Raising a kitten is a source of great joy, but perhaps not as straightforward as one might think. You need to think about kitty’s feeding hours and the amount of food to give, stimulate him (our kitten Kami is a tom) through play time and discipline him. Here I share our experience of our kitten’s first weeks in our home.
There are two posts in this series of caring for a kitten:
2- Raising a kitten
This post (2) focuses on kitten’s first weeks in its new home, setting up a routine, feeding, playing and disciplining.
Post number 1 is about preparations you’ll need to undertake for a kitten, making sure you can give it a happy home, what to get and how to welcome kitten into your home.
Go to the vet
Now that you’ve welcomed kitten into your home, it’s time to plan an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Call them to ask when would be the best time. We had our first appointment at around 10 weeks old. He was then vaccinated against cat flu, de-flead and wormed. A month later we went for the second treatment and next time should be the castrating and chipping procedure around 5 months.
Establishing a routine
In the beginning, there was a bit of trial and error around bedtime. We allowed our kitty in the bedroom, but in the evenings before we went to bed, he wanted to play endlessly until we were exhausted. In the mornings Kami would be super cute when he woke me up for breakfast, but it was sometimes way too early!
After a few nights we decided to close to door to the bedroom before going to bed. Since cats are nocturnal animals, it is not natural for them to go to sleep at night. Now when we go to bed, we do hear him roaming around for a bit, but he doesn’t disturb our sleep.
In the mornings, I don’t get up before the alarm clock so Kami learns when it’s breakfast time. I do hear him before the alarm clock goes off occasionally, but don’t get up because otherwise he would get spoiled. Like a human baby, routine and repetition is important for a kitten. This is how he learns and it is reassuring for him to know he gets his food at certain times.
Our routine now looks as follows:
- 7 AM breakfast
- Exploring the garden on a leash
- 12 noon lunch
- 6.30 PM dinner
- 10.30 PM bedtime
In between he grooms himself, especially after he has been outside. We try to teach him that food is served after he has been outside, so when he goes out by himself when he is big enough he knows to come back in for food.
There are a few options: you could fill his bowl with kibble so he eats whenever he wants. After talking to some experts, we chose to feed him three times a day so he gets used to this schedule and doesn’t overeat. He will eat everything we set out in front of him, so this works out best for us.
We give him treats after a play session sometimes. If he has caught his toy mouse, or if he was playing nicely on the scratching pole. This way, he will learn to associate good behavior with something positive. See also ‘How to handle good and bad behavior’.
Types of food
We’ve been told that wet food is not absolutely necessary. All nutrients are in dry food already. For variation, we do give him wet food in the evenings.
How much food
At the moment (14 weeks old) we give him
- 20 grams of kibble for breakfast
- 20 grams of kibble for lunch
- 50 grams of wet food for dinner
- A little treat once a day
Tip: Check the indications on the packet to see how much you should be feeding your cat depending on its age, or ask the vet for guidelines.
Our neighbors gave us a ball which dispenses treats and he loves that! We let him play with it in the evenings towards bed time (instead of giving him some treats).
It is of utmost importance to stimulate your kitten to develop its skills and to avoid it getting bored. Cats do sleep a lot during the day. If play mode is on, you will notice! Once you’ve brought your kitty in, you will see it grow and develop every day. It is the most precious thing.
Through play you can practice:
Tip: Cats can’t see well from up close. Don’t dangle the toy directly in front of him, but a bit higher or further away. Scent is very well developed, so if you are playing fetch with a toy and it gets ‘lost’, allow your kitten to find it on its own. It could be right in front of him!
Your kitten will walk away front the toy sometimes. This doesn’t mean he’s done playing, but he will come back and stalk its prey (the toy) from further away. Be patient and allow your kitten some freedom.
Tip: Don’t stare back at your kitten when it is in ‘attack mode’. He will see it as a threat. Squint your eyes to show you are friendly.
Things our kitten likes:
- Empty toilet paper rolls
- Balls made out of tinfoil
- Tissues (used)
- Wires and cables
- Paper and plastic bags (keep an eye on kitty at all times to avoid suffocation!)
- Toy mice
- A fish filled with catnip
- Mice and feathers on a stick with a cord
- Toys that jingle or ‘peep’
- His own tail
- Watching running water
How to handle good and bad behavior
This is the most challenging bit. You want your kitten to be well-behaved and easy-going. Not only around yourself, but around guests or other family members too.
Various sources give different tips. In our experience, the most important piece of advice is: think like a cat. Don’t expect it to behave the same way a human does. Some say to discipline a cat by raising your voice or using a clap or a hard vocal sound. In our experience, this doesn’t work. The only thing that will do is scare your cat for a moment, but it won’t learn that certain behavior is unwanted. The key to raising a well-behaved cat is repetition, establishing trust and a good routine that works for all family members, rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior consistently.
Tip: If you try using your voice to point out naughty behavior, your cat won’t understand since it doesn’t speak human. It will just think you are giving it attention, which is positive.
Kami likes to play with our fingers and our feet. In the beginning, we deployed various tactics to try to stop this. If he does it now, we either remove him or remove ourselves and don’t say anything. I’m now noticing that ignoring works. Whenever Kami starts to bite my bare feet, I don’t speak or move and after a bit he loses interest.
Tip: Also tell visitors about your strategy for raising the cat, so they don’t mess up your hard work! On the other hand, get your cat acquainted with other people early on so it gets used to people.
How to reward good behavior:
- Give your cat attention: by talking, playing and cuddles
- Give treats or food.
What not to do:
- Allow your cat to play with your hands or feet
- Scare the cat by being loud or spraying water.
What to do to stop naughty behavior:
- Remove your cat or yourself from the situation
- Ignore the kitten
- Be consistent in rewarding and ignoring so the cats learns.
Tip: Always keep a toy close by. If he starts to bite you, you can distract him and offer him an alternative. After a while he will learn that playing with a toy gives a better reward than playing with your feet, i.e. attention through play time and quality time together.
In order to have a good relationship with your cat and give it a happy home, here’s a summary:
- Keep the litter box always available and clean
- Feed your cat at regular times
- Spend as much time with it as you can
- Stimulate it through giving your kitty attention, playing with it and allowing it to explore life
- Set up a regular sleep-eat-play routine
- Be consistent and patient.
This is the second part in my kitten care series. Find the first post here about preparing yourself and your home for kitten.