard to kittens and cats. Make sure they are not long enough for your cat to reach. You can attach a special hook halfway up the window frame to wrap any excess cord to.
- Electrical cords can potentially cause a shock if chewed through. Kittens, in particular, like to chew things. Unplug appliances that aren’t in use. To deter your cat from chewing the cord you can wrap aluminium foil around it or apply bitter apple. Some stores sell plastic tubing which you can slip over the cord. I am sure you could make something similar yourself at much less expense. Just buy tubing which is wider than your electrical cords, cut along the length of the tube and then wrap over the cord.
- Again, kittens love to chew. Put anything out of reach that you don’t want to be chewed. I had a kitten who chewed my expensive leather handbag. Give them plenty of toys that are suitable for him to chew on, they should have no small parts.
- Keep windows closed to stop your kitten from escaping or accidentally falling from a height.
Picking up your new kitten
When it comes to collecting him, don’t forget to bring a cat carrier so that he can be safely transported home. Make sure you get all your paperwork at the time of collection including microchip form, vaccination certificates, pedigree papers (if he has them), and any relevant veterinary details, including the name of his former vet and any prior medical records.
Signs of sickness
Sometimes kittens get sick, they may have an underlying condition that manifests with the stress of the move. Watch for signs of sickness in your kitten. This may include:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Eye and/or nasal discharge
- Bad breath
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Round, scaly lesions on the face and body
- Lethargy, yes kittens sleep a lot, but when they are awake, they are generally pretty active and curious to explore their surroundings
Contacting your veterinarian with any of these concerns is important to make sure it isn’t anything serious.
Common kitten diseases
Roundworms and cat flu are the most common diseases to affect kittens. They are also more prone to ringworm than adult cats.
Basic supplies to help your new kitten settle home
In your first few days or weeks, you will need:
- Litter tray
- Cat litter (I recommend using the same brand he has been using in his previous home)
- Food and water bowls
- Kitten food (again, I recommend using the same brand he’s been eating, you can slowly switch him over to your preferred brand down the track)
- Cat bed
- Flea, tick and worming medications (see worming schedule for kittens).
- Food and water bowls
- Scratching post or tree
- Grooming equipment
The first day in your home
If possible, schedule the arrival for a time when you and/or family members will be around for a few days so that he can have some company as he adjusts to his new surroundings.
Place him in his new room and spend some time settling him in. Give him some food and water as soon as he arrives home. The only milk a kitten needs is from his mother, and once weaning has taken place, water is necessary. Most cats are intolerant to milk once they wean and it can cause an upset stomach.
Show him where his litter tray is by placing your kitten in it very shortly after you get home. You should also place them in the kitty litter several times over the first few hours if they havne’t yet used it.
Keep all windows and doors shut so that he can’t escape.
Many kittens are particularly unsettled at night, missing the comfort of their mother and siblings. If this happens, you can try wrapping a ticking clock in a towel and placing it in his bed. If it is cool, give him a hot water bottle (not too hot), to snuggle into.
Introducing your kitten to children
Children, particularly young ones (under 5) can be pretty boisterous. Let your kitten settle in before introducing him to the children. When they do meet, they will naturally want to hold him. Make sure they are sitting down and calm. Children under five should be very closely supervised with kittens as they don’t know their own strength and can easily hurt them. Make sure they know that they are only allowed to hold the kitten when they are sitting down.
The next few days
Gradually open up more rooms as your cat becomes more confident. I like to keep kittens confined when we’re not around, but when people are home, let them explore their new home. Let your kitten guide you. If he’s still unsure of himself and shy, just keep him in a smaller area until he comes out of himself a bit. I do find almost all kittens are happy to explore within the first day. Close cupboards, drawers and wardrobes, kittens like to hide in these places.
Once I am comfortable that a kitten is settled in and getting along with the other cats, I then move him out of his temporary home and let him live in the rest of the house.
Introducing other pets
The introduction of other pets should happen once your kitten has settled in, this usually only takes a day or so. Go slow and supervise. To keep your kitten safe, just always stay with the kitten when older cats are about.
When introducing your kitten to a cat in the house:
- Supervise both your kitten and cat when they’re together
- Provide spots for both your kitten and cat to escape to if they are unsure, especially for your current cat – kittens can be a lot for an older cat, so having areas where they can observe and be left alone is important
Separating your kitten from other household cats initially while eating may be helpful. As your kitten is likely eating more often, and very likely gets food that is more appealing (kitten food has more fat/calories than adult food), then your older cat may try to eat it. If your older cat is uncertain of the new kitten, then feeding them in separate rooms might be your best option until they get more comfortable.
Don’t introduce pets if any of them are suffering from a contagious disease such as cat flu or ringworm.
Slow, careful introduction of household dogs and a new kitten is important. If you have a baby gate or barrier that they can each be behind to have the chance to smell one another and see one another before introductions can be helpful for some dogs and kittens. Having an adult with each of them for introductions without a barrier can be helpful to separate them if either is concerned/anxious or too rough. Having your dog on leash so they can’t chase your kitten can be helpful as well.
How many hours a day do kittens sleep?
Most kittens will sleep between 18-20 hours per day. Kittens begin to develop adult sleep patterns around 7 weeks of age. They do spend a lot of time sleeping with short bursts of activity. You want to make sure that your kitten is getting plenty of opportunity to sleep and rest quietly. If your kitten is being much more rough with play than they normally would or running around excessively, it could be that they are overtired.
Some other useful information
- Teething: Kittens lose their baby teeth from around 3-4 months of age. Most people don’t even notice unless they find a kitten tooth on the floor.
- Vaccinations: Kittens should have three sets of vaccinations at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.
- Worming: Kittens should be wormed from at 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24 weeks, then every 3 months from then on.
- Vet check-up: I always think it’s a good idea to take new pets to your own veterinarian for a check-up within a day or two of coming to your home. Just to make sure everything is well with him.
- Declawing: A very controversial topic, it is generally not recommended to declaw your cat unless there is a medical reason to do so. If you regularly trim his claws and provide him with a scratching post, you shouldn’t have any problems with him using your furniture.
5 Signs that your kitten is settling in
According to our Certified Cat Behaviorist Janet Cutler, PhD, a kitten that is settling in well will:
- Be developing sleep, wake, and eating patterns
- Will spend time exploring your home
- Will play with available toys
- Will try to interact with you, coming up to you to be pet, for reassurance, or to play
- When tired, will lie down and relax
When should I let my kitten outside?
Confine cats inside or give them a cat enclosure. Not only does this keep them safe from the dangers of free-roaming, but it also protects the local wildlife.
If you do decide to let your kitten out, you should wait until he has had all three of his kitten vaccinations, been desexed and lived in your home for a minimum of two weeks, longer is better.
Putting butter on his paws is not recommended. Let him see his environment from the inside at first, then gradually take him for short trips outside in your arms, to familiarise himself with the area.
Frequently asked questions with Dr. Cutler About Kittens Settling in
What should I feed my kitten in the first few days or weeks?
Dr. Cutler: You want to make sure your kitten is getting kitten food so they get the nutrients they need. It’s generally recommended that you change foods gradually. If at all possible, finding out what kind of food they’ve been eating, or getting some of their food when you pick them up is suggested. Use that food for at least the first few days while they settle and then gradually switch over to a new food by combinging the two and decreasing the amount of their old food slowly.
How often do I need to feed my kitten?
Dr. Cutler: All foods have different recommendations for the amount to feed and how to feed them. However, splitting their daily food requirement into at least a few meals is generally recommended for young kittens until 6 months of age. It’s important to consider the individual needs of your kitten and their growth, so if you’re unsure at all, be sure to ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.
How do I deal with inappropriate kitten behavior?
Dr. Cutler: You do not want to punish inappropriate behavior in your kitten, but use redirection and reward behavior you want to see
- If there are any litter accidents, you can give your ktiten a smaller space which includes litter until they are using it reliably, and place them in the kitty litter frequently to encourage use.
- If your kitten is chewing or scratching things they shouldn’t, then redirect them to a toy, scratching post, or an area they should be playing in instead
Should I let my kitten sleep in my bed?
Dr. Cutler: This is completely up to you, but it’s important that you consider several things first:
- Do you want your cat sleeping on your bed when they are an adult? It is much easier to not have them on the bed from the begining than trying to teach them later not to jump up on the bed
- Is it possible your family structure might change? For example, if you’re considering adding a baby to your family and they might be in your bed, do you want your cat in there as well?
- Are you a very light sleeper and a kitten or cat moving around may disrupt your sleep?
- Are you a very heavy sleeper? Alternatively, if your kitten needs the kitty litter in the night or could get into trouble in your room and you wno’t hear them, this is an important consideration.
Should the light be left on or turned off at night?
Dr. Cutler: Cats can see well in the dark and do not need a light on at night. It will make things easier for you in the future if you start with routines and rules that you’ll want to keep as soon as possible. Turning off the lights can also help to give your cat a signal that things are getting quiet for the night.
What should I do when my kitten starts crying at night?
Dr. Cutler: You want to balance making sure that your kitten isn’t getting themselves into trouble or needing something with rewarding their crying. Try to go in and check on them when they aren’t crying, unless is sounds urgent. Making sure your kitten gets a lot of exercise and mental stimulation during the day will help them sleep well at night.
Why does my kitten want to be held all the time?
Dr. Cutler: Your kitten may be wanting to be held a lot for several reasons :
- You provide comfort
- Your kitten could be cold
- Your kitten might be lonely or missing the comfort of the other kittens and their mother
- Your kitten could be a little anxious or unsure of their new home
If your kitten is wanting to be held a lot, go ahead and provide them some comfort and hold them. Try to encourage some time exploring and playing with you to help gain some confidence.