How to Adopt Kittens: 10 Kitten Adoption Do’s & Don’ts
Kittens are rarely in short supply. With the current rash of kittens, summer break on the horizon, and the pandemic easing, kitten adoption may be in your future. But there’s more to kitten adoption than bringing home your baby cat. Maybe you’ll want to foster a needy kitten (tips here). What is the best age to adopt a kitten? Is it OK to adopt a kitten at 8 weeks? What do you need before adopting a kitten? Learn how to adopt kittens, what to do–and what NOT to do–in this kitten adoption guide.
KITTEN ADOPTION 101: What is the best age to adopt a kitten
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.
Is it OK to adopt a kitten at 8 weeks? Adopting kittens too early often means kittens 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. They don’t understand all the proper feline etiquette of the social structure.
KITTEN ADOPTION & KITTEN SOCIALIZATION?
Dog people know about the 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 what’s safe (other cats, dogs, VETERINARIANS, carriers, cars) and a positive normal part of their lives. It also teaches what kittens should fear.
Proper socialization not only includes interaction with other cats (and also dogs, if you have both–get intro tips here!) but positive handling by different people during this critical period. That ensures the baby becomes 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 kittens too early.
Adopting kittens 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. Learn more about kitten development here. 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 biting 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 especially after you first adopt kittens. Screening tests and preventive care — vaccinations, flea prevention, worm medications — save lives and ensure your kitten grows to healthy adulthood. Learn more about FIP and cats here.
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 “fix” kittens.
Spaying and neutering prevent 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 kitten introductions.
Tiny kittens get lost or find trouble if not confined to a kitten-safe room. When you adopt kittens, 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. Learn how to introduce kittens to other cats here, and how to read kitten tail talk to stay ahead of your furry wonder.
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. Listen to your kitten to choose a name–looks and/or behavior offer hints. Learn how to stop loud mouth kittens from meowing too much.
9. Don’t declaw kittens.
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 of 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? Maybe you’d like to share what do you need before adopting a kitten (besides litter box, litter, food, scratch object, toys, and LOVE)? 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 giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
I want to get a kitten soon. I like your point about kitten-proofing the house. I’ll be sure to move any electrical cords.
Definite yup on the kittens adopted too early part! Our wee shelter baby was only 10 weeks old when we brought her home, so we know she can’t have been with momma long enough. She had to learn not to nip, and she was obsessively trying to nurse on everything for a while.
Now she’s almost 9 months old, learning for the most part not to nip (though she forgets when we go to trim her nails – I tried to start her early on that and she STILL hates it) and sort of sometimes learning how to sit not-quite-still in a lap. LOL
Has it been that long, she’s 9 months now? Wow, kittenhood sure is fleeting.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? If you look at my latest blog post I managed to get a bit of video during a VERY short period where she actually sat semi-still. LOL She’s getting to be a pretty big girl but it’s so weird because she’s got an adult cat body now, but with the baby face still stuck on it.
Love the video!
great info! I love cats but I am allergic. Your post is really insightful and I will share with an adoption pet agency I work with. Thanks!
Sorry you’re allergic that’s a bummer. There are steps to take (AllerpetC helps) but it’s hard to manage.
Great points! We actually take our kittens to the plant nursery in town and let people play with them to get them used to strangers. Our kittens are definitely NOT shy now! lol
What a great idea, Ryan!
Great advice !! Thanks for sharing purrrrfect ideas !
Lucas certainly picked us! He was returned twice from owners who didn’t take the time to get to know him before taking him back to the shelter. They actually claimed that he didn’t like dogs HA! He is the sweetest, most lovable, cat (who thinks he is a dog) in the world!
Awww…so glad you found each other.
It’s been so long since I’ve had a kitten in the house I forgot everything that’s involved!
It’s like riding a furry bike…comes back pretty quick.
All great points. Four years ago I adopted 2 kittens — my first cats ever. I read a half dozen books and did all the things you suggest, plus I had the added challenge of introducing them to 2 dogs, which required a very slow and careful introduction. It took about three months to get everyone settled. Today, everyone gets along.
–Purrs (and wags) from Life with Dogs and Cats
When Magic came to us as a puppy, we took a lot of time to introduce him to our cat. It took her over 9 months before she’d stay in the same room. Now she’s 18 and the boss of him and the new cat.
Great info – I will definitely share with my cat adoption friends! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!
Mattiedog, A Little Dog Making a Big Difference in This World
Thanks for visiting and commenting!
Great article! This is so spot on. There is a lot to know about kittens before you bring one into your life. I think that a lot of people don’t realize that.
It’s no different than prepping for a human baby…you need to educate yourself first, or you’re always scrambling to play catch-up.
These are some great tips that debunk a lot of popular myths! Thanks for sharing!
#11 is my favorite! 2 of our cats chose us and it’s such an honor.
Ain’t it the truth! Both my cats chose me.
I’ve raised a few kindles of kittens from feral queens. Some of them I waited too long to get them used to humans. Others I had on my lap and loving it. There was one day with one litter where mom came up on my lap too, and the kittens were nursing up there. Blanche was more interested in my lap than in the food I was bringing, and her brother Simon would look at me with a Don’t go! look when I went back to the house.
Love it that Mom-cat also benefited from the situation!
Great advice ! Don’t adopt too early and do socialization teaching on time are so important ! Purrs
Thanks so much for visiting!
Great point to get the kitten used to being handled, so that she will be more comfortable at the vet’s. I can’t imagine not wanting to handle and cuddle a kitten all day!
Thanks for visiting, Peggy. Yes, cuddling kittens is a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it! *vbg*
They both still have their issues. Jaspurr is uber-alpha, and I think he takes Jenny’s calico-sassiness as a threat to his standing. But Jack the Ripper could come to our house and Jaspurr would be his best friend, while Joey, Billy, and Jenny ran for cover.
Gotta love them!
That really HISSES me off, that your kitties had to go through such things! They “learned” an important lesson, not to trust…how fortunately that you came along. Franny, after reading this awful history, it’s amazing Jaspurr and Joey are as well adjusted as they are.
I can vouch for “don’t adopt too early.” The majority of problems we’ve had with Jaspurr and Joey are because we brought them home at 6.5 weeks. I had planned to wait until they were at least 8 weeks. However the *woman* whose cat mothered them (and likely several dozen litters before) called the rescue gal who was my contact, and said “get these kittens out of here! They’re driving me crazy.” I found out later that they were abused by the young kids in the family. The boys would pick up kittens and hurl them at the other kittens. And the sweet little 5 YO girl would pick one up by the neck and carry him swinging back and forth.
Jaspurr, now 9, still has a habit of “nursing” on his foreleg for comfort, and Joey is terribly timid of strangers. But they are both loving kitties and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.