Congratulations new kitten parents! What an exciting time! Getting a kitten is a tremendous commitment and starting it right is very important for your new family member to feel safe and welcome in your home.
When adopting, your kitten should hopefully be at least 8 weeks of age or older, which is the best time for them to leave their mum and litter-mates. At this age, they are physically and mentally developed enough and have received adequate socialisation with their own species. However, the socialisation period doesn’t just stop here, as the next 6 weeks will be just as critical for your new family member.
Socialisation means having interactions with the same species, or other species, in a socially acceptable way. Through socialisation, animals learn what normal behaviour is, what is safe in their surroundings and what could potentially be dangerous, and they develop communication and survival skills. It sounds very important, doesn’t it?
To ensure that your pet is socialised effectively and positively, it should be supervised in the process. Similarly, children have to learn how to navigate life in a social group, including arguing and reconciling at times, and therefore an adult needs to be nearby to provide guidance and to resolve conflicts.
A common myth is that you cannot train a cat. That is not even to close to the truth. All animals need to survive through constantly adapting. They have to learn what is dangerous and what keeps them safe, how to obtain resources and how to source nutrition.
Science has taught us that all mammal brains are similar in structure and function, meaning that we employ similar strategies when it comes to learning. The brains of animals are also constantly developing as they are making associations to things or people in their surroundings, which leads to modifications in their behaviour.
For example, animals in the zoo are able to learn to cooperate with their keepers and voluntarily perform behaviour that has been taught to them. So, enjoy teaching your kitten some tricks!
Positive reinforcement should be the only method of training that you use to teach your kitten. This way, you will become a respectable leader for your kitten, whose company they fully enjoy. Use food, treats and praise to make the training fun, encouraging and rewarding. Punishment has no place in modern science-based animal training as it will damage your bond and relationship and create deep-seated fears.
1. Introducing your kitten to the new home – all the basic needs
I am sure you have already organised most of the essentials before bringing your kitten home – such as beds, toys, food and water stations or litter trays.
Beds are comfortable resting places that the kitten should have access to throughout the house. You can have as many beds as you would like your kitten to have. I would suggest placing one in the activity hub of the house, and one in your own resting area.
Kittens will seek out a companion to feel safe. After all, they only just left the litter where they had companionship 24/7. A sudden change in their environment and companionship schedule can be very stressful. If your kitten is crying or seeking attention, offer gentle petting and vocal reassurance to help them settle.
Food and water stations must be easy to access. Elevate the bowls above the ground to your kitten’s shoulder height and make sure to keep food and water bowls separate from each other. It is important to ask the previous owner what the kitten was being fed. Keep your kitten on the same food for a few days and make a slow transition to the new diet over a week. In general, I recommend a premium quality kitten diet that suits the particular breed to ensure a balanced nutrition. These products can be found at your local pet shop and vet.
Have you heard of enrichment feeding tools? They are essential for both mental and physical enrichment. I discuss them further in this article!
Another important question to ask the previous owner is what sort of cat litter and litter tray they used. At 8 weeks of age, your kitten should have some idea and preference around toileting. To minimise frustration (for both yourself and the kitten), try to keep it simple by working with the routine the kitten is already familiar with.
This means taking your kitten to the toilet when they have the urge to go, which is usually:
just after getting out of bed
after a meal and
Decide on a specific location for toileting and try to stick with it. The litter tray should be as shallow as possible, so it is easy to access, and as large as possible. The ideal size is 2.5 times the body length of your cat. Considering this, most litter trays available at the shop are actually too small for any cat, but you can get plastic organisers from homeware stores that suit the purpose.