It’s kitten season! Is a new fur-kid in your future? You’d think kitten care would be easy–just love ’em and feed ’em and listen to ’em purr, right? But more goes into proper care than plopping food in a bowl and setting up a litter box.
Kittens adopted too early often bite and claw more than those who have been kitty-corrected by Mom and siblings. They also may be fearful or less tolerant of other cats, because they don’t understand all the proper feline etiquette of the social structure.
WHAT IS KITTEN SOCIALIZATION?
Dog people know about socialization of puppies, but kittens also benefit from socialization–except it comes WAY EARLIER in cat babies. The prime kitten socialization period falls between 2-7 weeks (yikes!) which means rescuers, shelter personnel and breeders are vital to the future well being of cats and how they look at their world. Socialization teaches kittens that people (and other cats, dogs, VETERINARIANS, carriers, cars, etc) are safe, positive normal parts of their lives, and also teaches what should be feared.
Proper socialization not only includes interaction with other cats, but positive handling by people during this critical period. That ensures the baby is well adjusted, confident, and emotionally healthy. I’ve got all the kitten must-knows in my COMPLETE KITTEN CARE, but you don’t need the book to get started. Before you adopt, review these 10 do’s and don’ts to ensure your kitten love lasts a lifetime.
10 DO’s & DON’Ts OF KITTEN ADOPTION
1. Don’t adopt too early. Kittens adopted too young bite and claw more than those corrected by Mom and siblings. They also may be fearful or less tolerant of other cats because they don’t understand proper feline etiquette. Cat babies should stay with siblings and Mom for at least 12 to 16 weeks. That’s not always possible, though, and if you find yourself in that situation, it means you must be “cat-mom” and teach Junior claw, potty and other manners. It can help enormously to adopt two kittens at once, so they teach each other bite limits and target each other in play instead of your ankles.
2. Do see a vet ASAP. Kittens seem indestructible but get sick easily. A vet’s early diagnosis improves the chances of a speedy recovery. Screening tests and preventive care — vaccinations, flea prevention, worm medications — save lives and ensure your kitten grows to healthy adulthood.
3. Don’t bathe a kitten until it is at least 4 weeks old (12 to 16 weeks is better). Very young kittens can’t regulate body temperature and can become chilled from a bath. When you do bathe the kitten, use only kitten-safe products — adult cat or dog products can be toxic. Introduce combs and brushes immediately to longhair kittens to prevent grooming problems later on.
4. Do get kittens fixed. Spaying and neutering prevents pregnancy, urine spraying and health issues such as breast cancer. Female kittens can get pregnant as early as 4 months old, so don’t delay. Many shelters and professional breeders spay or neuter kittens at 8 to 12 weeks old (or once they weigh 2 lbs.) because babies recover more quickly than older cats.
5. Don’t rush introductions. Tiny kittens get lost or find trouble if not confined to a kitten-safe room. Let the new baby get used to one room so he knows the location of his litter box, bed, scratch objects, food bowl and toys. When you can’t watch him, confine him in his safe room. Even healthy-looking kittens could be contagious and the vet may recommend quarantine for up to 30 days. Resident pets accept new ones more quickly when only part of the house has been “invaded.” They can meet with sniffs and paw pats under the door until it’s safe for a nose-to-nose greeting.
6. Do kitten-proof the house. Kittens explore with paw pats, licking and biting. Chomping or clawing electrical cords or poisonous plants, swallowing string toys or hiding inside the clothes dryer can be deadly. Invest in knee pads and crawl around on your hands and knees for a kitten’s-eye view of potential dangers.
7. Don’t feed kittens milk, as it can cause diarrhea. Queen-replacement milk is available, but most babies eat solid food by 4 weeks old. Tiny tummies can’t eat enough to sustain in one meal, so feed three or four small meals daily until the kitten is 6 months old and twice daily thereafter. Monitor your kitten for a healthy appetite.
8. Do train your kitten. Routinely handle her ears, paws and mouth so she learns it’s not scary from you or the veterinarian. Make carriers fun playpens by tossing toys inside or turn them into napping spots so she’ll accept being in the carrier for visits to the vet or grandma’s.
9. Don’t declaw. Instead, train from the beginning with lots of legal scratch objects. Catch her in the act of scratching the right objects and reward with praise, treats or toys. Start trimming claws when you first get your kitten — one nail a day with your own clippers is fine — so she knows this is normal. That way if she forgets claw-training, she won’t damage property or skin with blunt claws.
10. Don’t let kittens outside until they’ve received all preventive vaccinations, microchip identification and parasite treatments — and you have a safe outdoor sanctuary. It’s nearly impossible to kitten-proof the great outdoors. Instead, leash-train your kitten to keep her safe and/or make the indoors so interesting with toys, cat trees and your love that the kitten never misses going out.
(Bonus) 11. Do let the kitten pick YOU! My Facebook friend Eliyahu offered this great comment and gave me permission to add to the list: “Don’t pick out the kitten. Let it pick you. It’s easy to be attracted to the one you think is the cutest or the prettiest, but that may not be the right one for you. I’ve always gone to the shelter with a couple hours free time when getting a kitten or cat. Our shelter back in Washington had a big cat room with all the cats together. I’d sit in a chair and let the kittens come to me, then see how each interacted with me and which one wanted the most to be with me. Here, there isn’t a cat room, so I had the worker bring kittens one at a time and played with them. The prettiest one turned out to be skittish around people, another just sat in the corner and stared. Finally, about eight kittens later, she brought one in that walked up, sniffed at me, climbed up on my lap and made it clear to us that she’d chosen me to be her human. A year later, Cenerentola still spends much of her time climbing on my lap and shoulders or sleeping by my feet when she’s not playing with the other cat.
What else have I missed? Are there other DO’s and DON’Ts that are important to include when planning your new kitten’s gotcha day? Please share!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!