Kitten Adoption Primer
‘Tis the season…kitten season, that is! The summer months typically bring an overflow of kittens to our local county rescue organizations. These shelters have one goal, to find homes for all. Is this your year to adopt a new kitten?
Where to start?
There are many things to consider before bringing your new kitten home. First, is everyone in the household ready for this big change? Kittens do require a lot of work, patience, and supervision. It is important that everyone is prepared to help out. Second, your home must be kitten-proofed. This can be somewhat daunting and time-consuming, but it is best to remove the dangerous items now before you are faced with an emergency. Bundle up all electrical cords and keep them out of sight. All string, yarn, and ribbon should be put away in a safe place. Poisonous houseplants should be removed. Do not underestimate how high a kitten can jump to get to a plant; it is often best to remove the plant from the household completely.
Due to a kitten’s small size and endless curiosity, many household hazards must be eliminated before her arrival. Kitchen cabinets should have baby-proof locks placed on them. All members of the household should be trained to close lids and doors now before the new kitten comes home. Toilet lids should be kept down at all times. The lid to the washing machine and the door to the dryer should be kept closed when not in use. Always check inside these appliances before starting a new load. Young kittens should be kept sheltered inside to keep them away from the many dangers present outdoors. Therefore, outside exits should be kept closed at all times so that a very young kitten will not accidentally escape.
What to buy?
New kittens do require a bit of equipment. It is essential to set up a feeding station. Stainless steel or ceramic bowls work best. Your kitten will need fresh water available at all times. Be prepared to feed your kitten a high quality kitten food for her first year. It is a good idea to find out what brand of food she has been fed before you bring her home. If you plan to change her diet, then a gradual integration of the old diet and the new one over two weeks is recommended to eliminate any gastrointestinal upset.
A litter box is essential. A young kitten may not be able to climb into an adult-sized box. Make sure that at least one side has a one-inch height so that your kitten can easily enter the box. Once you establish a litter type that your kitten likes, do not switch brands. Many cats get very used to one particular brand. It is a good idea to place your kitten in the litter box after meals or immediately after waking to remind her of the desired place to eliminate. Also, take care to clean the litter box regularly. Scooping out eliminations daily, and cleaning the box itself with warm soapy water weekly is ideal. If you live in a multi-level house, consider a litter box on each level for your kitten.
A few other recommended essentials include a scratching post, a bed, and a few toys. Your kitten should have an appropriate location to scratch. Try different modalities to see which one your kitten likes best. Some kittens like carpet, while others may prefer rope, or corrugated cardboard. A cat bed can be as simple as a blanket-lined cardboard box. Make sure that your kitten has a safe place to sleep where she is protected from the rest of the household. Train young children and dogs not to disturb the kitten when she is sleeping in her “safe place.” Perhaps most importantly, kittens need enrichment. Small plush animals, fishing-pole type toys, and laser pointers all make great sources of entertainment. These items can be an excellent way for you to interact and play with your kitten.
Which kitten to adopt?
This can be a very individual and personal choice; remember that this kitten will be your cat companion for the next 15-20 years. Therefore, this decision must be made carefully. Many rescue organizations will post pictures of their available kittens on their websites. Several kittens may catch your eye; the next step is to visit with each kitten individually at the shelter. Look the kitten over physically. Look for bright eyes with no discharge. Look for a clean and shiny coat. The kitten should not sneeze, squint, or excessively scratch. Remember that long-haired cats often require extra grooming. Pay close attention to the kitten’s personality. Is she alert and curious or hiding and quiet? Is she laid back and easy to handle, or does she have a very energetic personality? Ask shelter workers if they know the kitten’s background. Was she raised in a household with humans or with a feral mother? You might want to consider adopting littermates. A pair of kittens can be built in playmates and lifelong companions. There are many factors to scrutinize in this important personal decision. But be aware, many people report that the kitten simply “chose” them!
When to visit the veterinarian?
Your kitten will require lifelong veterinary care. This should be factored into your decision to adopt. It is best for your new kitten to visit the veterinarian within the first week of adoption. Kittens require medical care right away. They should have multiple vaccines, parasite control, and viral testing. Your veterinarian will be able to address any concerns that you might have regarding your new family member at this first visit. If your kitten has not been spayed or neutered, then the timing of this important sterilization procedure should be discussed with your veterinarian. It is imperative not to add to the overpopulation of kittens available next summer!
If your heart and home are available to adopt a kitten this season, then a little advance planning will help you get off to the right start. Your new kitten is waiting for you!
By Tiffany Mitchener, DVM