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.

Introducing a New Cat: Should We?

Introducing a new cat to your existing cat family might be the best decision you ever made.  It also might result in chaos.  If you’ve already decided on a new cat, I’m going to help you decide whether a kitten or adult cat is the best choice.  It’s also possible a different type of pet might be a better solution for your existing cat family.  We’ll talk about that, too.

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