Taking Care of a Kitten: The Master Kitten Raising Guide

Taking care of a kitten seems easy, right? Litter box, food bowl, water dish, and a few toys, and you’re set, right?

Well, yes–if your only goal is to keep the kitten alive. To raise a well-adjusted kitten, it takes a little bit of planning and making good rules from the beginning. I’m going to use my Master Kitten Raising Guide to teach you how to raise a well-mannered, friendly, and fun cat.

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Cat or Kitten?

Your family needs a cat.  You’ve decided to get a pet, you’ve settled on a cat, but you can’t decide on adult or baby.  Both sides have pros and cons, especially considering that families differ widely.  I’m going to describe some of the good and bad of each, and let you decide which is the best fit for your family.

Energy Level

Main deciding factor?  Energy level.  Cats sleep, on average, 16-20 hours per day.  Their awake activities define their maturity.  Kittens up to over a year of age spend most of their awake time playing, also known as “shenanigans.”  Kittens also don’t yet know the rules about play, so they play harder and get into more trouble while playing.  They have no concept that you sleep at night—so will try to play with you while you sleep.  Mature, adult cats play—but they know the rules about where, when, and how.  Senior cats sleep a bit more, and spend most of their awake time relaxing, eating, and using the box. On the flip side, kittens and young adults are fun to play with, and learn quicker.  Adults might be a little more short-tempered about playing with people.

Health/Veternarian

Kittens will need to see the veterinarian regularly in their first year, and then yearly after until they are seniors.  The upfront costs can be significant, but early chronic health conditions are rare.  Kittens will also require spaying and neutering before 6 months.  Adults need yearly visits, and occasionally they will need minor treatment, such as teeth cleaning.  Senior cats require more frequent veterinary visits, and if your cat develops a chronic condition costs can be expensive.  Adult cats that have been rescued from an outdoor life or have suffered neglect may need significant care as well.  Pet health insurance can alleviate many of these costs.

Do I have other pets?

Kittens haven’t experienced much, so they typically can adjust to life with almost any pet.  Small pets, birds, and fish may require protection as most kittens will hunt almost anything.  However, most cats learn not to hunt other members of the household.  Adult cats can also learn to leave other pets alone, but if they’ve successfully hunted in the past they may not learn.

If your house already contains adult cats, a kitten may fit in better with the crowd.  Just like with people, cats can develop personality conflicts.  Some cats get along well with any other cat, other cats get along only with members of the opposite gender, or fear other cats, or even cannot live with another cat.  Generally, outgoing and assertive cats get along better with kittens as the kitten will back down.  Fearful cats tend to feel bullied by kittens that lack boundaries and prefer another calm housemate.  Cats are a social species, so most cats prefer a cat friend.

Dogs.  Most dogs can learn to get along with cats, if the cats learn not to run.  Many dogs adore cats and love having new friends.  Some breeds of dogs have very high prey drives and cannot be left alone with a cat.  Breeds that are bred for chasing, like sighthounds and terriers, often exhibit these prey drives and suddenly turn on cats.  These breeds should be crated when unsupervised, or the cat locked away, for the cat’s safety.  Most dogs can successfully live with cats and have a good relationship.  Kittens will learn to get along with anyone.  Evaluate adult cats before adding them to your family.  Many adult cats have been attacked by or strongly fear dogs.  In most cat-dog relationships, the cat will rule the dog and the dog will occasionally tease the cat.

Time in your life

As with many things in life, there are no guarantees on the lifespan of a family pet.  However, cats can live up to 20 years with good health and good care, so assume a kitten will live at least 15 years.  Adult cats potentially have fewer years with your family, as many adult cats available for adoption suffer neglect and abuse.  However, by adopting an adult cat with fewer years, you may provide more animals with a better quality of life.  That said, it’s important to think about the emotions of your family.  Small children may find death difficult, or may remember that they were able to help an old friend.

The Choice

The choice is yours.  No matter whether you choose a kitten, adult, or senior, you will provide a pet a wonderful experience at life.  My senior rescue thoroughly enjoyed her final 18 months as a couch ornament (and bed ornament, and windowsill ornament), and while it hurt to lose her, I know that her last months were her best.  Her housemate, a cat that I’d owned since she was 6 weeks old, had never experienced hardship, and was equally delightful.

Should we get another cat?

You already have one cat, and you think he might be lonely.  After all, you work or go to school all day, and all he can do is sleep and watch birds out the window.  Maybe he needs a friend.  Is your resident ready for another cat?  Is your home ready for another cat?

Additional Costs

Adding a second cat isn’t much more expensive than the first one—assuming they get along.  If they don’t get along, there may be vet bills and baby gates.  If they do get along, you’ll have double your normal costs on litter, food, and veterinarian, but not much else in “stuff.”

Is your resident elderly?

If your current cat is elderly, he may not be able to keep up with a boisterous kitten.  He might feel put-out, and he probably won’t be able to find a space that a new cat can’t find him.  But he might thrive with a new and younger friend.  Having a younger cat with him will keep him thinking more and will mean he moves around more.  On the flip side, a kitten raised with an older cat may have difficulty adjusting if his friend passes away, and you may end up with two again even if you mean to only have one.

Is your resident chill?

Is your current resident chill, or anxious?  A chill resident is probably more able to settle into having a roommate—but an anxious one might be calmed down by a soothing presence.  Has your cat lived with other cats?  If they have, and did well, they will probably do well with a friend.

Adult or kitten?

If you are looking for an adult, finding a rescue could be a great option.  Adult rescues have been “tested out” with other cats and can be evaluated with your resident.  A kitten will grow up as a friend to your current cat, and will never know that they have the option of not getting along—though if the kitten grows up to be assertive, it’s important to teach them how to be gentle.

Children

If you have small children, are they ready to have another cat?  If you’re getting a small kitten, they are much more breakable than adult cats.  They aren’t as capable of defending themselves, and don’t have the sense yet to just walk away.  Even if your children are fine with a calm, adult cat that knows to get on a high shelf if they want to be left alone, they might have trouble with a kitten.  Kittens don’t know how to avoid a child—so might get hurt, or might hurt a child if the child is rough or persistent.  Adolescents can have the same problem—they are extremely active and are still learning rules.  An older cat might be unable to handle the level of chaos that toddlers and preschoolers create.  It’s important to find a cat that can handle the kind of family you have.

Do you want one?

Do you even want another cat?  You might be thinking about it because “the kids want one” or “current cat seems lonely,” but if the bulk of the responsibility is going to fall on you, make the decision that’s right for you.  If your kids are older and can handle some of the responsibility, that’s great and a good factor in the decision.  But if you don’t want one, don’t get one.  No pet deserves to feel unloved by its primary caregiver.