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Cat Kitten Care - The Ins and Outs Of Effective Kitten Care


What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

There are many things to know about raising a healthy kitten, and the biggest of these is understanding what it means to be a cat. I think a lot of us are pretty comfortable understanding how a dog would fit into a family. Still, there are many misconceptions about what's normal for cat behavior, what they enjoy in terms of interactions and activities, and how we can best keep them healthy, both mentally and physically.

On top of that, we need to make sure that they get enough physical activity and exercise, which is a little bit more challenging with most cats than just taking a dog for a walk. Make sure you have good nutrition and good preventative care. Cats often get forgotten when we think about annual checkups, vaccinations, and preventatives, so all those things need to be considered.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

That's kind of individual. Just like each person has different ways that they like to interact. Some people love to hug. Some people don't. Cats are the same way. Some cats are super affectionate and love to be picked up and cuddled, while other cats really would prefer a polite discussion sitting five feet apart on the couch. You have to learn about your individual cat and how they like to be handled, and work with them to condition them to how you would like to interact with them.

Whenever you need to pick up your cat, whether it's because you want to cuddle with them or you need to pick them up to keep them safe, you want to make sure they feel well supported—a hand under the chest, a hand under the back legs, just so they don't feel like they're falling, that they're comfortable, and that their weight's supported.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

Look at what they're doing. Are they eating and drinking? Any vomiting or diarrhea? Are they interacting in a way that you feel is normal? Once you've been around your kitten for a little while, you're going to know. Are they one that's always up in my business, climbing through my cereal bowl, or do they tend to kind of observe from afar? Any changes in behavior - whether they become more or less clingy - indicate that something is going on. Changes in appetite, attitude, activity level, all those sorts of things can give us a good idea of what's going on with your kitty, so if you notice any changes, don't hesitate to call.

How should I feed my kitten?

Young kittens can get away with free-choice feeding, meaning there's food down all the time, but I feel like most adult cats don't do well in that scenario. Because adult cats don’t do as well with free-choice feeding, it’s best to set up some sort of meal feeding routine early on. For example, my cats get a small amount of canned food in the morning and a small portion of dry food in the evening to have a structured mealtime.

I also make sure that my cats have to work for some of their food, so we get a little mental stimulation. We use puzzle feeders or hunter feeder toys in which the cat either has to search around the house to find the food or they have to work through some sort of puzzle or contraption to get the food. These exercises go a long way for enrichment and make the meal more satisfying for them.

What are some products I might need for my kitten?

That depends on your cat, your lifestyle, and how crazy cat lady, cat man, or cat dad you want to get. You can go super simple there with making sure that they have access to water, food, and pretty much everything else can be normal stuff you'd find in the house. However, you can also go all the way to getting them one of those giant cat wheels—it’s almost like a hamster wheel that you can use for exercise.

You can get creative with furniture, wall mountings, and other things to give your cats things to do. You can build outdoor structures for your cats. You can run the gamut. It comes down to what gets you excited, what gets your cat excited, and what makes sense for your living situation.

How soon should I bring my new kitten to see a veterinarian?

Pretty much as soon as possible. We always want to see any new pet within the first few days that you add them to your family so we can help you make sure that they're healthy. We look for any underlying health conditions, especially in kittens. We want to look for evidence of parasites, fleas, and any birth defects like heart murmurs, hernias, or things like that so we can address them as soon as possible.

We also want to make sure that you're set up for success, so that means understanding kitten behavior and how to manage these sorts of things that can come up that can sometimes make your kitten feel like a little demon, even though it's normal behavior. We want to set you up for handling these situations and making sure that we're going to set the foundation for a perfect long-term relationship.

How can I get the most out of my first vet visit with my new kitten?

For any vet visit, come as prepared as possible; write down your questions. Make sure you know exactly what you're feeding them and what type of litter you’re using, including the brand, the texture, whether it's like a plastic bead or a clumping clay, and any fragrances. Even though they seem like silly details, all these sorts of things can actually play into some medical and behavioral issues.

Having this information can be very valuable. That also goes for any supplements, preventatives, and then any concerns that you have health-wise. Is the kitten acting weird? Do they seem to be limping? Are they not eating well? If you write them down and have a clear understanding of your questions, that can make a huge difference.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten care visit?

We always do a complete nose-to-tail exam, so we're looking at every body system, listening to their hearts, looking in their ears, looking at their teeth, really trying to get a good overall picture of their health, but we're also going to spend a lot of time talking. We want to know how your house is set up and what you expect in terms of your relationships with your cat.

Is this cat going to be kind of a couch ornament? Are you planning on doing training with your cat? Do you want to walk your cat on a leash? We want to do whatever we can to help get you the tools that you need to have a successful relationship, so on top of just doing the physical stuff, in terms of examination, we'll talk about vaccines, those sorts of things. We want to know what's important to you and your relationship with your cat so we can help you do that.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in my kitten?

Take note of any significant changes. If your kitten has typically been a little rascal, and they're just kind of sleeping the day away, or if you see changes in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, litter box issues (meaning they're not peeing or pooping where they're supposed to), or any other concerns at all, let us know. I'd always rather that you call me every single day with a question than let these things build up or get worse.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

I always recommend against Dr. Google, especially after the sun goes down. Everything sounds way worse when you're on WebMD or PetMD because it always ends up being something deadly. If you have concerns, come to me. That's what I'm here for. I want to help you figure out what's going on and get your kitten healthy, and I don't want you to be stressing about it at all.

When should my kitten get vaccinations?

We like to start vaccines between six and eight weeks of age. In most cases, we see kittens between eight and 10 weeks, so at that first visit, we're at least going to do a distemper shot. We may consider starting the leukemia series at that point, but we'll talk to you about the pros and cons and lifestyle.

We like to booster vaccines every three to four weeks until about 14 to 16 weeks of age, just to make sure we get good immunity. We want to see your kitten at least twice during that early period to look at their health, but more so to make sure that your relationship is developing the way that you want. We also want to ensure we're not having major behavioral issues, that the litter training's going well, and to help you form a good foundation.

What do I need to know about kitten behavior?

Kittens can be very challenging. They are little predators, but they are also somewhat of a prey species as well. So they are both predator and prey, which can make their behaviors confusing. And of course, it’s painful when they climb up your leg when you're walking down the hallway! But most. Still, most behaviors we find super annoying are normal kitten behaviors.

Keep in mind where the cat's coming from and their typical role in an environment. Learning to manage those sorts of behaviors and reinforcing the behaviors that we want are really important. When you're coming up with something and kind of hitting a wall in terms of getting the behaviors that you want, call us. That's what we're here for, and the earlier we intervene and change that trajectory, the more successful we're going to be.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Kitten Care - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

How much biting and scratching is normal kitten behavior?

In general, kittens bite and scratch and get into any kind of trouble that they can. The kitten stage is really about learning how to be a cat in a wild-type situation. They're learning how to catch and subdue prey. And a lot of that comes out as anything that's fast-moving or super interesting they're going to pounce on and try and hold, or even do that silly little bunny kick that they do with their back legs. Biting and scratching are normal. We just need to teach the kitten how we want them to interact with us throughout our life together. When these sorts of behaviors happen, we need to redirect them to something that we want them to do or avoid these situations overall in managing how we play with our cats.

How can I get my kitten to calm down?

That can be challenging. I think the best way to have calm moments with your kitten is to make sure they're getting the stimulation that they need both mentally and physically. That can be somewhat challenging sometimes because it doesn't come naturally to us to play with a kitten or interact with a kitten the way they need. I think it's a great idea when you're considering getting a kitten to get more than one kitten at a time. Get one to two kittens, ideally from different litters, so there is a little bit of a distinct personality, so they learn to interact appropriately. Ensure they are relatively close in age because they can get some of that craziness out on each other versus on your arms and legs. But if you're not going to do that for whatever reason and you're going to have a solitary kitten, you must have different stimulation for them.

At least once or twice a day, plan for some interactive play. And that should be with a toy or some sort of instrument, not your hands or your feet, even if it's adorable when they're a tiny little fluff ball chewing on your toe. It won’t be cute in about a month and a half when they have the talons and the fangs. So we must never use our body parts to play with the kittens because that tends to cause problems later on.

Use a wand or some other sort of toy, stuffed toy, or even paper balls. Fulfill that need for your kitten to chase or grab or chew on something that doesn't involve your body. I want to bring up the idea of laser pointers, as a lot of stores advocate using laser pointers, and you see them on TV as a way to get your cat exercise. I don't like to use laser pointers with dogs or cats. It can sometimes lead to frustration because they never physically get to catch or bite or grab anything. And in some rare situations, they can lead to obsessive or compulsive behaviors and turn into a behavior problem. So I would stick to toys that they can give some physical satisfaction from grabbing or chewing on.

How do I get my kitten to play appropriately?

That kind of goes into some of the stuff that we already talked about, setting them up for success by not ever allowing your hand or other body parts to be seen as toys. Use things that they're allowed to play with whenever you're interacting with them. And that doesn't have to be anything complicated or fancy from the store. It can be a string or a ball, or an old stuffy or something like that, but just set them up for success by giving them good play options.

Is it okay to punish my kitten?

Never. I know that sounds crazy, but punishment is never a good option. When we're looking at our relationship with our cat, punishment really damages the relationship. When cats see us, they should see that we are a source of comfort and stability and food. If we inflict pain on our cat in any way, it's going to damage that relationship. Furthermore, studies have shown that aversive types of reinforcement, so spray bottles, making the scary noise, and those sorts of things don't work over the long term. Unless you can guarantee that that negative thing will happen every time your cat exhibits a behavior, it's just not going to work.

Whereas if we reinforce the behaviors we want, so say, for example, your cat’s getting on the counter, and it's driving you nuts. Why is your kitten doing that? Or why is your cat doing that? They're doing that for a couple of reasons. One, cats like to have vertical spaces. They want to be above things. They like to "look down on us" in some ways. And so we need to give them a place that they can do that. If you don't want them on your counters, give them somewhere else to be. Say, it's a cat tree or a shelf built for them. And when they use those sorts of resources, reinforce that behavior by giving them a treat or praise or whatever you need.

Training can be beneficial for this teaching. A cat command or targeting with touch can be constructive to redirect them to the location you want. Another reason cats get on a counter is that there's often food up there. And so we need to avoid allowing them to find food on counters. So rather than spraying your cat with a spray bottle, the times you catch them on the counter, just make sure they don't have a good reason to get on the counter and give them other opportunities for that vertical space they're looking for.

Does my kitten need a scratching post?

I would say 99% of the time, the answer is yes. Scratching is normal behavior for cats, and we need to give them an outlet for it because if we don't, they will scratch things we don't want them to. And so things to think about are the surfaces. Cats have different preferences. Some cats like to scratch on carpet, some cats like cardboard, and some cats like that sisal rope that you'll see. So you need to find the substance or substances that your cats enjoy. And then locations also important. Cats oftentimes want to scratch where they are sleeping or eating. So oftentimes they'll wake up, do a good stretch and do some scratching. And so you need to have locations throughout the house where they have that opportunity and they need to have opportunities to do it on substances that they enjoy.

How can I bond with my kitten?

So food is love with our pets. Most kittens are pretty food motivated. And so doing some hand feeding when they're young so that they see you as a source of food, and therefore affection can go a long way to build that relationship. Not many people think about this, but training can also be an excellent way to bond with your cat. It's fun—who doesn't want a cat that gives you a high five? But it also builds that bond and communication so that when you want your cat to get off the counter, or you need your cat to be safe, or you need to give your cat medication, these are all things that we can train them to be comfortable with, and that can improve our relationship over time.

So give your kittens a lot of delicious food within reason, as we don't want super chubby kitties with health problems. But using food as reinforcement and food to build bonds is essential. But youth training can also be a lot of fun. Check out YouTube. There are a million great videos of cats doing pretty amazing things.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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