Everyone loves kittens. They are little balls of springy, soft fur. They tumble, stalk and capture our hearts with their saucer eyes. There is an ever-present opinion that kittens are self-sufficient. If you give them a bowl of food and a litter box, they will be happy and well-rounded. However, this is a myth. Across the United States, there are many cats in homes that suffer from behavioral problems or obesity, and these problems can be easily prevented with proper care of kittens. In some ways, kittens require as much time, love and effort as puppies.
A Diet Rich in Protein
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means a diet high in animal-based protein is vital. Canned diets are often preferred because they tend to have a higher protein content than their kibbled counterparts. Pet owners should feed their kittens a high-quality diet that consists of canned food. A diet formulated for kittens is necessary since they need specific nutrition to accommodate a growing body. Portion control isn’t important for kittens because they are still growing. However, after your cat has been spayed or neutered, it will require portion control for meals. Most cats are not good at self-regulation (meaning they don’t have an ‘off’ switch), and overeating can lead to obesity. Consider referencing the recommended portions on the back of the bag.
Enrichment and Exercise
While cats who have access to the outdoors enjoy the sounds and activities of nature, they also face many dangers. As such, keeping cats indoors is becoming more and more popular. However, indoor cats receive less environmental stimulation than outdoor cats, so providing enrichment activities is important. Cats are hunters in the wild, and simulating this in your home can be an easy and fun way to bond with your kitty. Laser light pointers are wonderful toys for stimulating your cat’s hunting reflexes. Pair with a feather wand or other toy so they can physically attack it. Kittens may get frustrated that they can’t actually “catch the prey.”
Cats also have a natural desire and need to scratch. This serves many functions for them in the wild, including maintaining nail health, stretching neck/back muscles and marking territory to other cats. Scratching pads and posts come in a variety of styles and textures. The key is finding the right one and placing it in the most effective place, which may require a little trial and error.
Kittens also enjoy perching, which contributes to enrichment. It’s important to provide a variety of areas of differing heights. Consider creating a cat “tree” by installing shelves and placing furniture in front of windows. If this isn’t feasible, offer designated areas on existing furniture and place a bed or blanket on the area to encourage use.
Adopting a kitten can be a unique experience when compared to adopting a puppy. If their littermates and the mother kitten have not properly socialized it, it is even more important that they are socialized to people. All kittens benefit from gentle human interaction. Use appropriate toys and provide positive reinforcement when your kitty behaves properly. Avoid play that involves your hands, arms and legs, and redirect that activity to something more appropriate.
Cats will carry the routines that are established when they are kittens with them their whole lives. It’s important for kittens to establish healthy relationships with their carriers, tolerating or even enjoying being in their carriers. Sometimes owners don’t take their cats to the veterinarian regularly because of the stress associated with transporting it. Cats benefit from annual wellness examinations throughout their lives. (A carrier is essential for these visits.) Additionally, if your cat falls ill and requires a visit to the veterinarian, it may stress the cat when placed in the carrier, further compromising its health. A positive relationship with a carrier prior to needing veterinary care can make the difference in diagnosis and treatment.
Taking care of this process when they are young and have yet to develop an aversion to it will make it much easier. This handout [http://www.catvets.com/public/PDFs/ClientBrochures/Cat-to-VetHandout.pdf] describes how to make carriers appealing to cats.
Using a litter box seems to come naturally to kittens. Introduce them to the location and make sure it is consistently placed there. The litter box should be cleaned immediately after soiling. A good rule of thumb is to have one additional litter box for each cat in the house. For ideal usage, it should be fragrance-free clumping litter.
American Association of Feline Practitioners ‘Adopting a Cat’ recommendations.
AAFP’s ‘Importance of Routine Physical Examinations’
Carol Hurst, LVT, is a graduate of McLennan Community College who lives in Houston, Texas. She works at ABC Animal & Bird Clinic.