What could be more joyful than a new kitten? A fluffy, adorable, silly, fun new feline family member has been shown to improve human lives in so many ways, from allergies and cardiovascular health to mental wellbeing. So, what is the right time to bring home a kitten?
When You Are Ready
You will need time to educate yourself. For generations we have assumed that we understand what it is to be a cat and what they need: litter, food, and water. We now know so much more. Find trusted resources for information, such as https://fearfreehappyhomes.com/ and https://catfriendly.com/
Explore up-to-date, evidence-based, expert information on what it is to be a cat and how you can meet your cat’s needs for the best chance at having the relationship with your cat that you want.
When Your Home Is Ready
You will need some time to prepare your home. Choose the room that will become your “kitten nursery” where your new friend will transition into your home. Ideally, the kitten room should be away from busy areas of the home with a door that closes securely. Kitten-proof the room by removing cords, plants, and other dangerous items. Your kitten will spend a few weeks in the nursery before gradually being exposed to other rooms and pets in your home. You will spend lots of time together in the kitten nursery with the door safely closed.
The kitten nursery will need a large litter box with low sides, so your kitten can get in and out easily. Set up your litter box maintenance routine with a great scooper and a waste disposal plan so it will be easy for you to establish a lifelong habit of scooping litter at least once a day.
Next, you’ll need to add a place to climb, such as a cat tree, and a place to hide, like a cardboard box or cat cave, as well as a cozy bed. Then add a place to scratch that is large and sturdy. Finally, you’ll need a couple of different kinds of water dishes (maybe even a fountain) and a way to feed your cat. In nature, kittens learn to hunt from their mothers, and then spend most of their waking hours hunting for small meals. Find ways to recreate the hunt-catch-play-eat small portions cycle many times a day with a hunting feeder and food puzzles.
When Your Finances Are Ready
Once you have outfitted your home with a kitten’s needs, plan to set aside $50 to $80 a month for basic necessities like food, treats, litter, and safe toys. Annual veterinary visits can range from $90 to $200. Make a plan to provide for dental care, illness, and injury throughout your cat’s life. You can put money aside monthly for a medical care fund or get pet health insurance for your cat.
When Your Household Is Ready
A new kitten is an adjustment for everyone–human and non-human. This is a great opportunity to learn about the boundaries and limits of others. If you have children, get a stuffed animal and teach them how to pat a cat by extending a hand gently to the cat’s cheeks and waiting for the cat to move into their hand for a few pats and then stop, wait, and repeat. Cats are easily overstimulated by repetitive petting and aggressive handling that is normal for a human child. Teach kids how to engage with their cat with fishing-pole toys in a way that their kitten will love. Adults can learn a lot from this, too!
If you have other pets, consider whether a new kitten is right for them. Does your dog safely interact with cats? Do you have other cats? Cats can be territorial by nature. A new cat is seen as a threat and may never be accepted by other cats in the household. A slow, gradual introduction over many weeks or even months is the best way to set up harmony in your home. Additionally, make sure you have appropriate litter boxes, and climbing, hiding, scratching, and hunting resources for each cat.
When the Kitten Is Ready
There is no perfect age to bring home a kitten. A cat’s personality is a blend of nature and nurture. It is important to know what is reasonable to expect from cats at different ages.
Mother Nature gives kittens the instincts they need to survive. In the wild, sudden noises, other animals, and people could be life-threatening, so nature makes cats fearful of these things. A cat can react to these by hiding or climbing to escape. When that is not an option, the cat may become aggressive and even dangerous in an attempt to protect themselves. Young kittens who are properly exposed to noises, other animals, and people can learn that these are not a threat and are a normal and safe part of everyday life.
Your kitten will come to you with their own genetics and early life experiences. A friendly mom and dad who had good experiences with people generally make friendlier offspring. A kitten lucky enough to be brought into the world with a mom who had a peaceful pregnancy and early life with her kittens has a greater likelihood of being friendly with humans. If you are fortunate enough to meet the mother and father of your prospective kitten, you can evaluate their personalities for a good fit for you.
Starting at around three weeks of age, kittens begins to develop the ability to interact with the world around them. Kittens should gradually and safely be exposed to gentle handling by adults and children, household noises such as televisions and vacuum cleaners, and other animals. By nine weeks of age, a kitten is less able to accept and adapt to new things and by fourteen weeks it can be very difficult, but not impossible, for a cat to adapt. Overwhelming or frightening experiences during this time could negatively affect kittens for the rest of their life. Kitten kindergarten classes are a great way for you and your kitten to learn and experience proper socialization.
So, get your schedule, your home, and your finances ready. Find out as much as you can about the parents and early life of your kitten. Find a veterinarian you love and schedule your first visit before you even bring your kitten home. With reasonable expectations and proper preparation, you will welcome your new kitten and create the optimal environment for your relationship to thrive.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Liz Bales, VMD, is a 2000 graduate of The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and has a special interest in the unique behavioral and wellness needs of pets. She is the founder of Doc and Phoebe’s Cat Company and the inventor of The Indoor Hunting Feeder for cats and sits on the Dean’s Alumni Council at The University of Pennsylvania, the Advisory Board for AAFP Cat-Friendly Practice, and the Advisory Board of Fear-Free.
Published April 12, 2021