Taking Care of Newborn Kittens - What You Must Know
There’s a reason kitten videos are hugely popular on social media. Newborn kittens are adorable and fun, but it’s imperative to keep in mind that they’re also a lot of work. It’s important to us in the veterinary community that you understand the basics of kitten care before you decide to add a new little furry family member to your home. Prior to becoming a new pet parent, you should know how to take care of a kitten with appropriate housing, diet, socialization enrichment, and preventative care.
Find a local veterinarian to help you with the specifics of kitten health care to ensure a long and happy, healthy life for your new family member.
Basic Environmental Needs for Kittens
Bringing a kitten home when he or she is around 6-8 weeks of age is like bringing a baby home. Be sure you can keep an eye on your kitten closely. Kittens should be confined to a smaller space, like one room until they are around four months old and able to navigate a larger environment without falling. Slowly introduce them to larger areas before giving them free roam of the house. If you are away during the day, keep them in a bathroom or crate with a litter box, food, and water. You will want to make sure the litter box is the right size for your kitten. An adult litter box may be difficult for an 8-week-old kitten to get in and out of. Also, keep the litter box in one place and avoid moving it; this is important during litter box training, as consistency is key.
Nutrition for Kittens
Feeding kittens isn’t rocket science, but there are factors to take into account. Your kitten should be eating kitten food until they are a year old. Because of their activity levels and fast growth rate, kittens should be fed almost three times the number of calories that adult cats consume. Your veterinarian can help you select a food that allows your kitten to consume an adequate number of calories without overloading the food dish. You should also start your kitten’s diet off with a combination of dry and wet food because, if there is no exposure to each of these early on, he or she may not tolerate the tastes and textures as they get older. Your kitten’s dietary needs may change in ways that you cannot predict now. Canned food is also more like their natural diet because cats are carnivores, meaning they eat meat.
Socialization for Kittens
Socialization is an important aspect of kitten behavior. Newborn kittens should be kept with their mothers until they are 6-8 weeks of age. If they are weaned earlier or fostered at a very young age, it is common for them to exhibit behavioral problems. You should handle kittens gently and avoid roughhousing, as it can lead to aggressive behavior as they become older. Teach them early where they can and cannot be—such as on tables and counters. Play with their paws and feet to teach them to allow their toenails to be trimmed.
Enrichment for Kittens
Cats are kept indoors because the outside world is much more dangerous. Because most kittens will grow up to be indoor cats, they need more stimulus in their environment. Have a scratching post or cardboard boxes available for them to play with. Cats are hunters and they like to chase small animals like mice, so having some small toys such as balls for your kitten to play with is great enrichment. Keeping toys available to kittens can help them avoid getting into trouble, such as unrolling your toilet paper and climbing curtains. If you decide your kitten will have the ability to go outside, he or she should not be allowed to do so until adulthood.
This is a decision that should be made under careful consideration and with the guidance of your veterinarian. Vaccines, behavior, preventive products, microchipping, and more must be taken into account when deciding whether a cat has access to the outdoors.
Preventative Care for Kittens
Preventative care is a vital part of their proper kitten care and well-being. Bringing your kitten to your veterinarian’s office should be a top priority, sometimes even before bringing him or her home to meet the rest of the family. By bringing your kitten to your veterinarian, he or she can be checked for zoonotic (able to spread between animals and humans) parasites and infections such as ringworm. Deworming should be done, and you should discuss flea prevention and a vaccine protocol for your kitten’s lifestyle. Fecal samples should be analyzed for intestinal parasites.
Your veterinarian will also want to test your kitten for Feline Leukemia and Aids, retroviruses that are highly contagious to other cats and can impact lifestyle and the kitten vaccinations protocol. This is important because these are diseases that your kitten could have contracted from his or her mother.
Kittens are bundles of fun and entertainment. By being prepared and giving them the preventative care they need, you can help your kitten grow up happy and healthy.
Reach out to a veterinarian near you to discuss kitten care and how to best keep your new precious pet safe.