Congratulations! You’ve added a new kitten to the family. This is a fun and exciting time as you get to know this adorable little newcomer. This is also a time when a great amount of learning takes place and your kitten needs you to be prepared so you can start her off on the right foot. To make things easier, efficient and safe for everyone concerned, here is a list of some general essentials to guide you in the right direction. If this is your first experience with a cat though, I strongly suggest you take the time to read a good book on kitten and cat care because there are so many details that can’t be included in a brief article. Being prepared on how to safeguard your kitten, bond, train and provide proper veterinary and nutritional care will help ensure your newest furry family member has a long and healthy life. It’s also important to know how cats communicate and show affection. For many first-time cat parents, they make the mistake of comparing cats to dogs and that’s a losing situation for everyone. Cats aren’t little dogs. There are also many training mistakes that are easy to make as you guide your little kitten through life. You can find my step-by-step training techniques as well as all the other information you’ll need on raising your kitten in my book, Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat and not a sour puss.
This article will give you an introduction to the basic essentials your new kitten will need, so here we go.
Basic Equipment for Kittens
- Good quality kitten food
- Fresh water
- A “sanctuary” room where he can be initially confined
- Uncovered litter box (low sides for easy entry)
- Scoopable, unscented litter
- Litter scoop
- Food bowl (a size that’s easy for a kitten)
- Water bowl (separate from the food bowl)
- Scratching post (sisal covered)
- Soft grooming brush
- Nail trimmers
- Safe toys for solo play
- Interactive play toys (fishing pole design)
- Cozy bed
- Hiding places (box on its side, cat tunnel, etc)
- Cat carrier
- Cat tree (for climbing)
- Identification (microchip, ID tag, breakaway collar)
- Treats for training (or you can use the kitten’s food)
- Clicker (optional training tool)
First Stop for Your Kitten: The Veterinary Clinic
Your kitten will need lifelong veterinary care and the time to start is right now. Depending upon where you got your kitten and her current age, she may need to begin or continue her initial kitten vaccinations and deworming. Even if she has had her vaccinations before you got her, an initial visit to the veterinarian for a checkup is important before bringing her home, especially if you have other pets at home already.
Your veterinarian can also give you guidance on nutrition, show you how to do things such as nail trimming and can provide answers to your questions about being a first-time cat parent. It’s also important to establish a client/veterinarian relationship now, while your new family member is just starting out.
You can find more information in the following article:
A Safe Place for a Kitten to Land
Even though you’re probably so excited to begin your life with the new kitten, keep in mind that your home environment is unfamiliar and big. That’s a lot for a little kitten to adjust to initially so it’s best to confine her to one room. I have always referred to this as the “sanctuary” room. It can be an extra bedroom or any room you can close off. This way the kitten can get her bearings without being overwhelmed.
Your kitten is also just in the learning stages of activities such as using the litter box, scratching, climbing, exploring, etc. It’s much easier for her to have everything conveniently located right now. Depending upon how young your kitten is, it’s crucial to have her litter box very close by.
Equip the sanctuary room with your kitten’s litter box, a vertical scratching post, a horizontal scratching pad, a few hiding places (paper bags or boxes on their sides), a cozy napping area, food and water (place these far from the litter box).
Your kitten will also need toys. Leave out some safe toys for solo playtime. For interactive playtime you will bring in toys so they can be used with your supervision. You don’t want to leave any toys out that have strings or anything that could pose a danger to your kitten.
Leave the carrier in the sanctuary room for your cat to use as a hiding place if she wants. Line the carrier with a towel and your kitten will have a safe place if she wants to curl up in there.
Start introducing your family members to the kitten while she’s in the sanctuary room but do it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm her. When you aren’t there to supervise the kitten, keep her in the sanctuary room until she’s old enough and confident enough to have the run of the house.
The amount of time your new kitten will have to be in the sanctuary room depends on her age, personality, and whether you currently have other pets at home. If she’s the only pet and she seems comfortable and confident after about 24 hours or so, you can begin to let her explore the house a little at a time. Always make sure she knows where her litter box is and can return to the safety of the sanctuary room. If you have other pets at home then you’ll have to keep the kitten in the sanctuary room as you do a gradual, positive introduction. If she’s a very young kitten, keep her confined to a smaller area until she gets more comfortable navigating around and knows where her litter box is and won’t get lost or disoriented in the house.
The Cat Carrier
Even after your kitten is out of her sanctuary room, keep the cat carrier set up and ready all the time. This will help your kitten become comfortable with its presence and you’ll eventually be able to do some carrier training to help desensitize your kitten to the experience of being in a carrier and also travel itself. It’s never too early to start training her to accept being in a carrier. You can do this by placing treats nearby and also inside the carrier. You can even offer some of her meals in there. While it may be easy to get a kitten in a carrier now, it will be much more difficult to wrestle a full-grown cat in there if she really doesn’t want to go. Training early will save you and your cat lots of stress later. You can find specific information on cat carriers in the following articles:
Getting to Know You
The time that your kitten is in the sanctuary room is the time to begin the bonding process. You can bring in an interactive toy (fishing pole design) to initiate what will hopefully become a lifelong routine for both of you – daily play sessions together. Kittens have lots of energy and they need to be able to learn about their emerging skills so they need to play, climb and jump. If you have a frightened kitten then the fishing pole design of the toy will help create trust because it puts you at enough of a distance so she can relax and enjoy the game.
Bring other family members into the sanctuary room to get to know the kitten. If she’s timid, do it one person at a time.
Kitten-Proofing and Safety
Your kitten will most likely view everything in the house as a potential toy. She’ll also have a strong desire to be vertical so your curtains and bookshelves are potential jungle gyms. Kittens often get themselves into trouble by squeezing into the most unlikely places so take the time to go room by room to kitten-proof. There are things in almost every room that you wouldn’t think could be harmful so it’s important to look at each room from a kitten’s point of view For example, if you have a recliner, it can be easy for the kitten to hide in there and get injured when you put the chair back in the upright position.
Washers and dryers may seem out of reach but kittens easily find their way into there. One way is that a kitten can crawl into a pile of dirty laundry and hide there. You may unknowingly scoop up the laundry and toss it in the washer. Always put each piece of laundry into the washer separately. Also, check the washer and dryer before you turn them on and then again after you empty the laundry before you close the doors again.
Another danger due to a misconception many new cat parents have has to do with a simple ball of yarn. You may have seen lots of pictures of kittens and cats playing with balls of yarn and that might appear to be a convenient and fun toy for a curious kitty but it’s actually potentially deadly. All cats have backward-facing barbs on their tongues that are used in the wild to rasp meat from the bones of prey. The barbs also trap dirt, hair and parasites as cats groom themselves. These barbs are what give your kitten’s tongue that scratchy feeling when she licks you. Because of the way the barbs face, anything that gets attached to the tongue must get swallowed. The cat can’t spit out a piece of yarn or string. Swallowing these types of items can lead to choking and can also cause potentially deadly intestinal blockages. Don’t leave string, yarn, thread or rubber bands around where your kitten can get them. Also, if you see thread hanging from the back end of your kitten, don’t pull it because there may be a needle attached. Take your kitten to the veterinary clinic immediately.
Kittens are playful and curious so it’s crucial that you go through your house room by room and make sure you’ve kitten-proofed.
Here are just some examples of what needs to be done:
- Secure window screens
- Keep all medicine put away
- Don’t leave out string, ribbon, rubber bands or other things that can be swallowed
- Keep household cleansers put away in cabinets
- Use trash cans with lids or secure them in cabinets
- Cut handles off paper bags before offering as a toy
- Don’t let your kitten play with plastic bags
- Cover small openings where a kitten could wedge herself and get stuck
- Secure electrical cords so they don’t dangle
- Coat any dangling electrical cords with a bitter anti-chew product
- Use museum or earthquake wax to secure breakable objects that can’t be put away
- Check the washer and dryer before doing laundry
- Always double-check when closing closets and drawers
- Keep all household plants out of kitten’s reach (most are poisonous to cats)
- Close all sewing and knitting baskets after use and double-check for any pins on the carpet
- Don’t leave candles burning where a kitten could reach them
- Make sure fireplace has a secure screen
- Don’t throw boxes out without first checking if the kitten is hiding there
- Do a “kitten check” before leaving the house in case she’s locked in a closet or drawer
- Block the space behind the refrigerator so the kitten can’t get wedged in there