Tips for Raising a Kitten into a Confident Cat
Raising a cat from a kitten will offer great opportunities for you and your kitten to bond and learn from each other, but it may present some challenges, too.
Along with teaching them to use a litter box, scheduling their kitten vaccinations and ensuring they’re eating a complete and balanced diet that’s appropriate at their life stage, your new kitten will also be dependent upon you to help them stay safe and thrive in their new homes.
Here are some tips for raising a kitten so you can provide them with a sense of security and an enriching environment where they can thrive.
Choosing a New Kitten
Raising a confident and well-adjusted cat can have a lot to do with which kitten you choose to bring home. In situations where you get to meet and interact with the entire litter pre-adoption, it’s helpful to know how to choose the kitten that’s right for you.
A friendly kitten may naturally grow into an outgoing adult cat, but even more timid kittens can become confident adults with proper socialization from their owners.
Kitten-Proof Your Home
Kitten-proof your home before you bring your kitten home. Bundle electric cords and place them out of your kitten’s reach. Put all small items, any plants that are poisonous to cats and insect traps out of reach. Close the toilet seat lid, along with kitchen cabinets and the lids or doors to washers and dryers. Block small spaces, such as the gap between the refrigerator and the wall and underneath cabinets, as much as possible to prevent your kitten from hiding or getting stuck.
Cover the Basics
Young kittens need a place to feel safe—something that reminds them of when their mother and siblings surrounded them. A blanket-lined cardboard box or cat bed can be a great replacement.
For the first year, kittens require the extra protein and calories found in kitten-formulated foods, so be sure the food you choose is created just for them. Begin litter training by placing your kitten in the box after meals or right after waking and gently simulate digging with the kitten’s paws. They're quick learners so this may only take a time or two of practice. Have a “kitten corner” with all of their essentials but leave a bit of space between their food and water bowls and their litter box.
Never punish a kitten for missing the box and always praise them for using it correctly. Provide a scratching post to allow them to stretch their legs and paws and protect your furniture from damage.
Go Room By Room
Give your kitten the grand tour of the house, one room at a time. To discourage hiding under or climbing on furniture, simply place them back on the floor when they start to go under or jump up. Use positive reinforcement during this exploration phase to help them build confidence and know their boundaries.
Introduce New Family Members Slowly
When you bring your new kitten home, place them in a quiet room, along with a bed, a litterbox and food until they can adjust. Introduce family members one at a time, providing extra oversight with children. Teach children how to gently interact with the kitten and remind them to wash their hands before and after handling them.
Prepare Your Other Pets
If you already have pets at home, be sure that they’re in optimal health before introducing a new kitten to the mix. If there is another cat in the home, it’s essential to know how to introduce cats. If you can, introduce your new kitten to any cats who already live in the household slowly, preferably over a period of weeks.
Let each cat sniff a blanket or towel the other one has slept on, so they can get familiar with each other’s scent. Try feeding them on opposite sides of a closed-door, so they associate each other’s scent with something positive, like food. Allow them to play with each other’s toys, use the same litter box and food bowls, but continue to keep them separated.
If neither cat displays any aggressive behavior, try introducing them with a barrier for separation, so they can see each other but can’t be aggressive. If that goes smoothly, remove the barrier and let the cats initiate the interaction at their own pace, making sure each one has an area in which to retreat if they feel trapped. Never force face-to-face interactions between cats.
To help ease anxiety, give older cats extra attention. Then allow them to approach the kitten briefly so they can sniff each other. If they demonstrate physical hostility, separate them and try again in a few days.
If you have a dog at home, don’t leave your new kitten alone with them. Introduce them with a dog on a leash. Prevent the kitten from running, so the dog doesn’t try to chase after them. And remember to reward all pets for their good behavior during these introductions. Rewards can look like petting, verbal praise or play time, in addition to treats or food.
Keep Playtime Safe
Choose toys designed with kittens in mind—nothing with any small parts that could be ingested. Kitten-sized stuffed animals or feathers on the end of a fishing pole are good choices. Supervise any play with toys with strings, small bells and/or rubber bands that could be ingested and cause serious health risks.
Get the First Checkup
Make an appointment with your veterinarian within a few days of the kitten’s arrival and let them know the kitten is new to your home when you call. It can be helpful to make a list beforehand of any questions you want to have answered.
Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about spaying and neutering, which can help prevent health issues and overpopulation. Typically, kittens can be spayed or neutered at eight weeks of age—but you and your veterinarian should decide which is best for your pet.
Provide Comfort While You’re Away
Secure the kitten in one room before you leave, and include a bed, litterbox, scratching post, toys, food and water. Consider adding a nightlight or leaving a light on if you’ll be gone all evening. You may want to try playing light music or talk radio, too—the sounds can be soothing to a kitten that’s alone.
Share Twice the Love
Single kittens can get lonely—so consider a pair when you adopt. If you opt for just one, a great way to help with loneliness is to wrap a ticking clock in a towel and place it near your kitten’s bed. The steady sound of the clock is comforting, reminding them of their mother’s heartbeat. Then further ease their stress by picking them up and speaking with them in a soothing tone.
Taking these steps will go a long way toward getting your kitten acclimated to their new home, new people and pets and new situations. With a little patience and plenty of love and support, you can help your kitten grow into a confident adult cat.