You’ve adopted a new kitten – now what?


Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS

Many cat owners will tell you that having an adult cat for a pet can be relatively simple. Just give them food, water, a clean litter box, environmental enrichment and exercise, lots of love, and a comfortable place to sleep (don’t worry, they will find one on your bed or couch even if you give them multiple cat beds around the house!). But how about kittens? Are they that ‘easy’ to care for? How do you help them mature into happy, well-adjusted adult cats?

Truthfully, while kittens are just plain adorable, they can also be a little overwhelming at times for new kitten owners. The good news is that you have the potential to help shape your little bundle of joy into a wonderful adult companion. Understanding some basics about kitten care, along with having some patience and giving things a little time, will help move you and your new kitten in the direction of a long-lasting relationship.

What every kitten owner should know:

  • Your kitten’s “socialization window” closes between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Exposing your kitten to a variety of people, animals, and situations during this time will help your kitten be more accepting and tolerant as he or she grows up into an adult. Of course, this socialization must be balanced with minimizing risk for exposure to infectious diseases since your kitten’s immune system is not fully developed. Visit our ‘Kitten Behavior & Socialization’ page to learn more.
  • Your new kitten’s immune system has not had time to fully develop yet. He or she needs time for the immune system to strengthen and also an opportunity to have an adequate immune response to kitten vaccines. Be selective about where you take your kitten and who your kitten interacts with while you are trying to socialize him or her. Also, be sure to follow through with all of your kitten’s vaccines. Visit our ‘Kitten Vaccinations’ page to learn more.
  • Your kitten should be tested (and treated) for common internal and external parasites. Your kitten’s health can be impacted if he or she is harboring parasites. Additionally, some of these parasites can be zoonotic (transmitted between people and humans). Learn more about intestinal parasites here.
  • Your kitten should visit the veterinary clinic every 3 to 4 weeks until he or she is between 16 and 18 weeks of age. During these visits, our veterinarians will perform thorough physical examinations to be sure your kitten is growing and developing as expected, administer critical vaccinations to keep your kitten protected, perform intestinal parasite testing and deworming, discuss important behavior considerations for kittens, help develop a plan to address any behavioral concerns you may have already identified in your kitten, and answer any other questions you have about raising your kitten.
  • Indoor and outdoor cats are at risk for heartworm infections. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease, and we all know mosquitoes can sneak inside. We recommend year-round heartworm protection for all cats. Learn more about feline heartworm infection here.
  • Pet overpopulation is a huge problem in Guilford County. You can help make a dent in pet overpopulation by having your kitten spayed or neutered between 5 and 6 months of age. Learn more by visiting our ‘Kitten Spaying & Neutering’ page.
  • Kittens will scratch things – this is normal feline behavior. You don’t have to declaw your kitten to save your furniture. You can add environmental enrichment and direct this behavior to acceptable items. Learn more by visiting our ‘Declawing’ page.
  • Kittens can be trained to accept and tolerate things like nail trims and teeth brushing. The important thing is to start early and make it a very positive experience. Use food and praise as rewards, and don’t push them too far with each session. Take breaks and come back later if they start to get frustrated or anxious. Learn more by visiting our ‘Kitten Grooming & Dental Health’ page.
  • Kittens will ultimately find a way to express an undesired behavior (for example, playfully biting on someone’s ankles, jumping on kitchen counters, etc.). As with all undesired behaviors, if you can find a way to stop the behavior, redirect the kitten into an acceptable behavior, and then praise them for the good behavior, you will set your kitten up to be successful.

Find more information about kittens by visiting our ‘Paws to Protect: Kittens’ page!

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