Are you thinking of adding a kitten to your family soon? If you have adopted one already, congratulations! You’ve done something incredible. Kittens are so sweet and adorable. You might be looking for some tips about how to take care of a kitten or just to brush up your cat care skills. whatever the case may be, we put together this kitten care guide.
How to tell the age of a kitten?
First of all, you have to determine the age of the kitten. But why? Because providing very specific development needs such as nourishment, warmth, socialization, and excretion for the first 10 weeks depends on the age of your kitten. Therefore, you should learn it. Typically, shelters or cat breeders do not give kittens for adoption until they become 10 weeks old. If you happen to take care of a newborn or under 10 weeks of age kitten, we recommend consulting a veterinarian for special instructions.
When kittens are born, their eyes are closed and ears are folded. They cannot do anything like standing, eating, keep warming themselves. They’re completely helpless and rely on the mother cat. If the kitten’s ears are beginning to unfold, then they’re about 3 days old.
When they’re 8-12 days old, their eyes start to open. Within 2 weeks, the eyes are completely opened. By the third week, you can tell the gender of the kitten. You can see their teeth are coming. At this age, you can provide them a litter box and wet food.
To have healthy kittens, they should be kept with the mother cat until 4-6 weeks old. Just like mother’s milk for human babies, the best food for newborn kittens is the mother cat’s milk. Therefore, try to provide the mother cat's milk as much as possible.
What to Feed a Kitten
As we mentioned earlier, the best food for kittens is the mother cat’s milk. A mother cat’s milk provides everything a kitten needs until four weeks of age. The first milk (also known as colostrum) contains antibodies that the kitten needs in the early life stage.
If you have a newborn kitten separated from the mother cat, consult with a veterinarian or shelter to find a mother cat for milk feeding. If you cannot find a foster mother cat, get a kitten milk replacer and ask your veterinarian about how to properly bottle-feed. We recommend the following kitten milk replacers, which do not have preservatives and made in the USA.
This milk replacer is recommended as a food source for orphaned or rejected kittens by the mother cat that need supplemental feeding. It is also suitable for growing kittens or adult cats that are stressed and require highly digestible food source. It comes in a powdered form but easily becomes liquid when mixed with warm water.
This is a ready-to-feed liquid formula, which closely matches cat milk that includes protein and taurine.
Bottle-feed the kitten every 2-3 hours during the day. What about at night? Typically, the kitten will sleep all night and will only wake up if hungry. NEVER give your kitten other animal milk such as cow milk. It would make them sick and give them diarrhea.
Water is very important for kittens for digestion. Provide plenty of fresh and clean water to your kitten in a place that is easy to access at all times. You don’t have to warm the water. It should be at room temperature. Get a feeding bowl that is low enough for the kitten to drink. Typically cats don’t like drinking water even though you provide in a bowl. Don’t worry if your cat does not drink water regularly.
The mother cat starts weaning the kittens in about 4 weeks. According to Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of Veterinary Services at Petplan, the mother will push away the kittens when they are trying to drink her milk. That’s a natural thing for the sake of the kittens. The weaning process is an important part of their development. If you’re wondering what weaning means, it’s the process of transitioning the kitten from mother’s milk to solid food.
So, in this transition, you have to start introducing solid food to the kitten. Now, do you remember when to do that? You got it! In about 4 weeks of age. You can provide either canned food, dry food, or both. NEVER give adult cat food to a kitten. Kitten food nutrients are different from adult cat food. Until your kitten is 12 months old, it needs enhanced kitten food for healthy development.
You should feed the kitten every few hours during the day. Canned food is easier to feed but give some dry food also for your kitty to munch. He/ she will enjoy it.
4-5 weeks: Feed wet or moistened dry food.
5-6 weeks: The kittens start eating from the kibble. Do not push their face into the bowl if they do not eat. They will naturally get used to eating themselves. If you see your kitten is not eating, consult with a veterinarian.
6-7 weeks: The weaning process should complete by now, and the kitten should be eating solid food.
When your kitten becomes a young cat, the feeding process is quite different. So, if you need more information about feeding cats, check our cat feeding guide.
When you shop for kitten food, check if the food packaging includes a statement from the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that food is nutritionally complete. AAFCO regulates the minimum levels of nutrients that AAFCO deems essential to a pet’s health based on tests and research.
Other Essential Things the Kitten Need
It’s very important to keep weaning kittens warm as necessary because their bodies are too small to retain sufficient body heat. They will cuddle up together or curl up on your lap seeking warmth. You can build a nest by lining a cardboard box with towels to keep your kitten warm. The ambient temperature must be high enough to facilitate maintenance of the body temperature of at least 97°F (36°C). We recommend putting some diapers as a layer on top of the towels because it would make it easier for you to clean.
The ideal litter box for your kitten is the ones with lower sides about 2-3 inches for easy access. The litter box should be comfortable for your kitten to step inside, turn around, scratch, and squat.
Make sure you put regular litter and not the clumping litter for kittens. According to Cat Health, clumping litter can be dangerous for kittens as they are curious to eat non-food items. This litter expands when they are mixed with liquids so that if your kitten eats those, it will develop intestinal blockage.
Kittens start scratching things at an early age (that’s one of the things they love to do, you know it). Provide your kitty cat with a flat scratching pad or a small scratching post in a place they can easily access for training. You can sprinkle or spray some catnip on the scratch post or pad to attract the kitten.
Raise your voice if he/she scratches the wrong things. You don’t want your cat to scratch your sofa or walls and destroy them later on. Soft yelling at them is a form of communication of wrongdoing. Don’t hit them or punish them to teach a lesson. No one likes it, even animals.
Spend plenty of quality time with your kitten to make him/her friendly. Kittens love if you stroke gently under the chin or around ears. Start gently touching the kitten’s body including paws and tummy. More you touch them often, they will become more socialized and will get used to your smell and voice. If you do this right, the kitten will quickly learn to socialize, develop skills (not to solve your math problems of course), and give you lots of fun!
Also, provide plenty of playtime to your kitten with safe toys. Stuffed toys are ideal for that. You can make DIY toys by stuffing soft cloths in your old socks for your kitten to play with. Be patient with the feline if he/she bites or scratches you when excited. Soft yelling can stop your kitten from doing that. Train your kitten with those methods to communicate the lessons he/she should learn.
Vaccinations and Deworming
The distemper vaccine should be given at about 8 weeks of age to prevent feline distemper and some viruses. Feline distemper (panleukopenia) is easily transmitted and fatal. A booster shot is given 3-4 weeks after the first vaccine. After that, your kitten will need annual boosters.
Moreover, the first rabies vaccination should be given to your kitten at 4 months of age, a booster one year later, and every 3 years after that. Many states in the US require to give rabies vaccination to pets.
Rule of Thumb: We emphasize that you consult a veterinarian to get the recommendation for types of food, portions, and feeding frequency of your kitten. Ask your veterinarian about controlling parasites, possible signs of illness, introducing to your other pets if you have any, and necessary vaccinations.
Must have kitten care items
- Quality kitten food
- Food and water bowl (ceramic is recommended)
- Litter box and cat litter
- Collar and ID tags
- Cat bed (a comfortable and warm bed)
- Scratching post
- Cat carrier - When you go to the vet for regular visits, definitely have a comfortable and strong cat carrier in handy.
- Kitten toys - Consider buying some kitten toys for teething.
- Cat grooming tools - Before buying a grooming brush, ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
Optional kitten care items
- Cat brush - In the beginning, you may not really need a cat toothbrush for your kitten. Consider getting one when your cat is fully grown.
- Cat leash/ harness - Cats can be trained to walk outside but you need this when your cat is grown enough to explore the outside world. It's totally up to you.
If you like visuals, we put together the following infographic as well. Feel free to share it with your loved ones who have kittens.
So, we hope you learned something valuable from this kitten care guide. Do you have a kitten? If so, what do you do differently from what we have discussed in this guide? Please comment below and share your ideas.
What to buy for a new kitten?
Quality kitten food, a food bowl, a water feeder, a litter box and cat litter, collar and ID tags, a cat bed, a scratching post, a cat carrier, kitten toys, cat grooming tools.
If the kitten’s ears are beginning to unfold, then they’re about 3 days old. When they’re 8-12 days old, their eyes start to open. Within 2 weeks, the eyes are completely opened.
What to feed a newborn kitten?
The best food for kittens is the mother cat’s milk until 4 weeks of age. If you have a newborn kitten separated from the mother cat, try to find a foster mother cat or get a kitten milk replacer.
After 4 weeks, feed with kitten food and fresh and clean water. You can provide either canned food, dry food, or both. NEVER give adult cat food to a kitten.
How many times to feed a kitten?
Bottle-feed the kitten every 2-3 hours with a kitten milk replacer during the day if your kitten was separated from the mother cat (on occasions you rescued a kitten and cannot find a foster cat mother).