Before You Get a Kitten…

November 17, 2010

Kittens have a way of turning up when you least expect them! If a kitten has appeared in your life, or if you’re getting the urge to add a new feline family member, it’s smart to consider these important issues! (And don’t forget that there are millions of wonderful, healthy adult cats waiting for a home like yours!)

Where does kitty come from?

Your best plan is to adopt from a shelter or rescue. From May to October (or even later), shelters are inundated with unwanted kittens. Chances are good that you can even find a purebred through these sources. Find a local shelter through the APSCA’s directory, check out Petfinder, or look up a breed rescue. Petsmart and Petco also support local shelters by sponsoring adoptions through their stores.

Feral cats (whether simply homeless or truly wild) often choose quiet spots in garages or under porches to have their babies. If brought into a home and socialized to people before about 8-10 weeks of age, these kittens can be wonderful companions. However, after 8 weeks (and especially after age 6 months), with no prior human contact, they may be very difficult to tame. For more information on feral cats,  Alley Cat Allies is a wonderful resource.

Please, never purchase a kitten from a pet store! No matter what the salesperson tells you, it is a stone cold fact that pet stores get their animals from only two places: irresponsible “backyard breeders” and commercial mills, where cats spend their lives as breeders in cramped, dirty cages with little human contact or veterinary care. Yes, there are kitten mills, although puppy mills are much more common. Persians are common victims of kitten mills. (See Purebred Cat Rescue for more info.) Kittens from either mills or pet stores are likely to have parasites, hidden genetic and health problems, and significant socialization deficiencies. People are often taken in by those pitiful little faces and want to save them, but every well-intentioned “rescue” from a pet store condemns another mother cat to a horrible life. Suppliers simply don’t care why you bought it–they only know that you just put money in their pockets.

Other places where you shouldn’t get a kitten are through newspaper ads, internet classifieds (which are often fronts for kitten mills), and friends whose cat “accidentally” got pregnant.  Unplanned breeding is the #1 cause of pet overpopulation in this country. Please urge your friends to get their cat spayed before another “accident” occurs; cats can produce 2 or 3 litters per year.

“Hobby” breeders are a cut above the backyard and accidental breeders, but they are still purposely bringing kittens into a world where 8-10 million homeless animals die in shelters every year in the U.S.

If your heart is set on a purebred cat, do your homework and thoroughly research your breed and the breeder. For instance, purebred cats have notoriously poor immune systems. Persian cats are prone to chronic upper respiratory and ocular diseases, Abyssinians have dental problems, and “wildcat” hybrids like Bengals and Pixie-Bobs have serious temperament issues as they get older. Make sure the breeder you deal with is reputable, and preferably holistic. Remember, buying supports cruel mills and irresponsible breeding, but adopting saves lives.

Preparing for the New Kitten 

You’ll need supplies  to set up a “base camp” for your kitten. Especially if you have other pets at home, a “safe” room for the kitten is essential. This can be any a room, such as a spare bedroom or bathroom, or even a large dog crate, where the kitten will spend its first days in its new home. You’ll need: litterbox, kitty litter, and scooper to clean the box; food (preferably wet food), and bowls (glass or lead-free ceramic are best); toys; comb and brush;  bed (a fluffy towel or blanket will work); toys; and a scratching post. Other items that will come in handy are a carrier, collar, and identification tag.

You’ll also need to kitten-proof the base camp area, and eventually the whole house. Put “child-proof” electric plug protectors in all unused outlets. Remove breakable items from shelves and tables, or secure them with mounting putty (you’ll be amazed how fast and how high a kitten can jump or climb, and grateful that you took precautions!). Cover exposed wires with foam pipe insulation, or wipe with hot chili or Tabasco sauce, to prevent chewing. Remove slatted furniture such as chairs to prevent the kitten from getting his head caught. Tie  up blind and curtain cords, and clean up string, ribbon, rubber bands, hair ties, twisties, paper clips, tacks, and other small items that could be swallowed. Be extremely cautious when using a recliner, make sure you know where the kitten is before getting up—kittens have been injured or killed by the mechanism. Store cleaning products out of reach; if needed, add child-proof latches on cabinets. (And consider switching to eco- and kitten-safe household products if you haven’t already!)

Making the Introduction

Your kitten should be isolated from other animals at first; but if you have other pets, eventually you’ll want to introduce them. There’s a right way–and dozens of wrong ways–to accomplish this!

If kitty’s base camp has a door, keep it closed, but allow both the kitten and other pets can sniff at each other under the door. Feed kitten and the other pets on opposite sides of the door, as close  as possible without anyone getting upset or stressed. This establishes an association between all the pets and something good—food!

It’s great to exchange bedding between the kitten and other pets, or rub a towel on the kitten and allow the others to smell it, and vice versa. This way they become familiar with each others’ scents–without the chances for a disastrous physical encounter. You can also change places—resident animal(s) in the kitten’s room, and let kitten explore the rest of the home.

The introduction process may take several weeks. It’s vital that you do not rush it. Let the animals tell you when they’re ready for the next step–usually when all the hissing or growling stops. During this period, give the resident pets a lot of extra love and attention, so they don’t feel like their social status is threatened by the new addition.

When the animals all feel comfortable, crack open the door to base camp just a little bit, and let them to see each other. Or, put the kitten in a carrier and bring it out so the others can see. With cats, expect some hissing and growling at each step; it’s perfectly natural. Do this a few times a day. If any animal seems hostile or aggressive, go back to the previous step, and proceed more slowly.

Once things simmer down, it’s time to let the kitten out.

If you have a dog, leash it when the kitten is out and about. Most dogs are fine, but occasionally a bouncing, small, furry kitten will trigger the hunting instinct in even the most placid dog. Please understand that you are not fast enough to stop a tragedy, so never allow that situation to occur. Reward the dog for calm, non-aggressive behavior with plenty of praise and treats; this helps the dog associate the kitten with good things.

For the first few weeks, until you are confident in all the animals’ behavior, separate them from the kitten when you are unable to supervise them (when you are out, or sleeping).

Veterinary Care

Kittens need special care from your veterinarian; deworming and tests for infectious diseases such as feline leukemia and FIV (feline AIDS) before meeting resident cats.

Vaccination is controversial, and guidelines have changed. It is no longer necessary to give annual vaccines; but kittens need core vaccines such as distemper (panleukopenia) and rabies to protect them from these fatal diseases. Most kittens do not need leukemia, FIP, or FIV vaccines. Shelters typically give the first panleukopenia vaccine. Talk to your vet about which vaccines are appropriate, and on what schedule. Vaccines should be given one at a time, at least two weeks apart.

If your kitten is not already microchipped. Even if you aren’t planning to let your kitten outside, accidents and escapes happen! A microchip is “cheap insurance” that lasts a lifetime.

And finally, if your kitten is not already sterilized, please spay or neuter! It’s better for health reasons as well as to curb pet overpopulation.

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One Response to Before You Get a Kitten…

  1. Chris on November 6, 2011 at 4:01 am

    …Please spay or neuter,
    but don’t amputate your cat or kitten’s toes!

    “Cats and Claws – Living Happily Ever After”,

    “Declawing: A Rational Look”,

    “Physical Consequences of Declawing”,

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