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.
Choose a Great Kitten
The first step in raising a great kitten is choosing a great kitten. Choosing a kitten with a sound, outgoing personality, from a source that socializes their kittens well, puts your family ahead of the game.
Many rescue kittens develop happy, outgoing personalities. These kittens are easy to train, friendly, and have good behaviors coming into your family. Lots of kittens are born in rescues, or raised with people who teach them to love attention and love learning. Kittens that love people are easy to raise.
However, some kittens have experienced abuse and neglect before landing in a rescue. Some come to rescue feral, or have feral mothers. These kittens often fear people, hands, and common noises, and require a ton of patience and time to come around. While many of them do come around, you may end up with a cat that prefers solitude.
Scared rescue kittens still learn good behavior easily–they simply may never trust strangers, though they will learn to trust their family. They also need training that really focuses on positive interactions with people.
Breeder kittens include purebred kittens from established breeders, as well as families that have accidental litters but are well-socialized.
These kittens should be outgoing and friendly, no matter the breed. They should look forward to interacting with their breeder and new people, though they may initially be a bit shy. These kittens learn quickly, already have good habits, and love people.
Please do not pay someone for a kitten that doesn’t respond to people. Either the kitten is sick or neglected. There are no breeds out there that have a nature that leads them to hide from the person who brings their food.
Taking Care of a Kitten: Litter Box Training
Many, many adult cats lose their homes and their lives because they stop using the litter box. Early litter box training is vital to your cat’s future. If you find your kitten refuses to use the litter box, contact a veterinarian. Most litter box issues start as medical conditions and turn into habits.
Cats need at least one litter box per cat in the home, plus one box. Cats sometimes become territorial and refuse to share their box. If your family already includes a cat, she may decide to keep the kitten from using “her” box. Alternately, she may decide to give up her box to the kitten, and start urinating or defecating out of the box–causing problems for herself.
Choose a litter that you intend on keeping with. There’s no point in training your kitten to shavings then switching to clay, or vice-versa.
Place the box somewhere the kitten will feel safe while using it. Some cats prefer a cover to feel enclosed, others like to be able to see what’s coming. Place it near where your kitten will spend most of her time, so she can make it back. Just like your toddler, she’ll remember she needs to go just before she starts going.
Once your kitten is 6-8 weeks old, simply place her in the litter box several times a day. She’ll learn in a day or two where the box is, and what it’s for. Cats have strong instincts toward the box.
Some kittens find another spot in the house that feels like a litter box. To some, carpet or potted plants are “close enough.” Place a real litter box next to the spot, and supervise your kitten heavily when they are in that area.
Failure to Train
If your kitten does not consistently use the litter box after the first few weeks, have a veterinarian look into the possibility of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Kittens should use a box by instinct, so failure to use the box usually means a medical issue.
Destroying Furniture & Carpet
Many cat owners hate that their cat destroys furniture by scratching. If your kitten is trained properly, early, they will rarely take up the destruction of new furniture even into their later years.
Keeping Nails Short
With a little research, you’ll see many ways to curb clawing. My personal favorite, easiest, and cheapest way: keeping nails trimmed. Cats do claw to mark territory, but mine always clawed much more when their nails were too long to walk comfortably. Keeping the nails short both prevents their urge to scratch and keeps them from damaging things when they do.
Start your kittens from their very first day. Every week, sit down and check your kitten’s claws. I always do nails during the commercials of my favorite TV show, so I never forget to do them.
Use human nail clippers, and hold your kitten firmly under your arm. Your kitten will bite you the first several times. Kittens do not like being held firmly, but they have nothing against nail clipping. Ignore the biting. Punishing the kitten for biting will only make her fear nail clipping, and small kittens can’t bite hard enough to do real damage.
Clip only the hook, but clip the hook completely off. Do not cut into the blood vessel (quick) of the nail. After each foot, give your kitten a soft treat, but do not let him leave until you’ve clipped all four feet. Tell her she’s a good kitten, and give her a few extra treats after the last foot. After 3-4 weeks, she may not enjoy the clipping but won’t hurt you, either.
Don’t forget the treats each and every time. If you don’t reward them, they’ll quickly decide that they don’t need to put up with you.
Despite keeping claws short, cats still need to claw for exercise, stretching, and to mark territory. Kittens will always find something to claw, even if their nails stay short.
Cats need a piece of furniture large enough to stretch vertically. They use it to practice climbing, and as an outlet for energy. A large cat tree is worth the space. They need a tree that is at least 48 inches tall, so that they can stretch out fully and put their weight into scratching.
Cats scratch as an outlet for their energy. Kittens, especially, destroy furniture while playing and using the chair as an ambush point.
Play with your kitten before every meal, at least three times daily. Spend a half hour or so wearing her out until she collapses and refuses to stand. The more time your kitten spends sleeping, the less time she has to scratch on furniture and carpet. She’ll also use her brain more, and stay more engaged.
Biting and Clawing People & Other Pets
Kittens have two modes: sleep and attack. Most kittens need a lot of help to turn down their attack.
If you roughhouse with your kitten, your kitten will roughhouse with you. Use your hands for petting, not playing. Always direct their aggression to a toy.
Most kittens love beating the crap out of a sock stuffed with other socks. What they will do to your hand – hold it in their claws and bite and kick – they will very happily do to this simple and easy toy. They will also do it to a roll of paper towels, which costs a good deal more to replace.
Many people use catnip to encourage play. If your kitten is shy, a bit may help. Don’t overdo it, though.
Kittens bite because they are overstimulated. They don’t want to hurt you – but they can’t help but bite and scratch.
Every time they bite or scratch, end the game for a moment. Stand up and walk into another room, or go sit in another chair. They will quickly learn that the game ends when they bite, and by leaving you will create a moment of calm so they can collect their wits.
Stay off the Counter/Table/Couch/Chair
Cats love climbing and high surfaces. Training kittens to stay down takes consistency and strategy. Kittens have no boundaries, so come into the home with no idea they should stay on the floor.
Choose Your Boundary
In my home, the boundary was simple: cats stay off hard surfaces, but may sit on soft surfaces. So they were not permitted on kitchen counters, the dining room table, or the coffee table. They were allowed on the bed and couch.
Everyone in your household must enforce the boundary. This means the teenagers, the husband, the wife, and anyone else in the home who will supervise your new kitten.
Taking Care of a Kitten Means Enforcing Your Boundary
First, remember that your family should never encourage the kitten to break the rules. This means no pointing the laser on the coffee table. No cuddling on the couch after the family goes to bed, if the rule is that kitten should not be on the couch.
Don’t provide temptation. If you’re eating tuna fish and need to answer the phone, take the sandwich with you. Don’t leave the cat treats on the forbidden surfaces. Eventually she will learn to avoid temptation, but as a new kitten, she has no idea that she shouldn’t be on the counter–so don’t give her a reason to go up there.
When (not if) your kitten goes onto the forbidden furniture, tell her NO calmly but firmly, remove her gently, and encourage her to sit on her own furniture. If she has jumped on the couch to ambush you from behind the arm, set her on her cat tree and allow her to ambush you from there. If she meant to take a nap, provide her with a similar spot. Teach her that there is always an acceptable spot elsewhere.
Cats do not respond well to punishment. They misinterpret it, and it often teaches them to avoid something completely different from what they were punished for doing. It causes distrust between the cat and the owner. While dogs will often forgive harsh treatment, cats simply learn fear.
Escaping The House
While I strongly discourage punishment for cats, indoor cats are poorly equipped to survive outdoors. Kittens, especially, can fall prey to many disasters: predator attacks, cars, dogs, freezing weather, theft.
Pet cats should be kept indoors. However, convincing them to stay indoors is an entirely separate issue.
Avoid the Door
Teach your kitten, initially, that the door is boring. Don’t play with her near the door. Don’t feed her near the door. Greet her away from the door.
Gently direct her away from the door when she approaches it. Don’t scold her–just provide her with entertainment elsewhere. She should see the door as nothing more than a wall that humans occasionally cross.
You can also make a practice to feed her at times you commonly leave and enter the house. This will encourage her to stay home (free food!) and away from the door.
Never Walk Her Through the Door
If she must pass the door for any reason, don’t allow her to walk through it. Always use a carrier when passing through the door. She should understand that the only way she goes through the door is by being carried. Remember that if you carry her by hand to put her in her harness. Otherwise, she may panic and escape outside, and could be hurt badly.
The Final Straw
If, for some reason, your cat has become fascinated with what lies beyond, and will not give up, you may need to resort to negative consequences. This is for the cat’s own safety, not for a whim or personal preference.
Keep a spray bottle outside and inside the front door. Every time the door is opened, if the cat approaches spray her. When someone enters or leaves without her interference, give her a treat. She will quickly learn that the reward comes from staying inside.
Why My System Works
This system works because you are working with your kitten’s natural instincts. She wants to play with you, and doesn’t understand punishment.
This system creates a trust between yourself and your kitten. Your kitten must understand that you never do things to hurt her, and she will trust you with her life. She will allow you to restrain her, as you do when clipping her nails, because you have never hurt her before.
As she ages, she will learn that you only restrain her when you have to, you only do things she doesn’t like with a set purpose, and that you will never allow others to hurt or scare her. She will learn to trust not only you, but other humans you allow to interact with her, because she has never been hurt.
This is vital as your cat reaches old age. She will need more medicine and more treatment as time passes, and having a base level of trust makes medication much easier for her. Many elderly cats require injections or pills, and having a relationship of trust greatly enhances their golden years.
What’s your favorite kitten tip?
What thing have you done that you felt were special tips? Share here or on the Petlosopher Facebook page.
- Seven Reasons Your Cat Won’t Use the Litterbox
- Should We Get Another Cat?
- How to Stop Your Cat From Scratching Furniture