Bringing a kitten into your family for the first time is incredibly exciting. Your new family member will be a source of love, companionship and bring you a lot of joy as they grow into an adult cat. But in order to have a good experience, there are a few things that you need to make sure you have in place to ensure their arrival goes as smoothly as possible.
The first few days
Before you bring your kitten home, prepare as much in advance as you can. Choose a quiet room for them to spend their first week in where they can settle and start to gain confidence in their new home. Make sure they have access to:
- Separate areas for food and water
- At least one litter tray (away from any other things)
- A comfortable, soft bed
- At least one safe hiding spot - this can be a covered carrier, a teepee style bed or a box.
- Areas for climbing such as shelves or a cat tree
- Toys and scratching posts.
- You can also bring home something that smells familiar to them such as a blanket so that they feel less anxious.
Once you have brought your kitten into their new room, let them settle and acclimatise. Don’t remove your kitten from their carrier, leave the door open and allow them to come out in their own time. It can be tempting to shower them with affection and excitement, but they are likely to be stressed by the move. You don’t want to overwhelm them. Have patience and let them get used to their new environment - there will be plenty of time for cuddles later! When you leave the room, you can put a radio on quietly - the soft background noise will help them feel less nervous and will muffle other sounds that they may find scary.
It’s important to have already registered with your vet BEFORE you bring your new family member home. Their immune system is still developing and problems can arise quickly, so ensure you’ve got your new vet at the end of the phone for any emergencies. You should take your new arrival to visit their vet as soon as possible to ensure that they are healthy, to purchase flea and worming products, and discuss neutering and microchipping.
After the first few days, hopefully your kitten will be feeling safe and a bit less stressed. You can introduce new experiences to them in this room such as meeting other family members so that they can start to build up their confidence before they take on the whole house. It’s important to remember that meeting lots of people at once can be overwhelming for your new kitten, so introduce the rest of the family gradually.
Kittens love to play - one minute they are full of beans and the next they’ll be zonked out, asleep where they fall. The best way to play with your kitten is to encourage play with different toys including ones that they can interact with alone (such as ball circuits) and ones that you can use together (fishing rods are always a winner but always make sure your kitten is supervised).
Rotate the types of toys that your kitten is using so that they don’t get bored. If you notice that your kitten is showing predatory behaviour (stalking, pouncing, jumping, biting, or clawing), then they might be bored - you can distract them from this by using toys for physical and mental enrichment.
You may be tempted to use your fingers or your toes to play with your kitten, but you should avoid this. If they believe this is an acceptable form of play, you may end up with a few injuries when they’ve grown into an adult cat! This type of inappropriate play is very common in kittens. So it’s important to teach them by using positive reinforcement and not by telling them off. Ignore unwanted behaviours so as to not inadvertently encourage them by reacting. If they are using your feet as a toy, stay completely still so that they are no longer ‘prey’.
Don't let your new kitten get away with too much! Your tiny bundle of fluff may be cute, but part of their socialisation needs to be learning boundaries and understanding what is positive behaviour in their new home.
If your kitten behaves in a naughty way, don't tell them off - ignore them for a little while.. Make sure you praise their good behaviour and give them lots of positive reinforcement including rewarding them with playtime and treats. Most importantly, be consistent with your boundaries and ensure your other family members are doing this too.
Having a new kitten in your home can be like having a baby, so ensure that you have ‘kitten-proofed’ your home before allowing your new arrival to explore. Build up their access to different rooms in the house over time and keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t cause too much mischief.
Cats and kittens can squeeze into the smallest holes, so make sure you block off any gaps in furniture, cupboards, or appliances, as well as keeping doors and lids closed (including the toilet, washing machine and tumble dryer). Double check the kitten hasn’t crawled inside to explore before turning the appliances on. Keep all of your cables and wires out of reach so they can’t be chewed or get caught around your kitten.
Whilst your kitten is settling in, you can start to build in routines and work on response training. For example, you could get them used to the sound of you shaking a food tin. Once they recognise and associate this sound with food, you can use it in the future to get them to come back indoors.
So long as you feel your kitten is settled and happy in their new home, you can introduce them to the garden after they have reached five-six months of age but this will depend on the individual kitten. You should prepare them for this by making sure they are neutered, microchipped, fully vaccinated plus flea and worm treated ahead of the big day! Neutering and microchipping before going outside are the MOST important things.
Vaccinations, Neutering and Microchipping
It’s important to make sure your new family member is fully vaccinated, neutered and microchipped.
Your vet will vaccinate your kitten twice - at around 8 and 12 weeks of age for Cat flu (calici and herpes viruses), enteritis and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV). However, the vaccines don’t usually become effective until 7 – 14 days after both doses have been given. As such, it’s essential to keep your pet away from both other pets and places they might have been, to protect them from harm.
Neutering is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. The neutering procedure offers a humane and permanent solution to unwanted litters and also reduces the risk of your pet developing certain cancers and other diseases. Your pet will also be less likely to develop unwanted behaviours such as roaming, spraying and fighting with other animals.
Thousands of cats and dogs are lost each year in the UK and many are never reunited with their owners as they have no permanent identification. Microchipping is the safest way to ensure they can always get back to you when lost.
Microchipping is cheap, harmless, and takes seconds. A small chip (the size of a grain of rice) will be implanted into the back of your pet’s neck with a unique number on it. This procedure will take place with them fully awake and is very similar to giving an injection and cats and dogs tolerate it incredibly well. The unique microchip number is then stored on a central database with your name and address details attached. For further peace of mind, the general public are unable to access this confidential database, only registered organisations with the necessary security clearance. It’s vital that you keep your contact details up-to-date with the database company if you move home or change your phone number. Check with your vet whether they will register your pet or whether they require you to do this yourself.