A new kitten brings immediate joy and excitement to almost any household. But before you bring one home, get down on your hands and knees and think like a kitten. “Kittens are so active, playful and curious that they easily find things that are not safe to play with,” says cat owner Kerry-Ann Crawford, who enjoys life with two cats, aged 2 and 18 years. “At this level, you will be able to see certain items in a different light, such as hanging drapery cords that your kitten can easily get tangled in and coins that sometimes fall out of pockets.”
Your Kitten Checklist
There are a number of other steps you can take. We asked veterinarians, cat care experts and longtime cat owners for their best advice when it comes to bringing home an adorable little furball.
- Kitten-proof your home. Kittens, like toddlers, can find trouble in an instant. Be wary of dangling cords, toxic plants and open toilet seats. A curious kitten might be able to crawl into a toilet, but not back out. Your kitten’s little razor-sharp teeth can bite into an electric cord. Understand that kittens can find their way into impossibly small spaces. “It’s surprising what tight hiding spaces a kitten can get into, so make sure there aren’t holes in walls,” says Shari Shiffer-Krieger, who has fostered hundreds of kittens as executive director of the Cat Care Society in Lakewood, Colo.
- Make your kitten at home. If possible, bring a towel, blanket or kitty bed you’re going to use at home, and have your kitten’s mother or siblings play on it or rub against it, advises Debra Decker, head of marketing for The International Cat Association. This will provide familiar scents when your kitten settles into your home. You can do this with your carrier too.
- Think cuddly. Pick up a few baby receiving blankets for your new kitten. They’re inexpensive, easy to toss in the wash if mussed, and your kitten will love them, says Shiffer-Krieger. “Flannel blankets feel like ‘Mama,’ so kittens love to snuggle in them.”
- Corral that kitten. For now, it’s best to make your kitten a temporary home in one room, with toys, bedding, a scratching post, a litter box, food and water. Make sure the litter and food and water are in separate areas. This helps you manage your kitten, provides a sanctuary from other household pets, allows for adjustment time and gives your kitten a safe place to retreat to once you allow it to roam your home, says Shiffer-Krieger. Use extreme caution when introducing your kitten to adult dogs in the household, advises Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. It’s difficult to predict whether an adult dog will feel nurturing toward a kitten or see it as prey.
- Prepare for accidents. Invest in several litter boxes. “Kittens are just like children and wait until the last minute to use the litter box,” says Shiffer-Krieger. “As the kitten gets older, you can do away with some of the litter boxes. Also, it isn’t a bad idea to occasionally take the kitten physically to the litter box in case it forgot to go.”
- Protect your property. When it comes to thinking like your kitten, don’t assume anything is off limits, says Kim White, who adopted two Egyptian Mau kittens a few years ago. “Kittens are like Velcro and stick to everything,” she says. “Make no assumptions about what you think they won’t be able to get into.”
- Visit your veterinarian. Your cat’s long, happy life depends on its good health. It’s best to schedule a veterinarian visit that first week, say experts.
The very good news is that the most important thing you can do will come naturally. “Give a kitten lots of love and attention, and they will return it,” says Shiffer-Krieger.