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.
The location of the toilet is very important as well. It should be at a quiet location with minimum foot traffic. If you have more than 1 cat, the easy formula for the ideal number of litter trays is the number of cats, plus 1.
Watch how your kitten uses the litter, if they tend to place less than two feet on the litter at a time, then they may not quite like the texture of it. If that is the case, offer a different type of litter.
Your kitten will learn the quickest when there is a set routine and when they are having a comfortable experience. Give rewards when the kitten is doing it right, which will help as well. Never punish your kitten for getting it wrong, punishment will set you back as it has detrimental effects on learning and mental health.
2. Scratching posts + perching spots
Scratching is an important form of communication for cats, through which they leave both visual and olfactory (smelling) signals about where they live and where they perform their usual activities. That is why cats usually return to scratch at the same spots.
Scratching posts should be provided at the cat’s preferred locations throughout the house. In addition to location, the texture of the surface is an essential factor that attracts the cat. You should reward your kitten when they scratch at the desired location, whilst distract and redirect your kitten when they scratch on furniture. Once again, reward-based training is the most effective method for teaching your kitten to choose the right place to scratch.
Most cats prefer to rest on elevated places instead of on the floor. Cats are both predator and prey species, which is why they like to be able to surveillance their surroundings to feel safe. Some options are floating shelves on the wall, tall cat trees or suction-mounted resting platforms on the windows.
Have you heard of the over-the-counter pheromone called Feliway?
Cat mothers release a pheromone after giving birth, which makes her kittens feel safe and calm. Feliway mimics this pheromone and is scientifically proven to help kittens during the transition period to a new environment. I highly recommend having the Feliway diffuser plugged in a day before the kittens’s arrival.
4. The excitement of meeting the family
I understand that kittens are very cute and cuddly. But just take a moment to think about how you would like to be greeted by an absolute stranger in their house. With an intense amount of physical touch or with a gentle and friendly welcome?
A good way to introduce your kitten to your house is to put them on the floor while everyone is calmly sitting down. Let them discover the environment, by sniffing, approaching people by choice and even urinating and defecating without being screamed at! Being able to do things by choice, and at their own pace, equals less stress.
It can also be helpful to throw a few treats on the ground, so the kitten feels positively rewarded for the exploration. After everyone has greeted the kitten nicely and gently, you can show them around their new home, once again, slowly and at their pace.
5. When your kitten is not sleeping at night
With the excitement of getting a new kitten, you will most likely have (or already had) some sleepless nights. This will probably also affect your new family member. It is not uncommon for kittens to wake up in the middle of the first few nights and feel a bit anxious.
Make sure the bed is in a warm location, where it is quiet and you are nearby. Give your kitten reassurance whenever he/she needs it. Kittens should also be sleeping during the day as well, since they require about 17-20 hours of sleep per day (which is quite a lot, isn’t it!). If you see your kitten taking a nap during the day, please do not disturb them.
6. Keep your kitten safe while they explore
Kittens are always busy and they love exploring the world with their mouth. As part of the kitten’s development process, it is very important for them to be able to do so without facing bad consequences.
Do a safety check around the house to make sure nothing chewable and small is accessible to them. Cats love playing with strings and threads. However, kittens may ingest them, which can result in a bowel obstruction. That can be a very dangerous condition, which is why you have to supervise your kitten.
Close the doors of rooms that you do not want your kitten to enter
Have childproof locks on kitchen, bathroom and laundry cupboards
Use baby gates and crates to keep your kitten in a confined and safe area
Crate training your kitten should be on your first week’s to-do-list
When your kitten is outside remember that some plants can be toxic to cats
Ensure your yard is properly fenced and netted so your kitten does not climb the fence.
Did you know that lilies are highly toxic to cats? Ingestion of even a small amount of the plant can cause acute kidney failure. Make sure you never have lilies in your house!
7. Health check
Take your kitten to the vet in the first week, so that they become familiar with the medical environment and the staff. Bring lots of treats with you and offer them during the entire visit to create a positive association with the vet. Regular health checks can help to detect issues early and will guarantee a healthier and happier life for you kitten. It is essential to go for a check-up to the vet at least once per year.
Training a new kitten is not a simple task and it is absolutely okay to ask for help. You can contact us, if you find yourself hitting a hurdle (which a lot of people do). We offer kitten behaviour consultations to help you identify what your kitten needs, what they are trying to communicate and what you can do to improve your training techniques and strengthen your relationship.
A healthy and relaxed kitten should settle into your household within a week. It is not normal if your kitten is very skittish and nervous, does not want to interact with you and is hiding away, which could indicate that an early intervention may be required.
Our kitten consultation also includes a free health check of your kitten to make sure they are healthy and happy. We will also provide you with nutritional advice and we will answer any other questions that you can think of! Visit our website for more information!