When deciding on a new kitten there is a wide variety of choice. There is little to choose between male and female, unless you are intending to breed from your cat. Both can be equally loving or exhibit the temperament of a tiger! When considering the long haired breeds it should be noted that it will involve daily grooming, otherwise knots and matting of the coat may develop. Whatever kitten you eventually choose should have bright, clear eyes, a healthy coat and a friendly outgoing nature. Any signs of a cold should be treated with suspicion, especially with a “rescue” kitten. Do not accept a kitten less than 8 weeks of age. Use the excellent kitten checklist below to help you find a healthy kitten: Kitten Checklist
You will require a carrying box to transport your kitten. The cardboard carriers available from pet shops and veterinary surgeries can be adequate for a little kitten but may not be strong enough to transport an adult cat. There are also plastic, wire mesh or wicker baskets available which are of much stronger design. Any box used must be secure, well ventilated and easy to clean.
Your new kitten will need somewhere to sleep and although there are many commercial beds available from good pet shops a cardboard box is adequate. The box should not have contained any strong smelling items such as washing powder and should be lined with a few layers of newspaper and a blanket or old jumper in which your kitten can snuggle up.
Even if you intend to allow your kitten outdoors, initially you will still require a litter tray. At first it is sensible to use the same brand of litter as the breeder because the kitten will recognise it and this will reduce the possibility of accidents. The tray should be deep enough to hold litter and big enough for an adult cat to make a complete turn. Clean the litter tray on a daily basis at the very least and remember to wear gloves.
It is unwise to make changes to the kitten’s diet when it is first introduced to a new environment. You will need a small amount of whatever food the kitten is used to and also a stock of the diet you intend to feed. A gradual transition over five days should minimise any upset. Feeding bowls should be shallow, wide, stable on flat surfaces and easy to clean. A supply of fresh water should also be provided in a similar bowl.
Kittens are often subdued when introduced to a strange environment. Removal from their mother and siblings and the stress of a journey may result in somewhat withdrawn behaviour for a day or two. Provided the kitten is feeding do not worry. Cats are very adaptable and as they gain increasing confidence in you and their surroundings they settle very quickly.
If you are thinking of having more than one cat it is a good idea to take two kittens from the same litter. Settling in will be much less traumatic for them and you will have the pleasure of watching them play and develop together.
If possible introduce your kitten when you can give it your undivided attention for a few days e.g. the weekend or a holiday period. Select a quiet room in the house, close all doors and windows and ensure that fireplaces are blocked up. Put the cat bed in a warm, draught-free corner and place the food bowls near to it. The filled litter tray should be placed on a few sheets of newspaper nearby but avoid the area next to the food and water bowls. Your new kitten can then be brought into the room, the basket placed on the floor and opened allowing the cat to come out and explore in its own time. She should not be overwhelmed with an over-enthusiastic welcome.
Kittens are naturally inquisitive and playful. In the absence of her litter mates she will rely on you to provide stimulation and play. Some cats and kittens will be ready to explore the house after only a few hours whereas others may take a few days. When the cat is familiar with the whole house and has completed her vaccination programme she can be let out into the garden. Stay within sight when first she is let out. She will need to explore her new environment and memorise the route back indoors. If a cat flap is provided, a little assistance may be necessary before the kitten learns to use it. When bringing a new kitten into a house where there are established pets you should keep them confined to a separate part of the house to allow the newcomer to settle in. They should then be introduced under supervision but still fed separately. In time most animals will at least tolerate each other and often even grow friendly towards each other.
Although cats are often described as un-trainable, you can encourage the behaviour which allows you to live in harmony with your cat. Clean toilet habits are inborn and respect for furniture is not difficult to achieve with a little time and effort. Understanding cat motivation is the key to successfully channelling undesirable behaviour into another more acceptable form. Establish ground rules early, teaching a young kitten not to climb the curtains will prevent if from doing so later in life!
Being consistent is also important, nothing will confuse your kitten more than being allowed to do something one day and being told “No” the next. Reward good behaviour. The best reward for a cat is extra fuss and attention, however, never punish a cat as punishment will not be associated with the misdemeanour and will only confuse and frighten the cat, alienating its affection. A distracting noise can be used, for example a hand clap, to stop any undesirable activity.
It is important not to allow rough play where the kitten scratches or bites your hands or ankles since this encourages inappropriate play behaviour and even aggressive behaviour in later life. Fishing toys or soft toys are more appropriate objects for your kitten to practice her predatory skills on!
The Litter Tray
Cats are naturally clean animals. Kittens learn to use their litter tray by copying their mothers. If your kitten is not trained or is used to a different material then a simple training programme should be followed. The litter tray should be placed in a quiet, easily accessible corner on several sheets of newspaper. The kitten will probably need to use it after meals so it is best to gently lift her into the tray after eating. In this way she can build an association between litter tray and toilet functions. Between meal times it is usually easy to tell when a kitten is looking for a suitable corner to use as a toilet: she will start sniffing, scratching and then begin to crouch. At this point place her gently in her litter tray. You may find that your kitten becomes “dirty” and persistently soils in one or several places. If this happens check that the litter tray is clean (cats will reject a dirty tray) and that it is placed where the animal will not be distracted when it is in use. A dirty cat can become a serious domestic problem. Seek advice from your veterinary surgeon if you are unsuccessful with your training.
Grooming should be done on a regular basis, even on short haired cats. Long haired breeds need to be groomed at least once daily. Self grooming is a natural function in the cat and most short haired animals will maintain their coats in a good condition with little hand grooming. However, old or unwell cats and the occasional maverick may need help and can be groomed three or four times per week. If grooming is neglected in long haired cats, knots may occur which, when left, become bigger mats. If the problem is very bad your veterinary surgeon may suggest sedating your cat to groom out the knots. Cats groom themselves by licking. Sometimes this results in an accumulation of fur in the stomach which may be passed through the gut or vomited up as a slimy mass; so-called hairball. Your veterinary surgeon/nurse or good pet store will be able to advise you regarding suitable grooming equipment.
Cats are also born with sharp claws - and also the instinct to keep them in top condition! By training her to use her own scratching post you can prevent your kitten using your favourite armchair.
Scratching posts can be purchased from a good pet shop or you can make one yourself. It should have a tall pole with a firm base to prevent it toppling over. The post should be taller than an adult cat at full stretch (half the fun of having a good scratch is to be able to have a good stretch also) and can be covered with a material able to withstand scratching without tearing or catching.
The material chosen should resemble tree bark which is the natural surface that the cat would use. Once the kitten is old enough to go outside, it will in all probability use trees or fencing posts to scratch. However some individuals find a carpet or a particular piece of furniture irresistible and must be firmly discouraged, once again a distracting noise should be the most appropriate term of punishment.
Feeding your Kitten
Kittens need high quality nutrition for energy, growth and development whereas older cats need less food relative to their bodyweight.
Fully balanced diets are now freely available in both dry and canned form. Dry foods are more economical and good for the teeth too. If your kitten is fed on a tinned food, she may not drink much fresh water as the food will provide about 90% of her daily water requirement. If your kitten is fed on dried food then you will notice her drinking more and it is important that clean water is always available.
By the time you receive your kitten at the age of eight weeks old she should be fully weaned onto solid foods. At first your kitten should be given four small meals daily which may need to be softened with water. As she grows the frequency of feeding will gradually decrease to twice daily by six months of age.
Most adult cats will eat only sufficient food to maintain health. Their requirements will decrease after they have been neutered and the amount of their food should be adjusted. However, some cats become compulsive eaters and owners should only feed them a measured amount each day to prevent obesity. Ask a member of staff at your veterinary surgery if you would like some advice about an appropriate diet for your kitten or older cat. We also stock a range of premium diets specifically developed for the different stages of a cat’s life.
Tranportation to the Vets
It is not always possible for a veterinary surgeon to visit your cat. In fact it is better to take her in to the surgery where there is specialised equipment and trained staff to deal with emergencies. Cats are often very difficult to examine thoroughly on a home visit.
Many cats, especially if in pain, resent handling. “Scruffing” by the neck is safe, harmless to the cat and ensures a measure of protection to the handler. If a cat is vicious, the best method may be to drop an old thick coat over it. Tuck the edges towards the cat and pick up the whole bundle, placing it in a carrier.
Telephone the surgery to let them know you are on your way with an emergency. Do not give your cat anything to eat or drink.
There are many different products on the market with which to worm your kitten. Your veterinary surgeon or nurse can give you guidance as to which product is suitable for your kitten. The frequency of dosing depends on the product used and the instructions should be followed carefully. Kittens should be wormed every 2 weeks from the age of 6 weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Most adult cats will require worming every 3 months.
The most common external parasites affecting your cat are fleas. There are different methods of controlling them and your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you which products are suitable. Most of the flea’s development is in the home environment: for example pet bedding, under furniture and mattresses, in carpets etc., and it is necessary to treat this as well. Preventative treatments are required throughout the year since most homes are centrally heated. Veterinary surgeries only stock the best products available and although they may appear more expensive, it is important to realise that they are quite cost effective once broken down to a cost per month and compared with other similar products. These products are usually more effective and safer than over the counter products.
Annual vaccination against flu and enteritis, as well as Feline leukaemia virus is strongly recommended. A general health check is performed at the time of vaccination. Kittens normally are vaccinated from 9 weeks of age.
We recommend that you have your kitten neutered at around six months of age. It is common misconception that a queen should have a litter first or that spaying will alter her in some way. Female cats come into season every two to three weeks throughout most of the year except when pregnant or in the first few weeks of suckling kittens. As many as three litters of kittens can be produced within a years; this creates a great strain on both the cat and owner! Entire toms are more likely to spray indoors; more likely to get involved in fights and also more likely to get run over in the course of their roaming.
Pet healthcare insurance is now commonplace. It can offer you protection against veterinary fees for illness or accident, cover for cattery fees if you have to go into hospital or compensation if your cat is lost or stolen. A bill for veterinary treatment following a road traffic accident can run into many hundreds of pounds if orthopaedic surgery is necessary so it is wise to be prepared. Cover can also include the new growing branch of complementary medicines such as acupuncture, homoeopathy or physiotherapy.
Consider having your cat micro-chipped. This is the best insurance against losing your beloved pet. A simple injection in the scruff of the neck ensures that you and your pet will be re-united should it stray. For further information visit www.tracer-microchips.co.uk and also www.petporte.com for information on the new generation of cat flap that will work on your pet’s microchip.
When you make your travel arrangements it is important not to forget your cat. If you want to put your cat into a cattery, most will require you to book in advance. It is advisable to visit the cattery before you book your pet’s holiday. It may be possible for a friend or neighbour to look after your cat whilst you are away, in which case you will need to ensure you have all her belongings and enough food for the time you are away. It is wise to ensure your friend has the name, address and telephone number of your veterinary surgeon, in case of emergency. There are also organisations which will provide someone to look after your cat in your own home whilst you are away.