Raising a Kitten: How to Help Them Grow Into a Healthy, Well-Adjusted Cat
Kittens are a joy — they’re playful, adorable bundles of fluff.
They’re also constantly learning and exploring the world around them. So, kittenhood is a great time to help your new furry friend develop good habits for adulthood.
Below we’ll break down what to expect, and we’ll share tips for kitten care through each stage of their development.
When Can Kittens Be Adopted?
In the first few weeks of life, newborn kittens are dependent on their mother. They’re born with their eyes closed, and they spend most of their time crawling, sleeping, and nursing with their littermates.
Kittens’ eyes open by 1-2 weeks of age. They start learning to walk at about 2 weeks and start playing by 4 weeks.
By 8 weeks, kittens are old enough to be separated from the mother cat and adopted. Though adoption commonly occurs between 10 to 12 weeks of age.
Preparing for Your Kitten’s Arrival
Before your new family member comes home, it’s important to get the right supplies for them, including:
- Kitten food.
- Food and water bowls.
- A litter box with 1-2 inches of cat litter.
- A bed or soft blanket for sleeping.
- A scratching post.
- A safe spot or hiding place (such as a cat tower, a carrier with the door left open, or under the bed).
It’s also good to have cat toys on hand. Just be sure to supervise your kitty’s use of string toys or any toys with small pieces that could be swallowed.
Additionally, make sure to kitten-proof your home by putting electric cords, plants, medications, and other items out of your kitty’s reach.
Bringing a Kitten Home: The First Night
Your new kitten is going to settle into your home and appreciate the food, shelter, and friendship you provide, but it may take some time. When you first bring your new buddy home, they may act a little shy. Don’t worry — this is totally normal. There’s a lot for them to take in, including all sorts of new sights, sounds, and smells. This can be intimidating and overwhelming for a tiny kitten.
Give your kitten some space, and allow them to hide if they want to. Most cats prefer to explore new surroundings in private, and to have a safe spot to hide. So, start by keeping your kitten in one small room with all of their supplies, including fresh water, and no other pets or children. Then, allow them to explore one new room at a time.
As long as your kitten is healthy and eating normally, there’s no need to rush into things — let them come to you for attention when they’re ready.
Once your kitten has explored their new home and feels comfortable, you’ll start to see their true personality come out. They’ll start to play, explore, and seek cuddle time with you, and before you know it, they’ll be your new best friend!
Tips for Raising Kittens: Settling In, Training, and Health Care
During the first few weeks and months, there are some important things you need to do for your kitty.
Growing kittens need vet visits every 3-4 weeks until they’re at least 16 weeks old. At these checkups, your kitty will receive vaccine boosters and parasite prevention.
If your kitten gets ill or if your vet has other recommendations for your individual pet, you may need additional visits — but this schedule works for most kittens.
Litter Box Training
Fortunately, potty training is pretty easy for cats. It’s instinctual, so chances are good your kitty will use the box without any training at all.
If you do run into any trouble, be sure the box is convenient for your kitten to find and step into, and try placing your kitten directly in the box after meals.
Introduction to Other Cats
If you have other cats in the home, it’s best to separate them from your new kitten initially.
Then, introduce your cats slowly. Let them sniff one another on either side of a closed door for a few days before letting them interact together directly.
Petting & Handling Your Kitten
Once your kitten is comfortable in their new home, try to pet them, pick them up, snuggle with them, and touch their paws and ears often. This human contact will make your kitten more comfortable with being handled, and will make things like nail trims easier both at home and at the vet.
Socialization means introducing your kitten to new experiences. Introducing them to new experiences early in their life will help them grow into a well-adjusted adult cat. They’ll be less stressed or fearful when faced with a new situation.
To socialize your kitten, introduce them to new sounds like loud music, objects like cardboard boxes, or situations like short car rides. Offer treats or extra attention and praise for anything that might be new and scary to help them see it as a pleasant experience.
Kitten Development: The First Year
Kittens grow quickly in their first 6 months of life.
Then, they continue to grow at a slower pace, reaching their adult size between 9 to 12 months of age.
While growing, kittens should receive kitten food rather than adult food — it contains extra protein and is designed to nurture healthy development.
Your vet will let you know when to switch to adult cat food. Often, this will be after a spay or neuter procedure.
Sexual Maturity and Spay/Neuter
Kittens can reproduce as early as 4 to 6 months of age.
As they reach sexual maturity, kittens may also demonstrate hormonally-driven behaviors, such as spraying, yowling (for females in heat), or trying to escape the home to find a mate. For all these reasons, most vets recommend spaying for female cats or neutering for male cats by 5 months of age. This procedure prevents breeding and undesirable hormonal behaviors, and even decreases the risks of certain health problems.
Enjoy Your Time Together!
Kittenhood is a really fun time, but it will go by fast. Be sure to spend quality time with your new family member and enjoy your new friendship. Your bond will strengthen with each day.