By Dr. Irfan Ahmed*

Kittens are playful and adorable, but they’re also unique individuals that have personalities, needs, and behaviours of their own. Before welcoming a new kitten (or kittens) to your home, you’ll need to prepare your home for a curious critter with the ability to climb, leap, and scratch. You’ll also need to provide your kitten with appropriate toys, bedding, litter box, and food.

Bringing a cuddly, appealing bundle of purr home is exciting, whether the kitten is your first pet or is an addition to your current pet family. Your kitten will be entirely reliant on you to ease its transition from mom cat’s side or animal shelter to this strange new place. To keep it safe and happy it takes planning and patience for everyone in the household. The efforts will pay off, as your new little friend grows into a confident, affectionate kitty who knows there is no place like home.

Kittens are sometimes adopted at six weeks of age, but 10 to 12 weeks is better. Those extra weeks spent with its mother and siblings helps a kitten learn acceptable behaviour, from getting along with siblings to getting used to human contact. A six- or seven-week-old kitten may be stressed and confused at being separated from its family too soon; your kitten may be fearful of people, and could try to hide or run away from interaction. If a kitten has been gently handled and has gotten used to humans, he will be friendlier and better adjusted. In choosing a kitten, look for one that is inquisitive, doesn’t shy away from your touch, and is ready to play.

Kittens are growth machines for their first year and need different nutrition than adult cats. Extra protein for muscle and tissue development, fat for fatty acids, and plenty of calories is the key to kittens’ health. Special foods fitting their nutritional requirements should be given until the kitten is an year old.

Away from his littermates or mother, the kitten needs to feel secure as well as warm. Whether you provide a cardboard box lined with a blanket or a fancier bed from a pet supply store, keep your kitten’s bed in a quiet place, away from household traffic.

As a new kitten owner, your responsibility includes checking your home for potential dangers, and providing appropriate and safe options for your pet. You’ll also need to establish guidelines for kitten behaviour and stick to them.

Kitten-Proof Your Home

Your first priority will be to remove serious hazards from your kitten’s reach. Among the toughest ones to manage are electrical wires and outlets, many of which are at ground level. Kittens and cats are attracted to loose wires, so consider taping wires to baseboards or the underside of tables or desks. Other hazards include kitten-sized openings in floorboards and rocking chairs or gliders that can crush an unwary kitten.

If you have ever had to set traps for pests, now is the time to be sure that those traps are disposed of safely. You’ll also want to check, to be sure, any breakable or precious items are above the reach of a leaping, climbing kitten.

Shopping List for a New Kitten

Kittens don’t need a great deal. Many are delighted to sleep on your bed or couch (if you’ve decided to allow that) and to play with a simple string. You will, however, want to make a few purchases as follows:

  • The Basic Necessities

At the very least, your kitten will need these basic necessities: food, a place to sleep, a scratching post or pad, and a litter box and litter. Of course, you won’t be able to pass up a few toys. They will make the coming home experience a little easier on your new addition, especially since he’ll be isolated from any other cats for the first few days. Create a shopping list for everything you’ll need.

  • Cat Bedding Options

Although your new kitten may be perfectly comfortable in a cardboard box lined with clean, soft towels or a small blanket, consider giving him a real bed, just like the big guys. The best bets are beds that are either fully washable or have a washable and/or replaceable cover. Don’t spend a lot of money, though: there’s an excellent chance that your kitten will pass up the bed you’ve prepared for the end of your bed, a spot on the couch, or any sunny corner of your home.

  • Food for Kittens

The first year of a cat’s life sets the pace for his future development, health, and well-being. It is essential that he eats a quality food developed for kittens.

For now, if you know the brand, give him the same food he’s been eating at the breeders, foster home, or shelter, to avoid tummy upsets from sudden changes. Use a small, low bowl so she can reach inside (many cat bowls are intended for larger adults). It’s very important, too, to provide your kitten with plenty of clean, fresh water. Change the water each day, and consider investing in a low-cost ‘cat fountain’ which recirculates water and is often more attractive to kittens than a simple bowl.

  • Interactive Toys

You’re going to spend a lot of time in the first few weeks, bonding with your new kitten and establishing a close relationship that will last a lifetime. One of the best ways to start this bond is by playing with the kitten with an interactive toy. You can purchase low-cost or expensive items at the pet store, but don’t forget another favorite game is ‘fetch’ with a wadded-up piece of paper. Other fun cat toys include string, yarn, and feather dusters. However, be very careful as feathers, string, and other fun ‘toys’ can become choking hazards if they detach from toys.

  • Scratching Posts

No one who loves cats would ever consider declawing their feline friend. As a result, your new pet will have claws that need exercise. Some kittens will want to claw at your carpet or walls; to avoid damage to your home, you’ll want to provide your kitten with a scratching post. A favorite ‘starting scratcher’ among feline aficionados is an inexpensive, long-lasting cardboard incline with a corrugated cardboard scratching surface.

  • Litter Box and Litter

There are many litter boxes in the market, but make sure that the one you choose is shallow enough for easy entrance and egress for your little guy. Many people use a small plastic storage box of appropriate size, for starters. If you are adopting a rescue kitten, ask the foster parents for advice about the best litter to use. Bear in mind that some kittens will take time to adjust to their litter box, so you may also want to buy some pads to place around the box in case of accidents.

Preparing Yourself for Your New Pet

If you’ve never owned a kitten, you’ll need to prepare yourself a bit for pet ownership. Unlike some other pets (fish and mice, for example), kittens need attention, companionship, and care. But that doesn’t mean you need to turn your home over to your pet. In fact, just like human beings, kittens and cats thrive in settings where rules and expectations are clear. With that in mind:

  • Be sure you and other family members have time to spend with your new pet.
  • Agree as a family on the rules you’ll be setting for your kitten. May she sleep on the furniture? What’s your rule about jumping onto counters and tables?
  • Where will your kitten spend the night? You may want to keep her in one location for the first few weeks, as it’s easy to ‘lose’ a kitten who decides to hide.

* The author is a professor by profession. He is a self-confessed cat slave who has loved cats all his life. He is a pet parent to 3 ragdoll cats. He runs Mallika’s Cattery – a cat boarding service in Bengaluru.