Time to read 38 minutes
Kittens can make excellent pets, but they have very specific needs. Before buying a kitten, you need to be sure you have the space, time, and money needed to raise a happy, healthy cat.
Kittens can live up to 20 years or more‚ that is a huge commitment. You need to make sure you are willing and able to pay for veterinary bills, food, toys, and enrichment throughout your cat’s lifetime. Think about whether you’d like to buy a pedigree kitten from a trusted breeder or rehome a rescue kitten.
Before buying a kitten
There’s no doubt that cat ownership is extremely rewarding. You and your family gain a loving companion while at the same time giving a cat a happy, permanent home. But did you know that the average cat could cost over £17,000 over a 15-year lifetime? There’s much more to take into account than the initial outlay — think of the weekly food bill, vet fees, insurance costs, and cattery fees, for starters.
As well as making sure cat ownership is within your budget, it’s also important to remember that kittens quickly develop into adult cats. This is a decision that should not be taken lightly! Always seek advice first and bear the following in mind:
Will a kitten suit my lifestyle?
How would a cat fit into your daily routine? If you’re out all day and keep irregular hours, you may want to install a cat flap (once a kitten is old enough to go outside, neutered, and vaccinated). You will also need to provide things to interest your cat, such as scratching posts, toys, and climbing frames. If you are elderly, you should consider that you may easily trip over a lively young kitten and that an older, quieter cat may be more suitable.
Does everyone in the family want a kitten?
Don’t adopt a kitten just because your children want one. The novelty will probably wear off, and it’ll be you who will be left to look after him.
Do you need two kittens?
Kittens like to have a playmate, especially if you will be out of the house quite a bit. They will keep each other entertained and are less likely to be destructive around your home; a single kitten alone will become bored and may turn his attention to scratching and biting things he shouldn’t! If you don’t have another cat or dog and are likely to leave your kitten alone for more than two or three hours a day, it may be kinder to adopt two. However, make sure they will not have to compete for space and that you will be able to provide them each with a litter tray (plus an extra one), beds, scratching posts, food and water bowls, and a choice of hiding places. Do you have other animals? If so, will they get on with your new kitten?
Will my existing cat like a new kitten?
Cats can often live in harmony with each other, but they can also be content on their own. Cats in the wild are usually solitary hunters; however, we know that feral cat colonies can live happily in close social contact, provided food and other resources are abundant. It is often best to introduce cats of the opposite sex, and elderly cats can find it hard to cope with young, energetic kittens.
We’re renowned for being a nation of animal lovers, and while many cat owners consider their pets to be priceless and worth every penny spent on them, we also have to be realistic and make sure a new pet is within our means. Many figures are being thrown around about how much a cat will cost you over his lifetime. Recent estimates have come out at £1,028 a year and £17,200 over a lifetime (15 years), but how accurate are these numbers?
While there are many ways that cat owners can tighten the purse strings, such as adopting a kitten from a rescue center, making their own toys and scratch posts, buying in bulk and taking out pet insurance, general costs such as cat food, litter, and annual vaccinations do add up. Here we aim to give you a guide as to what will be among your initial and ongoing costs (prices shown are estimates only and can vary quite a bit):
- KITTEN — the price can vary from around £250 for a pedigree kitten to approximately £25 upwards for a rescue kitten.
- Initial essentials will vary significantly in price depending on the specific products or brands bought:
- TOYS are essential to keep your kitten active and entertained — around £10 (initial cost).
- Stainless steel or china WATER AND FOOD BOWLS are easy to wash and should be heavy enough to stay in one place and not be tipped over — around £10 (total).
- GROOMING will help to keep your kitten’s coat clean and tangle-free, remove dead skin cells and improve circulation — around £7 for a brush and comb.
- A SCRATCH POST may help to protect your furniture and carpets from your kitten’s sharp claws. He will mark the post with scent from his paw pads to make him feel secure and use it to keep his claws sharp (and remove the outer layer, known as stropping) — from around £20.
- A standard plastic LITTER TRAY will suffice while he is small, although a larger one with a lid should ensure the litter is kept inside once he gets a bit bigger — around £15.
- A BED will give your kitten somewhere cozy, warm, and private to sleep — around £15.
- You will need to collect your kitten in a secure CAT CARRIER, which will also be used on trips to the vet and cattery — around £30.
- A CAT FLAP will allow your cat the freedom of the outdoors when he pleases (if he is an outdoor cat) — around £80 for a microchip cat flap, which will only allow access for your cat.
- NEUTERING — an unneutered female cat can be responsible for many thousands of kittens in 10 years! Neutering a male cat will help reduce tendencies to roam, fight and spray, and prevent him from fathering kittens. The operation will cost around £45. Some charities will have already neutered your kitten or give you a voucher to help you with the cost.
- VACCINATIONS — kittens are usually vaccinated against feline enteritis, two forms of cat flu, and feline leukemia virus. The initial cost is around £55, with annual boosters around £35.
- PEST CONTROL — regular flea and worming treatments are essential for the successful management of pests. Ask your vet for advice on the most appropriate treatment for your cat. This could cost up to around £80 per year.
- IDENTITY — a collar and tag, as well as a microchip, will make sure he can be easily identified should he become lost. Collars are usually unsuitable for kittens under six months of age — but when you do get him one, make sure you can easily slide two fingers beneath it and that it has a quick-release buckle should he get it caught on anything. Microchipping costs around £25, with collars from around £3.99.
- FOOD — you will need to decide whether to feed your kitten wet or dry food or a mixture of both. What you pay will vary according to whether you provide real food or a higher premium food designed to suit lifestyle/life stage, special dietary requirements, or breed.
- LITTER — a suitable litter should absorb liquid, mask smells and be fine enough to be raked by paws and to cover solids. This, together with tray liners and a litter scoop for easy cleaning, as well as a dedicated pet-friendly disinfectant, will cost around £20 per month.
- INSURANCE — having adequate cover means you can permanently settle unexpected vet expenses — available from around £7.50 a month.
- CATTERY — keep your cat safe in the care of a good cattery while you are away — around £98 for one cat for a two-week holiday.
- PET SITTER — allow your cat to stay in the comfort of his own home while you’re away with the help of a pet sitter — costs around £168 for care during a two-week holiday with two visits a day.
- VET BILLS — if your cat needs to see a vet for any reason, then a consultation will cost around £25 plus any required medical treatment. Pet insurance would help cover costs for non-routine problems, i.e., accident and illness, rather than preventative care. Some veterinary practices offer payment schemes to help spread the cost of vaccinations and regular check-ups.
Common kitten problems
Answers to some of the most common kitten dilemmas.
Q My kitten refuses to the toilet outside.
Young cats often feel insecure if they have to toilet outside, mainly if there are a lot of other cats in the neighborhood. All cats should have a litter tray indoors when it is very wet, very cold, or unwell. Otherwise, there is a risk of them peeing in their choice of location in the house. A litter tray is a small price to pay for a clean home! Cats that feel secure in their neighborhood will usually start toileting outside when they are fully grown — at around a year or 18 months old.
Cats that dislike other cats are usually frightened and may never feel safe peeing outside, particularly if the neighborhood is swarming with aggressive cats. Do not leave your kitten outside all day if he is frightened of the neighbors’ cats. He will have nowhere to go to feel safe. Sometimes there are local despot cats that attack other cats. Installing a cat flap will mean he can come and go while you are at work. A microchip cat flap will ensure that no outside cats can get into your home. If, for some reason, you can’t have a cat flap, think about getting a cat kennel as your little cat needs somewhere safe and dry to shelter if you leave him out all day.
Q My indoor kitten constantly claws and sucks my clothes
It could be to do with your kitten’s background; for example, this is quite common among hand-reared kittens. Try to reduce your kitten’s need to indulge his habit by giving him lots of attention and mental stimulation in other ways. As he’s a young cat, he’s likely to have a very high requirement for physical exercise. This can be a problem in indoor pets, so ensure that you provide ample climbing frames, shelves at different heights, an exciting range of toys that regularly change to prevent boredom, and plenty of exciting things to watch like mobiles, glitter balls, or bird feeders.
Make sure you do not react to his habit because any response may reward him, even if you mean it to be negative. Instead, give him attention by throwing toys, dangling fishing rod-style style toys, or whirling a pen torch so that he can chase after the light. Encourage him to seek out treats or small handfuls of dry food in puzzle feeders or scatter them about the house for him to find.
Q My kitten gets tummy upsets. Why?
This should be discussed with a vet, as it will depend on the underlying cause of diarrhea. Diarrhea is common in kittens, and most often, it is a result of infectious agents or is diet-related. The first thing your vet may wish to do after examining him (to ensure there is nothing else to be concerned about) is to collect a fecal sample for bacterial culture and look for parasites.
They may also recommend a particular worming treatment to exclude the possibility of gut parasites. They may suggest trial therapy with a prescription diet formulated for intestinal disease. The likelihood is that it won’t be anything serious and will improve with time and dietary management; however, it is essential to have him checked by your vet and follow their advice.
Q How can I make sure my kitten has the best diet?
There are many choices to be made, taking into account the diet your kitten is currently on, his age, your plans for the future (will they be neutered, for example), your kitten’s health history and immune status, and whether he is in excellent or poor condition. Then there are your personal preferences to consider: do you want to feed wet or dry food or a mixture of both? Do you want to provide a ‘natural’ type diet or a more scientific one, and do you want to feed twice daily, ad-lib, or use some other routine?
Bear in mind it is sometimes worth experimenting to see what suits your kitten best — although it is advisable to introduce new foods gradually. You should feed kitten food until he’s around a year old, then switch to adult. If money is no object, then provide a super-premium dry food — and if you want to add wet, consider the single-serve pouches as they are both convenient and tasty to cats. Try and match your damp and dry brands, as mixing can otherwise dilute the nutritional benefits of one food.
Q What can I give my teething kitten?
Stuff a leg from an old pair of tights with catnip to make a small pillow for your kittens to throw about, bite and practice their natural predatory skills.
Q Why does my kitten need vaccines and boosters?
Vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies and so protect against viral infection. Annual boosters are required to remind the body of its ability to respond in this way. The standard vaccinations are those against cat’ flu and feline enteritis. Feline leukemia (FeLV) vaccine is also recommended.
Q How can I stop my two kittens defecating on the carpet?
You always need at least two, preferably three, litter trays when two cats are using them all the time (one each, plus one spare). They should be placed in private areas, which are not overlooked, so the kittens are not deterred from using them by people walking by. If your kittens are ready to go outside, why not encourage them to use the garden by providing a dedicated latrine area that’s sheltered against weather and hidden from other cats?
About the kitten
Cats and kittens are trendy pets, and there are estimated to be around eight million in the UK alone! Cats are available in hundreds of different breeds, colors, coat types, sizes, and shapes — and every cat has a very individual personality!
Typically, cats live for around 14 years. However, they are known to live for up to 20 years, and sometimes even longer! Therefore getting a kitten is a huge, long-term commitment, so make sure you are fully prepared for kitten ownership!
How life begins for kittens
Most cat owners will not have the privilege of witnessing their kitten’s birth or the immediate, instinctive bond between a mother cat and her babies as they snuggle up together for the very first time. It’s a sight that even professional breeders still experience with a sense of awe.
Kittens are usually born headfirst, although breech deliveries are also considered normal when the kitten is delivered tail first. Kittens are born blind, deaf, and helpless. Newborn kittens are totally reliant on mum and must stay warm to survive.
As soon as a kitten is born, mum will begin cleaning him up. Licking with her rough tongue helps to remove the protective sac each kitten is taken in. It also exposes the kitten’s nose and mouth and stimulates his body’s circulation. In the beginning, kittens are dependent on mum for all their needs. The first milk she produces is known as colostrum and contains vital nutrients and antibodies to provide temporary immunity against disease. If mum cannot have enough milk to nourish all her brood, the kittens may be bottle-fed with a specialist milk formula, with regular feeds throughout the day and night.
Healthy kittens should gain around 15g in weight daily and have doubled their birth weight by the end of the first week. Kittens sleep for nearly three-quarters of their time, and this is important for healthy growth and development. In addition to nursing, mum will also be busy keeping her kittens clean and licking them to help encourage urination and bowel movements. As the kittens grow older, they will copy mum, learning how to clean themselves and use a litter tray.
BIRTH TO TEN DAYS: kittens are born deaf and blind. Their primary need is to eat, sleep, grow and keep warm. They are entirely dependent on their mum.
DAY TEN TO 14: the eyes open and sight develops. This is when the earflaps also begin to unfold and stand upright so that they can hear. Kittens now start to respond to the outside world, new sounds, and gentle handling. They begin to stand, take their first steps, and baby teeth appear.
DAY 14 TO WEEK 14: the critical socialization period when kittens learn how to bond with humans and be happy in their environment. They should be given lots of short handling sessions involving different people and children and start meeting other pets.
WEEKS THREE TO FIVE: kittens can excrete without mum’s help, and weaning begins (this is complete by around eight weeks of age). Kittens become much livelier and start to copy mum by pawing at cat litter. The first signs of predatory behavior appear in the play.
WEEKS SIX TO EIGHT: kittens will be almost entirely eating solid kitten food while still suckling occasionally. At around eight weeks, they should be weaned onto kitten food.
WEEK 14: growth continues but at a slower rate. Kittens are still in their most active play period and become more skilled at running, jumping, and climbing as their balance and physical coordination improve.
SIX TO SEVEN MONTHS: kittens reach sexual maturity, so adolescents should be kept away from unneutered cats of the opposite sex until they have been spayed or castrated. Speak to a vet or charity about early neutering (before six months).
Indoor or outdoor kitten?
While there is an increasing trend towards keeping cats indoors, it’s essential to do what’s right for your pet in your circumstances. Owners who live near busy roads or in flats are more likely to opt to have an indoor-only cat, with other deciding factors being fear of straying, becoming lost or stolen, conflict with neighbors and other cats, and infection. However, owners who live in less hazardous surroundings and more space are often happier to let their cats roam free.
While there are many valid reasons for keeping cats inside, many behaviorists have concerns about the stress that such lifestyles frequently impose on cats. One of the arguments is that indoor cats can become frustrated, manifesting themselves in behavior problems.
While the big wide world can be a dangerous place, life indoors is not entirely rosy! Pet behavior counselor Francesca Riccomini says: “Accidents still happen at home and, unless owners are very clued up, cats can fall foul of poisonous plants and toxic everyday household substances. Physical risk must always be weighed against the advantages that greater freedom of movement provides and the benefits of exploration and exercise accompanying trips outdoors.
“The opportunity to venture outside, away from household pressures, produces stress-relieving endorphins for cats. Indulging in intense physical activity and having somewhere to ‘chill out’ is especially important when space is limited, and cats have to share their indoor environments with people and pets they may find difficult to tolerate, for whatever reason.”
Of course, for the best of both worlds, you could enclose your outside space with a cat run or secure fencing, at least in part, so that your cat could have access to the outdoors.
Remember, once a kitten has had access to the outdoors, he is unlikely to be happy to live an indoor life later down the line. Therefore it is usually recommended that if you want an indoor cat, you get a kitten that has never ventured outside.
Letting your kitten outside
- If you are going to let your kitten out, ensure he is vaccinated and neutered first.
- Check your garden is safe for him to explore and there are no hidden dangers, such as uncovered ponds or toxic plants.
- Accompany him on his first venture and let him out just before mealtimes so you can encourage him back easily
- Keep a door open, so he can run back inside if he feels scared.
- Once he is used to going out, you may want to invest in a cat flap, but make sure he wears a safety collar and is microchipped.
- Ensure your garden is full of climbing opportunities, observation points, hiding places, and shelter
- Provide accessible secluded toileting areas with material that is light and easy to dig a hole in.
- Remember to keep up with worm and flea treatments.
Keeping your kitten indoors
- If you plan to keep your kitten indoors, remind family members to keep windows and doors closed and ensure he has lots of toys. Also, make time to play with him yourself every day.
- Indoor cats need lots of stimulation and opportunities to perform behaviors they would usually enjoy outside. Providing small, rapidly moving objects that can be hunted and feeding your cats in imaginative ways can help.
- Provide high-up resting places and a feline aerobic center for exercise. Persians make ideal house cats because they tend not to be too active and generally enjoy being kept inside.
- Make sure that you can adapt your home to cater to your cat’s needs and provide a choice of facilities. You should provide lots of refuges in elevated positions — such as multi-tiered cat activity centers and safe access to tops of furniture and shelves — throughout the home, as well as adequate toilet facilities (one litter tray per cat and one spare), several beds, and scratch posts.
- You need to control how much your cat eats and ensure he gets plenty of exercises to prevent obesity.
- As indoor cats urinate less frequently, feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is more prevalent.
- Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is most common in multiple cat households with shared litter trays as it is spread via feces.
- Feeding the birds and hanging mobiles or ornaments in the garden could also help to keep your kitten entertained, provided he has a perch near a window.
Bringing your kitten home
An excellent start to your kitten’s new home life will not only help him blossom into a confident young adult, but it’ll do wonders for your relationship too.
Having already planned, you will ideally be at home for several days after you collect your kitten to help him settle in and have a warm room ready where he can feel secure for the first few days, rather than giving him the run of the house initially.
Make sure he has a comfy, safe hideaway, food, and water, positioned away from a litter tray (providing one per kitten, plus one extra), and a scattering of toys for him to play with. It may take a while before he is confident in the same room as you, so be patient. His natural curiosity will soon have him exploring, so just allow him time to adjust.
Creating a safe environment for your kitten
When your kitten is ready to explore further, usually after about four weeks, check around your house, seeing it from a kitten’s eye view. Tidy away small things that might be chewed or could get your little one into trouble and follow these tips:
- Tidy cables and cover them with conduit in case he is tempted to chew
- Keep windows free from Venetian blinds or net curtains that your kitten could get caught up in
- Keep potentially harmful cleaning fluids out of a kitten’s reach.
- Chocolate is toxic to cats, so don’t leave any half-eaten bars lying around.
- Feather toys and toys on string/elastic are great for interactive play but should not be left out when your kitten is on his own if he chokes on the feathers or gets tangled in the string/elastic.
- Keep the bathroom door shut when you run a bath, and make sure the toilet lid is kept down to stop your inquisitive kitten from falling in.
- Keep windows shut to stop your kitten from escaping outside before he’s ready.
- Keep the doors of all your household appliances shut, or you could find your kitten curled up in your tumble dryer — or worse, being inside when it’s turned on.
- Keep small, easily swallowed items away from your kitten’s reach.
- Make sure your kitchen bin has a cat-proof lid.
- Have a fireguard permanently in place to prevent him from venturing up the chimney
- Certain cut flowers and houseplants can be poisonous to cats, particularly lilies. Vases are also easily pulled over and broken. Click here for a list of toxic plants put together by the Feline Advisory Bureau.
Meeting other cats
First impressions count, and taking care of your pets’ initial introductions is essential. Some cats will welcome another feline companion, while others will express their disgust at every possible opportunity, so any mistakes in this process are very hard to rectify. It’s also vital to ensure they don’t have to compete for anything, including food, sleeping places, water, litter tray, and attention from you. The good news is that kittens are often easier to mix because they are sexually immature and often pose a minor threat.
For all introductions, choose a quiet time, so the calm environment reassures your cats. Although you might think the easiest thing would be to let your new kitten mix with your existing cat straight away, this rarely works. Juliette says: “One of the best options is to keep your kitten in a separate room, allowing the existing cat access to the rest of the house. You can then let both cats establish themselves in the environment and feel comfortable. Spend equal time with your kitten and your existing cat until they both feel content. They will be aware of one another’s presence through scent.
“Once both cats are settled, their scents can be mixed. This involves swapping items of bedding or stroking each cat without washing your hands in between. Never rub one cat with an item of bedding and then rub it on the other as this may overwhelm the cat.
“You could also let the new cat explore the rest of the house while the existing cat is outside, so he is used to the area before being mixed.”
When both cats are settled, and you have scent swapped, you can start to open the door slightly and let them meet. When the cats are in the same room, try to distract them as much as possible with toys and food. Your cats will assess each other through eye contact and body posture; if one becomes aggressive, place a pillow or a sheet between them. Never break up a fight yourself, as you may be seen as the wrong person, and you might be scratched.
It will take a little while for both cats to get used to one another, but they will usually settle. If they seem to be getting on well, you can let them meet for short periods, slowly giving them longer together. Separate them during the night as you will not be able to supervise them closely. It is essential never to let the cats chase each other, as once this process has started, it will be almost impossible to stop. Make sure you have plenty of hiding places around the house and give both cats lots of reassurance. In time, most will come to accept the new arrival.
Once your kitten has settled in and accepted you, it’s time to introduce him to your children. Involving them in routine care such as feeding and grooming will help your kitten associate the children with positive events. Show them how to pick up and hold the kitten properly, support him under the bottom, and encourage them to wait until he approaches them for attention. Never leave children under the age of five alone with your kitten and always supervise.
It will take time for your kitten to get used to children and for them to learn that he can easily be frightened by loud noises and sudden movements. Ensure your children know that the kitten is not a toy — they must also learn to leave him in peace while eating or using his litter tray.
Dogs and cats can, despite popular belief, live quite happily together. Juliette Jones, manager of cat welfare at Wood Green, says: “Introducing a new kitten to your dog at home must be done slowly and with great care to help prevent any disasters. Some dogs have powerful predatory instincts and may never be able to live safely with cats.
“It is paramount that you do not force the animals together. Never force them to meet by carrying the kitten towards the dog. Not only will this terrify the kitten, but you could be bitten or scratched by him as he struggles to getaway. Instead, we suggest that you let them investigate one another in their own time. Your dog should also have the ability to get away if the kitten does decide to bug him, and your kitten should have a retreat or ‘safe area’ where the dog cannot go.”
Dog and kitten introductions are best done indoors; the dog should always be on a secure lead whenever the cat is present until you are sure that they are comfortable together and there is no danger for the cat. Reward your dog for not chasing or barking at the kitten. Walking your dog before the initial introduction will help by tiring him out!
Supervise all meetings between the dog and kitten. Never leave them alone in a room together. Place a barrier, such as a baby gate, between the area the dog will occupy and the cat’s safe space so that the cat can come and go at will without the dog being able to follow.
Eating is a pleasurable experience. Use it to help with relationship problems. Place a bowl of food in reach of the kitten but out of the dog’s reach. At the same time, give the dog a treat or a chew. Gradually, as the kitten becomes more used to the dog, you can allow more interaction. Let the dog approach the kitten for a sniff and then call him away. Do this on a lead to prevent sudden disasters and ensure that you can reach the dog away from the kitten by giving him a tasty treat every time he looks out and towards you. You aim to reward the dog for ignoring or turning away from the kitten.
After a couple of weeks, you will have a good idea of whether you feel it is safe to let the dog off the lead when the kitten is present. If the kitten is timid, it may take longer.
Is your kitten healthy?
Providing moggy kittens have had a good start in life; they generally tend to be relatively healthy and hardy. If you’ve decided on a pedigree, find out as much as you can about the breed that appeals, and ask your vet if there are any relevant common health problems you should ask the breeder about.
When you visit, pedigree kittens should be seen with mum, and all should look clean, happy, healthy, and alert. Ask to pick one up so that you can do a health check. If the kitten seems pretty nervous about being handled, this could mean he’s not used to people and may not have been fully socialized, meaning he may find it challenging to settle into a new home.
When you visit your kitten at the breeder’s house or rescue center, cup one hand under his chest and support the rear end with your other hand. Bring him close to your body and gently check the areas below. Even subtle changes in your kitten’s behavior may indicate a problem, so make your regular checks, and continue to do so between annual check-ups and booster vaccinations as he grows up.
The signs of a healthy kitten
- Ears should be clean and free of waxy discharge, which could indicate ear mites.
- Eyes should be clear, free from discharge, soreness, or reddened eyelids. There should be no sign of the grey-colored third eyelid as this could indicate illness.
- Be wary if the kitten sneezes frequently or if his nose is runny.
- Your kitten’s mouth should be a healthy pink.
- Look for any scabby patches on this skin, as this could indicate ringworm.
- Your kitten’s bottom should be clean with no evidence of diarrhea or worms.
- His coat should be clean and not greasy. There should be no dandruff or black specks, which could indicate he has fleas.
- Your kitten should have a complete set of deciduous (baby) teeth. Check that he has a straight bite and has neither an overshot nor undershot jaw, as this could impede the way he eats and develops.
- Ask the breeder/rescue center what health checks have been made to ensure they’re free from inherited diseases or other avoidable diseases.
- A kitten should be bright and alert, playful and confident. This is a sign that he has been well socialized and used to being around people.
- Breeders should keep their kittens until they are around 13 weeks old, by which time they will have had their vaccinations.
- Pedigree kittens should always be seen with mum.
Get your kitten checked out.
An initial health check with your vet is also a good idea to put your mind at rest. They will listen to your kitten’s heart and lungs and also advise you on a diet, vaccinations, flea and worm treatments, plus when you should get your kitten neutered. Moving to a new home is a very stressful period for a young kitten, so insurance is a good idea to help with any problems.
When looking for a cat-friendly vet:
- Enquire about the practice’s fees, services, and facilities
- Make yourself familiar with opening times and emergency procedures.
- Ensure you’re happy about the vet’s location in terms of distance to travel
- Look for a practice accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. (This means they will have volunteered to undergo rigorous inspections)
- Ask other cat owners for their recommendations.
Caring for your kitten
Getting a kitten is a huge responsibility. A kitten relies on you for everything from food to parasite control and creating a happy environment. Most kittens won’t be rehomed until they’re around nine to 12 weeks of age. Read the advice below to find out at what age your kitten will need to be neutered, vaccinated, etc.
At four to six weeks, kittens are usually wormed as they can become infected with roundworms from their mother through her milk. A liquid wormer safe for kittens should be used. It’s only necessary to treat other parasites such as fleas and lice if any evidence of these is visible, such as black specks of flea dirt on the coat and bedding or nits (lice egg cases) stuck to the hairs. Vet advice should be sought about any products that are used at this stage.
Many non-pedigree kittens will be settling into their new homes at around nine weeks of age, and it’s time for a visit to the vet for a thorough health check. The vet will examine the skin, ears, mouth, and anus, as well as listen to your kitten’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Make a note of any questions you may have, as this is a great chance to get advice about the health and welfare of your new bundle of fluff.
Kittens are vulnerable to disease at this age as their immune systems have not yet matured, and they are no longer protected from infection by antibodies from mum’s milk. It is usual for kittens to be vaccinated against feline enteritis, two forms of cat flu (calicivirus and herpesvirus), and feline leukemia, but this may vary depending on local disease risks type of vaccine, and lifestyle. It is advised that indoor cats should receive at least the initial course. Cats that are allowed outside will need annual booster injections. Vaccinations against other ‘agents,’ such as Chlamydia (a cause of conjunctivitis) and Bordetella (that causes an infectious cough), are also available but are not core vaccinations.
Pedigree kittens will have usually completed a course of vaccinations before they leave their breeder, but it would still be a good idea for them to have a health check.
Although at 12 weeks, kittens are physically pretty much like ‘little adults,’ they do have extraordinary health needs. You’ll need to go back to the vets for the second part of the initial course of vaccinations. It’s also an excellent chance to deal with any non-urgent health issues that may have arisen since the previous visit.
Ask your vet how long you should keep your kitten indoors afterward, as it varies from one to two weeks depending on the vaccine used. (Mark a date in your diary now for the annual health check and booster vaccination in a year!)
If you plan to let your kitten out into your garden or outdoor run, he’s likely to be ready to head out at around 14 weeks (although it is advisable to wait until your kitten is neutered). Start a program of regular flea control now. The most modern products combine effective flea control and worming in easy-to-use spot-on from your vet. If you decide to buy over-the-counter products, make sure they are suitable for kittens as some are too strong to use on kittens under six months of age. If your kitten arrived with ‘pests’ and they have already made themselves at home, you will also need to use a household insecticidal spray on carpets and furnishings.
Neutering, which can be carried out from 20 weeks, will prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce antisocial behavior. Womb infections and breast cancer are often seen in unneutered female cats. Males that roam long distances to seek out females and protect their territory can be prone to recurrent abscesses from fighting wounds and picking up diseases. Neutered cats are proven to have a significantly longer life expectancy.
If you plan to travel with your pet in the future, he will need to be microchipped and be given the rabies vaccine, which can also be done at this age. He’ll also need a blood test before a Pet Passport can be issued.
Feeding your kitten
When you first take a kitten home feed, feed him on the same food he’s had at his previous home or rescue center. A sudden change in diet, combined with the stress of settling into a new home, can cause stomach upsets.
Like babies, kittens need to be fed little and often (following the manufacturers’ instructions). Choose a complete food made for kittens as it will have all the nutrients a growing kitten needs. Also, try to buy the best and most expensive food you can afford.
Kittens aged between eight to 12 weeks need to be fed four meals a day, three meals a day between three to six months, and two meals a day from six months onwards. Once your cat reaches adulthood (around 12 months), it is okay to change to adult food gradually. Try and feed the adult version of the kitten food, as this will prevent stomach upsets often caused when new food is introduced.
If you feed wet food, you may also want to feed dry food ad-lib, but this, of course, depends on your kitten’s preferences and your lifestyle. Always make sure there is fresh drinking water available. Do not give your kitten cow’s milk as this can cause stomach upsets – special kitten milk is available, but kittens do not need this in their diet and won’t miss it if they never have it!
Socialization and behavior
Early and consistent lessons in good behavior are essential to stop bad habits from developing in kittens. The age at which social maturity is reached varies between individuals and can be from 18 months to four years old. This is the stage when any problems will arise, usually due to other adult cats. Even if cats have grown up together, cracks may begin to appear in their relationship. They may start to compete over territories, such as fighting over a favorite bed, which can create stresses leading to various illnesses, including urinary tract disease or inappropriate behaviors such as marking.
Cat behaviorist Vicky Halls says: “A cat that has had a good grounding as a youngster will be more able to cope with these difficult times. Even if it simply means that he understands that he can find his own space and develop strategies to help him cope with a situation.”
The importance of play
Play is essential for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills, and learning limits. “We should never stop playing with our cats, no matter how old they are, and remember that play is about predatory behavior,” says Vicky. “Think about your cat as a wild animal. A kitten needs to mature on both a physical and emotional level.”
Creating a stimulating environment for your kitten and providing toys that encourage natural behaviors will help prevent boredom. Continuing to pet and talk to your kitten will help him develop good ‘people skills. Play with toys can also avert biting tendencies. Vicky says: “PlayPlay is all about hunting and chewing, and it can be a rewarding sensation for a kitten to bite into flesh., The more he does it the more he will want to.”
The critical advice is to distract your kitten with a toy as soon as he starts this type of behavior. If he becomes too rough when playing, stop the game immediately and say ‘no.’ Remember, boisterous behavior that can seem fun in a kitten can develop into problematic behavior when the cat is fully grown. If you want to save your house from destruction, keep your kitten entertained with plenty of play and exercise.
Play is a great way to bond with your new kitten as well as helping him develop natural hunting, running, pouncing, leaping, grabbing, and even biting behaviors (toys, not you!) — while also getting him used to some of the experiences he’ll encounter when he’s older.
Active play is the best form of exercise for kittens, and, as they must be kept indoors when young, they rely heavily on owners to get them moving.
Two kittens will play together, but bored kittens will make up their games. As well as opening your home and furniture to a good clawing, if you don’t give your kitten toys to satisfy his hunting instincts, be prepared for frequent presents of birds and mice once he’s allowed outside!
Tips for playing with your kitten
- Cats’ eyes identify movement and pattern rather than color, so toys with stripes or those that move are ideal
- A fishing rod-style toy will encourage your kitten to pounce and jump, but make sure the ‘prey’ on end is securely fastened
- Don’t use games that teach your kitten to pounce on moving hands, fingers, or feet. This could cause problems later on as an adult cat’s bite can be serious
- Avoid toys with small parts that could be swallowed
- Cats are most active early in the morning and in the evening so make time to play with your kitten then
- A scratch post will allow your kitten to stretch his muscles and condition his claws
- Don’t give your kitten wool or string to play with as he could swallow it or it could become tangled around his tongue
- A few cat treat hidden around the house or in a treat ball will encourage your kitten to hunt them out
- Throw broken toys away immediately
- Only keep a couple of toys out at any time, and swap them around regularly to prevent boredom.
Socializing your kitten
It’s also important to let your cat behave like a cat and not take his self-control away. “The cat is such an independent and self-reliant creature. They will want to be on their own sometimes, so avoid confrontation and don’t be over-protective.”
Orphaned kittens or those weaned too soon may fail to develop appropriate social skills. They are more likely to exhibit suckling behaviors, such as sucking on blankets, pillows, or even their owner’s skin. Poorly socialized kittens can become nervous cats, so kittens must be exposed to as many new sights, sounds, people, and animals as possible.
Kittens who are well handled during their first seven weeks tend to be more exploratory, playful, and better learners. However, while these stages are important, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kittenhood, so interaction must continue throughout life.
Training your kitten
Most kittens are fully house-trained by their mum, so all you need to do is show your kitten where his litter tray is and remind him every time he wakes up and after eating. If you see him looking for an alternative corner and he begins sniffing and scratching, gently place him in the litter tray. He will soon work out what the tray is for.
His breeder should have well socialized a pedigree kitten. However, if he finds the vacuum cleaner and other such noises unpleasant, do things normally — there’s no need to tiptoe around. If he appears frightened, don’t reassure him; he has to accept it is normal.
While your kitten should receive a thorough examination from your vet, regular home check-ups of his ears, eyes, fur, skin, and bottom will help alert you to any problems. When you have finished, reward him with a treat that will teach your kitten to associate this experience with a positive outcome.
There will come a time when you have to take your kitten to the vet or maybe the cattery, and you will have to use a cat carrier. If you don’t want a disappearing kitty every time he spots it, make sure he doesn’t think every appearance will result in an unpleasant experience. Leave the carrier in the house so he can rub himself against it and mark it with his scent. Tempt him inside with treats so he will learn to associate them with a reward.
Good behavior should always be rewarded, so he learns what gets him attention and nice things, and inappropriate behavior tackled by removing its cause. Never smack or tell him off if he makes a mistake as he won’t understand, and you could be at risk of spoiling the relationship you have built up.
Choosing the right kitten
Choosing a pedigree kitten
Personalities will vary from one kitten to another, be it a pedigree or a moggy. However, the main advantage of a pedigree kitten is that you will have a pretty good idea of his appearance and character. With around 40 different cat breeds to choose from, you should be able to ensure his characteristics will suit you, your home, and your lifestyle.
If you live in a flat or do not have a garden, you should consider breeds that would be happy to live indoors. If you think a quiet longhair would be for you, consider whether you would be willing to spend every other day grooming him to keep his coat in good condition. If you fancy an extrovert, however, and your family members are sensitive to cat hair, a curly-coated Rex breed might be a good choice.
Check whether the breed is known for mixing well with children and other pets. Breeds such as the Asians, Burmese, and Devon Rex are said to get on well with dogs, while the Ragdoll mix well with children.
Reading up about your chosen breed will also stand you in good stead when you visit the breeder. Some breeds can be prone to certain diseases, so ask the breeder if a vet has screened the kitten’s parents.
To find a reputable breeder check out the relevant cat club websites or visit a cat show. Ask to see the whole litter with the mother and meet the father if the breeder owns him. Make sure you receive a pedigree certificate, registration documents, and vaccination certificates with your kitten.
Choosing a reliable kitten breeder
Reports of people being sold pedigrees that turn out to be moggies are not uncommon. As the saying goes, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is! Reputable breeders would not sell kittens at ‘very low prices, nor would they ‘advertise’ cats for breeding purposes.
If you buy from an unscrupulous breeder, not only could you not be getting the pedigree you’re paying for, it may not be registered as it should.
It may develop diseases and may suffer from hereditary weaknesses, which would make it unsuitable for breeding.
The club secretary should then be able to give you details of breeders with kittens. Reputable breeders will want to meet their kittens’ new owners and make sure they can offer a suitable home, so don’t be tempted to buy from a pet shop or dealer.
There is no license required to breed cats and no Kitemark for standards, but you have rights under the Sale of Goods Acts 1979, just as you would if you had bought a new car. Cat behaviorist Vicky Halls says: “It states that goods should be of ‘satisfactory quality’ and ‘fit for the purpose’ for which they are sold. If your new kitten falls sick, or worse, still dies from a reasonably preventable problem, and that can be traced back to the breeder, you may have the recourse of redress against them.
“However, thinking that the occasional civil action can eradicate irresponsible breeding is unrealistic. The problem can only be addressed by promoting good breeders and best practices and encouraging people to buy from the right sources. If a prospective owner rejects the bad breeding establishments before they even visit, then the demand for poorly-produced kittens will dwindle — and so will the supply chain.”
Choosing a pedigree kitten for showing
The breeder will be able to tell you about the potential for their kittens. Show quality from a breeder with a proven track record is the most expensive because they are the best breed examples and will compete well at shows.
Breeder quality may sell for slightly less. They fail to meet the show standard in some small way but can potentially produce quality offspring. Pet quality is usually the most affordable. They may have a minor flaw making them unsuitable for showing or breeding. They are no less healthy or less desirable to own. Breeders may be happy for a pet quality kitten to be shown as neuter as long as it has no prominent faults and the new owner accepts that it will not necessarily be a winner.
When you enquire about a kitten, be honest about what you are looking for. Don’t try to get a cheaper kitten by asking for a pet, as you may find out later that its kittens are ineligible for registration or that it cannot be shown. Many breeders don’t want their male kittens to be used as studs, so they will only sell them as pets or show neuters.
What paperwork should I receive for my pedigree kitten?
You should receive the following from the breeder:
- A written receipt for any deposit you make to secure the sale
- Registration/transfer slip, which you and the breeder complete
- If GCCF registered, a copy of the Code of Ethics
- Vaccination certificate
- Insurance certificate
- Diet sheet with any care and dietary requirements
- Receipt for payment in full
- Some breeders may ask you to sign an agreement that you will contact them first if you have to part with the kitten in the future.
Your pedigree kitten should:
- Be seen in their home environment with mum and the rest of the litter. They should look clean and healthy. Male cats from other breeders are often used, so don’t be suspicious if dad isn’t around. Have been reared inside the breeder’s home with constant attention and be well socialized and friendly. Kittens kept outside in a cattery may find it challenging to adapt to a typical household environment
- Have a temperament that suits your lifestyle. If you are away from home during the day, you may like to consider having two for company
- Be aged 13 weeks or over when you collect him
- Be vaccinated against FIE (feline infectious enteritis) and cat’ flu at least a week before he leaves the breeder. You should receive a certificate of vaccination signed by a vet
- Have been wormed
- A few breeders will have their pet quality kittens neutered before they sell them — otherwise, he should be fixed at around four to six months of age.
- Be used to being groomed and generally being handled
- Be free of the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Responsible breeders will have had their cats tested for these diseases
- Be registered with one of the registration bodies (i.e., GCCF). This will prove that the kitten’s parents are registered cats
- Have a pedigree — a record of his ancestors. It should show the names of the kitten’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, together with all their breed numbers and registration numbers. Ask if the kitten is registered or can be registered. For example, if either parent is registered on the non-active register with the GCCF, the kitten cannot be registered with either organization. This is particularly important if you plan to show or breed from your kitten
- For example, they have been screened for hereditary diseases the breed is prone to, polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Ask to see veterinary certificates by way of proof
- Be of an acceptable price for that breed. If you are in doubt, double-check with the breed club secretary
- Be insured to cover any early problems during the stressful moving home period.
Choosing a rescue kitten
Adopting a cat from a rescue center is an excellent way of giving a kitten in need a loving home. Litters are often given up because people can’t cope, which is one of the reasons why animal charities recommend neutering.
When it comes to choosing a charity, there are some key things to look out for:
- The cats should be relaxed and healthy, although some may be recovering from injury or maybe nervous or feral
- Staff should be well-informed and organized
- Cats should be housed individually but in small groups if they come in with other cats. If the facility is dirty and the cats are kept together in large groups, chances are you will get a kitten that is ill or is not used to people
- Before you make your decision, find out as much as you can about the kitten’s background. Ask staff how often he has been handled; most organizations understand the importance of socialization. It’s a good idea to choose the one with the best personality — ideally, you want the kitten who shows a little bit of interest in everything rather than the one hiding in the corner or pounces on you straight away.
- If given plenty of socializing during their time at a rescue center, Feral kittens can be successfully adopted into an average household. Those who remain extremely wary of humans cannot be homed as pets but are ideal for anyone in need of an environmentally-friendly pest control service. Anywhere there is room to roam and rodents to catch, such as stables, farm shops, garden centers, and even golf clubs, could provide a suitable home.
- You may be willing to take on an ill kitten and help him to recuperate but be prepared for the cost and effort involved
- Expect the charity to conduct an interview, a home visit, and a post-adoption visit to ensure the kitten you choose is going to the right home.
Choosing the right kitten for you
Talk in-depth with two or three breeders or rescue homes to ensure you get the right kitten. He will need your care and protection for the rest of his life, which could be up to 20 years or more, so you must be suitably matched. You’ll need to make sure your new kitten is healthy and will suit your lifestyle, as well as your pocket.
Check that his coat is in good condition and has a clean bottom and ears and bright, clean eyes. Be wary if he sneezes or if his nose is runny. He should also be free from fleas and worms.
As for cost, a pedigree kitten will cost from £350 to £900 depending on the breed, whereas a charity will expect a donation to help cover some of the expenses incurred in caring for the animal, including vaccination.
Remember, the cost doesn’t stop at purchase — you’ll need to consider food, litter, veterinary and cattery, or pet sitter costs, so be realistic and make sure cat ownership is within your budget.
It may be kinder to have two for the company if you don’t have another pet and are likely to leave your kitten alone for more than a few hours a day. However, make sure they will not have to compete for space and that you will be able to provide them with a litter tray each, their beds, scratch posts, food and water bowls, and a choice of hiding places. It’s also best to get them from the same litter, if possible, to help ensure compatibility.