Your new kitten
Have a litter tray and kitten food ready when you take your kitten home. You’ll also need a warm, quiet place for the kitten to sleep.
Keeping food and water bowls at a distance from each other is a good idea as cats often don’t like to drink next to where they eat. The litter tray should be well away from food and bedding – cats like a bit of privacy too.
It’s important to start training your kitten from the moment you bring your new kitten home. (This also applies to an older cat recently introduced into your household.) There are synthetic pheromone analogue products available from your veterinarian that may help your kitten feel more comfortable and secure in its new home.
Getting along with others
Cats need to feel comfortable with other cats as well as people if they’re to become happy members of a household.
Being restrained and elevated does not come naturally to cats so kittens need to learn that people like to pick them up. The earlier kittens are picked up and handled, the better.
Kittens often like a playmate and two kittens together are usually good for each other! They’re more likely to get on if they’re siblings than if they are from separate litters.
Kitten Kindies® are ideal for kittens under 14 weeks of age. They allow kittens to explore and develop confidence in being in new surroundings and learn to interact with each other.
Playing with appropriate toys helps kittens learn to divert natural behaviours such as stalking into other more socially acceptable behaviours such as playing with toys.
Training your kitten at home
Kittens can be trained to do just about anything, provided you:
- are patient
- keep the training sessions short (less than 2–3 minutes)
- use rewards such as praise and food.
Small tasty morsels, such as cooked chicken work very well as training rewards.
To train your kitten to come, call its name in a bright, friendly tone and say the word “come”, especially at meal times. Reward immediately when your cat approaches and never punish your cat if it is slow to respond.
To teach your kitten to sit, hold a treat in front of your kitten’s nose and move your hand slowly up and back over your kitten’s head towards its back. As the kitten follows the treat, the head will go back and the bottom goes down. There is no need to push on its back. Repeat the exercise often. When your kitten is sitting consistently, then start to use the word “sit”. Soon your kitten will sit on cue!
Teaching tricks such as “give me five” or “shake paws” also involves rewards. Just wait for your kitten to lift its paw and reward immediately.
Punishing cats that are slow to respond will never work and can aggravate problems! If you catch your cat doing something that you don’t want it to do, distract it by clapping your hands, quietly ask your cat to come and give a reward straight away. If problems persist, consult your veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist.
Gently handle your kitten every day
To normalise the experience of being handled by yourself and your veterinarian, handle your kitten gently every day.
Speak softly and reward it with quiet praise when it rests comfortably in your arms or on your lap. Gently touch your kitten’s paws, file its nails, look in its ears, open its mouth, and clean its teeth.
Always reward your cat for calm and relaxed behaviour.
Groom your kitten (or cat) every day. Longhaired cats might need combing twice a day to prevent knots and to remove debris. Gently pull a fine toothed flea comb through the coat down the back and each side of the neck following the direction of the fur. It will become part of your cat’s social ritual – cats that get along and know each other well like to groom each other.
Cats will use a litter tray quite easily. To minimise issues:
- Provide a tray that is big enough for the cat. About 1½ times the length of an adult cat is the minimum size
- Put the tray somewhere easily accessible to the kitten
- Keep the tray away from high traffic areas. Cats like privacy!
- Litter trays and food bowls should be kept away from each other
- Clean the tray daily. This is important for covered trays
- Praise your kitten when it uses the litter tray
- If you have more than one cat in the household, provide one litter tray per cat and one extra if possible. This also applies to single cat households, especially if you are away for long periods of the day
- Place each litter tray in a different location or room (not side by side) to prevent one cat blocking another cat’s access.
Keeping cats indoors keeps them safe from cars, dogs and other cats. It also helps protect native wildlife. It’s best to train the cat from when they’re a kitten.
As vertical space is more important than horizontal space to a cat, provide shelves and hidey holes up high that the cat can use. Make them attractive by locating them in sunny spots and placing soft bedding there. This way the cat will be more attracted to those areas than to the kitchen bench.
Toys for the kitten to play with are also important, even if you are not home. Anything that moves can be interesting. Simple toys like a stuffed sock, ping pong balls and cardboard boxes will keep a kitten amused for hours. Do not leave string lying around when you cannot supervise your kitten. If swallowed, string can choke or cause other serious medical problems.
Cats also often eat grass, so grow your cat its own garden with cat nip, cat mint, or cat grass. Indoor plants, such as lilies however are toxic. Remove these from the rooms the cat can access.
Remember to actively play with your cat, but do not use your hands and feet as toys! A 10 to 15 minute daily playtime is ideal.
You can hide dried food for your cat to find rather than just feeding from a bowl. Use food puzzles and foraging devices to mimic natural behaviour and keep your kitten’s mind and body active. You can also teach your cat to walk on a harness or a lead for controlled excursions outside.
Scratching is normal behaviour for cats and is used for communication. It’s a visual and a scent marker that allows messages to remain long after the cat has left the area.
Scratching posts need to be:
- Covered with a suitable loose-weave material such as hessian
- Sturdy and have a stable base so it doesn’t topple over
- Tall enough (or long enough if it is horizontal) to allow your cat to really stretch. Some cats like to scratch on vertical surfaces, others on flat surfaces
- Placed where the cat will use it, usually a prominent area or in front of where the cat has already started to scratch.
Don’t replace the material once it’s worn and torn – that’s when it means the most to the cat as it is full of meaning! You should cover the areas you don’t want scratched with thick plastic as most cats don’t find it attractive.
If you want to bath your cat, you can, and the sooner you start the better. Cats do not cope with forceful restraint so avoid grabbing your cat or holding too tightly.
Some tips for stress-free bathing:
- Start when you first get your kitten
- Keep the water warm. A cat’s body temperature is higher than ours (about 38.6°C), so if the water feels lukewarm to you, it may feel cold to the cat.
- Trim or file their nails before you bath them, so if they do react, they are less likely to hurt you.
- Have a mat, rack, or even a towel on the bottom of the tub for the cat to cling to. This should make them feel more secure.
- Cats don’t like being underwater, so using a shower attachment in a bath or sink works really well as the water can run down the drain instead of rising up the cat’s legs. You need to hold the shower attachment against your cat’s body so that cat doesn’t feel rained on.
Kittens and cats can be affectionate and playful and can bring much pleasure to our lives. Just patting a cat can lower your blood pressure and help you feel less stressed.
Have a great time with your new kitten!
Kitten Kindies® is a registered trademark of Kersti Seksel.
This content was originally published by Australian Small Animal Veterinarians (ASAV), a special interest group of The Australian Veterinary Association.