Helping kittens to settle in
Experiencing a brand new home is daunting for a tiny kitten. Every kitten has a unique personality; some are shy while others are confident. Whatever their character, this is potentially a traumatic transition for kittens as they are leaving their mothers and siblings for the first time.
With this in mind, it’s best to choose a room where it can be kept for the first few weeks to adjust gradually to its new surroundings. This confinement also aids toilet training and avoids the risk of ‘accidents’ elsewhere in the house. Careful selection of the appropriate room should take the following into consideration:
- Avoid a room with full-length curtains initially as a kitten will run up them and perch at the top.
- Check the room for potential hazards such as fireplaces or poisonous plants and make it as safe as possible. Remember that kittens can get into very small spaces.
- Make sure any hazardous substances are out of harm’s way and the cupboards where they are kept are not accessible by curious kittens. Cats and poisons
- Remove all breakable objects from shelves and windowsills and secure all cupboard doors.
- Keep windows securely fastened.
- Position the litter tray in a discreet corner of the room, with the food bowl in the opposite corner and the water bowl away from both the food and the tray.
- Place a cardboard box on its side with a thick fleecy blanket inside so that the kitten has somewhere to hide if it feels a little shy or insecure.
- Position a padded washable cat bed in a quiet area away from the food, water and litter tray areas. Line with a thermal, washable fleece blanket.
- Place a kitten scratching post nearby. (Prepare to replace this with a taller one as the kitten grows.)
- Have a couple of toys ready for playtime. Don’t leave any toys out with string attached; only use these under supervision as kittens can easily be harmed.
You might want to purchase, borrow or hire a kitten pen (or large dog ‘crate’ of similar construction). A kitten pen is a large metal cage with a solid floor that is normally used for kittening queens or cats after surgery that need to be confined. You could also use one which goes in the back of a car for dogs. It is quite large with plenty of room for a bed, toys, food, water and a litter tray. Many are easily collapsible to enable the pen to be moved from room to room. It is an invaluable asset when you have a new kitten. You can start with it in a quiet room and move it more into the centre of activity as the kitten settles in. It gives you somewhere to put the kitten safely at night or when you are not around to watch it (the term curiosity killed the cat was no doubt coined for kittens!).
The first few days
It is advisable to bring the kitten home with some bedding; this will act as a familiar object when everything else is new. The initial twenty-four hours should be a calm period of adjustment so it’s probably best for any children in the household to understand that the kitten should be left alone for a while. The kitten room should be prepared in advance to enable the new arrival to settle in comfortably with minimum disturbance. Place the cat basket on the floor gently and open the lid; allow the kitten to explore in its own time. It may be experiencing many of the room’s sights, sounds, smells and textures for the first time so be patient and allow a period of investigation.
Offer food, water and a freshly prepared litter tray to the kitten within the room or in the cage so the kitten knows it is its den. Once the kitten has investigated and found them all, it’s safe to leave the room for a while. Don’t worry if little interest is shown in food at this stage. The piece of familiar bedding can be placed inside a cardboard box or cat bed to help the kitten feel at home. It may be helpful to maintain the same litter material that the kitten was used to in its previous home during the initial period, making any changes gradually once the newcomer is completely settled.
Kittens need their sleep when they are young, even more so than adult cats, but in between catnaps they exhibit energetic bursts of activity. Kittens love to climb so be prepared to go to the rescue; going up is always easier than coming down.
Getting to know the kitten is really important to enable a bond to be created so interaction should take place during the times when it feels naturally active and appears responsive. No matter how cute a kitten looks it should never be woken for affection or playtime. If the kitten seems receptive, play with it but don’t persevere if it seems disinterested or anxious; there’s a lot to take in at the start. Don’t coax the kitten out of a hiding place; spend time in the room reading a book or watching television, for example, instead of forcing the relationship to develop. If you want to appeal to your new kitten, spend time on the floor at kitten level – allow family members to visit individually rather than crowding into the room all at once.
During the first couple of days, any handling should ideally take place when the kitten initiates it. After the first forty-eight hours, handle the kitten throughout the day for short periods of time, rather than providing continuous physical contact.
If you have young children, allow them limited supervised contact initially to avoid the kitten being over-handled. See our information on introducing children to a new cat or kitten.
At this age, the kitten needs plenty of rest so always allow the kitten to sleep uninterrupted. If you have a kitten cage you can simply put it away for a while so it can rest in peace. It also has a tiny stomach at this age so offering 4-6 small meals at regular intervals throughout the day will avoid any potential stomach upsets.
Don’t rush to introduce the kitten to other cats and dogs – this needs to be done carefully.
It’s important from day one to set the routines that you intend to establish for the future. Many owners feel that kittens need to be close to them at night, particularly when they first arrive, but this can set an undesirable precedent for nocturnal games and excitement and no sleep whatsoever for you! Cats are naturally active at dawn and dusk but your kitten can soon learn to adjust its sleeping patterns to fit in with your lifestyle. There is nothing cruel in putting a kitten to bed in a cosy, warm and secure environment (such as the kitten cage) until you wake in the morning, but the location and type of bed are important to ensure a stress-free night. Any bed provided for a kitten should have high sides to keep out draughts and a low front for easy access. The lining material should be thick and thermal to keep the kitten warm.
When you first take a kitten home feed it on the same food it has been used to. A sudden change of diet combined with the stress of adapting to a new home can cause stomach upsets and diarrhoea. If you want to change the diet, do so gradually by mixing it with the kitten’s usual food. Kittens have small stomachs and have to be fed little and often, like babies. It can be very difficult to put together a homemade diet which provides all the nutrients required by growing kittens – it is a great deal easier to feed a good quality commercial kitten food and spend the time playing with the kitten instead! There are foods which have been specially formulated for kittens because they have different nutritional needs to the fully grown cat. Read and follow the feeding instructions carefully. If the food is marked ‘complete’ it contains everything the kitten needs to stay healthy. If it is marked ‘complementary’ it does not supply all the kitten needs and should be fed with other foods.
Kittens aged 8-12 weeks need four meals a day, 3-6 months three meals, and kittens over 6 months old, two meals. You may want to provide some dry food on an ad lib basis – it depends very much on your lifestyle, what your kitten likes and is used to and if you have other cats in the house with certain feeding routines and habits.
Do not give your kitten cow’s milk as it can cause diarrhoea. If you wish to feed milk use one that is specially formulated for cats. Diarrhoea that persists for more than 24 hours requires veterinary attention. Fresh drinking water should be available at all times.
Cats are very fussy about their toilet habits and kittens will usually have learnt to use a litter tray by copying their mother. You may just need to show your new kitten where the litter tray is and place it on the tray on waking up from a sleep and after meals, or when the kitten is sniffing, scratching or beginning to crouch and looks as if it is about to go!
If you are using a kitten cage then you can place the litter tray in there, if not place the tray in a quiet accessible corner where your kitten will not be disturbed. Make sure that the litter tray is not right next to food and water bowls. The kitten may be reluctant to use the litter tray if it is too close to its food. Click here for information on how to choose and use a litter tray.
Place the kitten on the litter tray a short time after it has eaten or when it is sniffing, scratching, beginning to crouch and generally showing signs of looking for a suitable corner to use as a toilet.
Because of potential infection from diseases such as enteritis or cat flu, your kitten should not be allowed outside until at least a week after it has finished its first course of vaccinations at about 13 – 14 weeks old (depending on the vaccine). You could then let it explore outside with your supervision. Before you let it have free access outdoors, make sure you have had your kitten neutered (at around 4 months), that it is fully vaccinated and has become used to life in your house.
It is important that your cat can be identified if he becomes lost or injured away from home. Microchipping is the best form of permanent identification and some people like their cat to wear a collar as well. When your kitten becomes older (over 6 months old) you may like to fit a collar on so that he has some form of identification or to carry a magnet or ‘key’ to an electronic cat flap – never put on a collar just for the sake of wearing one. For a young, rapidly growing cat you will need to remember to check the collar’s fit (you should be able to get one or two fingers under the collar) and increase its size accordingly.
Kittens are very playful. Give them an assortment of toys to keep them occupied and exercised – these need not be expensive – every kitten loves a cardboard box to play in. Play is also a good way for you to get to know and trust each other. Provide your kitten with a scratching post.
It is a good idea to accustom your kitten to being groomed from an early age, particularly if it has a long coat. A long-haired cat needs daily attention to keep fur free of tangles. Grooming removes excess loose hairs which can cause fur balls to build up in the stomach. Combing and brushing will help remove these hairs and it is usually appreciated by the cat, provided it has been accustomed to grooming early in life. Grooming also gives you a chance to keep a close eye on your cat, assess its health and help to develop the bond between you. Always be gentle and make grooming a rewarding and pleasant experience.
Keeping your cat in good health
A new kitten will need a health check-up shortly after arrival. This will give the veterinarian the opportunity to give any vaccinations necessary and advise on flea treatment, worming, neutering, microchip identification and other general care. Keeping your cat healthy
Helping adult cats to settle in
Preparation is the key to a calm introduction so you will already have prepared your home by purchasing all the necessary items, such as litter tray, food and water bowls, scratching post and bedding. It is advisable to keep a new cat indoors for at least two to three weeks to ensure it becomes fully acclimatised to the new home and less likely to panic and stray in search of somewhere else more familiar.
This will be a potentially challenging time for an adult cat adopted from a rehoming centre as a period of confinement often leaves them in a state of anxiety. The cat may retreat into a hiding place initially but is best left there as you go about your business to allow it to decide alone when it is safe to explore. Cats will occasionally in the first few days (or weeks if they are particularly shy) only eat and use their litter tray in the dead of night. The really anxious cat may even fail to do either for the first twenty-four hours. This is a part of the process that is best ignored by putting down fresh food and checking the litter tray regularly and letting nature take its course. If the situation persists beyond this period then it would be wise to consult a veterinarian.
The settling in procedure for an adult cat is the same as that adopted for a kitten for the first day or two. If the cat seems keen to explore the new environment then there is no need to confine in one room only. It may however be wise to allow the cat to explore one room at a time. This is the time to get to know the cat’s personality. Not all cats respond to the same quality of human contact so reading body language and appreciating signs of anxiety and stress (identifying and addressing the signs of stress) is helpful to get the maximum benefit from the relationship. If the cat becomes aggressive when approached this indicates that it is scared or confused and would prefer to meet you in its own time and on its own terms. Patience is important during the first few weeks as some cats take several weeks to feel safe in a new home.
If you already have a resident cat, don’t rush the introductions as this is a very important step.
How to introduce a new adult cat to your resident cat
It is best to keep a new adult cat inside the house for about 2 weeks so that he bonds to his new territory before you let him go outside.
How to let your cat out for the first time