In the grand scheme of babies, kittens are fairly user-friendly. Unlike their canine and human counterparts, young cats have fairly respectable bathroom manners, don’t require expensive schooling, and rarely keep the neighbors up all night.
That said, it’s not quite as simple as setting up a litter box and buying a couple feather toys. “It’s important to understand that although adopting a kitten can be an incredibly rewarding experience, raising a kitten properly takes time and hard work,” says Adi Hovav, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA.
Getting ready to welcome a bundle of feline fluff? Read on for Hovav’s top tips for kitten success.
1. Consider Twins
The only thing better than one kitten? Two kittens, naturally. Not only do shelters have plenty of kittens in need of good homes, but your pet would likely benefit from an around-the-clock playmate.
“We often recommend adopting kittens in pairs to keep them entertained, especially if you are away from home for long hours,” says Hovav. “If you frequently leave for long periods of time, such as to go to work, you may want to consider adopting an adult cat instead of a kitten, as full-grown felines have more established personalities and more manageable energy levels.”
One thing to keep in mind: Double the kittens means double the kitten bills. Before adopting any pet, be sure to budget for supplies and veterinary care.
2. Prepare Your Home
Ready to bring home your new pet? It’s important to have some basic supplies and gear on hand: specially formulated kitten food, a food dish and water bowl, interactive toys, a brush, a safety cat collar with an ID tag, a scratching post or scratching pad, a litter box and litter, a cat bed, and a travel carrier.
You’ll also want to kitten-proof your home—like human babies, kittens have a knack for turning common household items into hazards. Secure electrical cords, chemical cleaning supplies, and drawers, and make sure window screens are sturdy. Kittens are fascinated by toilet bowls, so keep the seat down at all times to prevent drowning or poisoning from harsh cleaners. Avoid vertical blinds and any other window treatments with long cords, as these can be strangulation hazards.
To keep your furniture safe from active kittens (and their claws), Hovav recommends placing upside-down vinyl carpet runners on cushions—cats don’t like the texture, and will learn to avoid these items. Double-sided tape can also be used to discourage scratching on popular places such as table legs and chair arms, but depending on the fabric or finish, this could cause damage of its own.
3. Take It Slow
Some kittens will make themselves right at home, sprawling across the couch and demanding belly rubs from strangers. Others will need some time to adjust to their new surroundings and decompress from shelter life. Whatever the case, be prepared to move slowly and take cues from your kitten.
“Every pet has a unique personality and will settle in at their own pace,” says Hovav. “When bringing home a new pet, it’s a good idea to postpone inviting guests over until the pet is settled in and comfortable. Keep your new pet confined to a small, quiet room at first and gradually introduce them to the rest of the home.”
If you have other pets in the home, it’s especially important not to rush things. Hovav recommends keeping all animals separated for the first few days, allowing them to roam freely during shifts to get acquainted with each other’s scent and presence in the home. After a few days, allow supervised interactions while closely monitoring your kitten for any signs of stress. If you’re concerned about a face-to-face meeting, consider introducing pets on opposite sides of a baby gate.
4. Get Ready to Play
As a kitten companion, you have three jobs: play, play, and more play. Although cats have reputations as being independent—some may even go as far as to say standoffish—in reality, kittens need as much interaction and quality playtime as a puppy.
“Kittens are very high in energy and are almost always in the mood to play,” says Hovav. “They need lots of interactive playtime with toys so they don’t end up using their nails or teeth on people. We ensure that adopters are aware of their new kitten’s rambunctious nature because if kittens don't get enough play time, they can be destructive.”
5. Visit Your Vet
Your newly adopted kitten should come home happy, healthy, and up-to-date on shots. Even so, it’s a good idea to have a veterinarian in mind and check-in to make sure your new pet is off to a good start.
“The timeline varies kitten to kitten; however, in most cases you should schedule a check-in with a veterinarian shortly after adoption to ensure your kitten is all-around healthy,” says Hovav.
Happy tails to you and your new kitten!