Getting a new kitten is a very special experience with lots of joy, warmth, and laughter. There is a reason why the internet is so full of kitten pictures and videos. Kittens are super fun, loving, and entertaining. Kitten care does involve hands-on attention from human family members. The focus of kitten care is on acclimating the kitten to their new family and providing for the kitten's physical wellbeing to support healthy development.
Drawing upon a lifetime of love for kittens and many years of clinical experience, our veterinary staff would love to help ensure that you are well-informed about your kitten's needs. There are many phases of a kitten's life and it is important to understand how your cat's needs will change as they grow. We have compiled some essential kitten care information for you here.
Remember that proper kitten care also requires an examination from a cat friendly veterinarian, kitten vaccinations, deworming, and other forms of care that support development throughout the various phases of kittenhood.
Make sure to check out available Kitten Kindergarten classes to get hands-on training and care tips for your new kitten!
Taking Care of Kittens - The First Six Months
How to take care of a kitten is one of the most common kitten care questions we are asked, but also one of the broadest. Some basic tips for how to take care of a kitten in the first six months of its life are as follows:
- Under 4 Weeks of Age: Kittens are considered newborn kittens from 0-4 weeks of age. During this time, newborn kittens are just developing motor skills and coordination. They are also learning how to regulate body temperature. At this time in their life, they count on their mother for warmth. If the mother cat is still with the kittens, there is very little required for human caretakers besides a warm, clean, and safe environment, good nutrition, and veterinary care for the mother cat. If for some reason the mother cat is not able to care for the kittens, then a fair amount of care is required to help the kittens grow and thrive. You should plan an immediate visit to see us with the kittens so we can review the kittens' needs, especially relating to feeding and monitoring their progress. This includes complete orphan kitten care such as bottle feeding kittens every 2-4 hours, keeping their environment warm and safe, and helping the kitten to urinate and defecate. Be sure to keep them warm with blankets, especially if they have been separated from their mother and/or siblings. Dr. Lacie and many of the staff members at Cat Care Center have personal experience with orphan kitten care and will be able to advise you in the specialized needs of these smallest kittens.
- 5-11 Weeks of Age: By this time, newborn kittens should be weaned off of their mothers or bottle-feeding, and feeding on a high-protein, energy-dense diet. During this stage, their motor skills and coordination should also be progressing. Beware, that when this happens, your kitten will become quite the force to be reckoned with! How to take care of a kitten at this age includes proper supervision in order to ensure that your kitten's newfound sense of adventure and bravado doesn't lead them into dangerous situations.
- 2-4 Months of Age: This is a period of rapid growth in kitten development. You should expect your kitten to have a lot more energy than an adult cat, and be ready to be woken up during the night by a kitten who is ready to play. How to take care of a kitten during this phase includes both a lot of bonding-based playtime, and also feeding 3 or 4 high-protein individual meals per day.
- 4-6 Months of Age: Your kitten is reaching an age of adolescence and therefore, sexual maturity. This will result in an increase of energy and at times, behavioral changes similar to an adolescent human child entering puberty. It is time to discuss and plan for spaying or neutering your kitten. Most kittens will go through puberty at approximately 6-8 months and it is recommended that they are spayed or neutered just before then. It is important to continue hands-on, bonding-based playtime with the addition of behavior modification if necessary. There are many ways to enrich your cat's environment which is especially important for indoor kittens. During your next appointment, we should discuss ways to build an enriched environment that provides the right amount of stimulation your kitten instinctively desires.
Have you found a kitten that needs to be rescued? Read more about what to do when you find a kitten and how to care for it.
AAFP - Your Cat's Environmental Needs
Nutrition Tips for Kittens
As we briefly discussed above, proper kitten nutrition includes modifying the diet to ensure you are feeding kittens what they need during each stage of growth.
- The mother cat should be feeding kittens during the first 4 weeks of life, or you should use a special commercial milk replacement formula every 2-4 hours if the kitten has been separated from their mother.
- From 3-5 weeks of age, feeding kittens involves offering the milk replacement formula in a shallow dish to encourage weaning from a bottle. You can also add a moist, easily chewable diet consisting of a mixture of warm milk replacement formula and high-quality canned or dried kitten food 4-6 times a day.
- By 5-8 weeks of age, your kitten should be able to chew their own food, and you should provide a protein-rich and energy-filled diet, with feedings taking place 3-4 times daily. There are many different types of kitten food available, and we would like to discuss these dietary options with you at your next veterinary appointment. Typically, we recommend canned food because it will mimic the natural diet both in consistency and formulation. However, a good diet may also consist of a combination of canned and dry cat foods.
- After 6 months of age, kittens should be fed 2-3 times per day.
Feeding kittens the right food, in the right amounts, and at the right times throughout the day is essential for happy, healthy, and growing cats. Our veterinary staff would be happy to discuss the proper feeding schedule for your kitten at your next veterinary appointment.
Socializing Your Kittens
A huge part of kitten development is socializing your kitten with both human family members as well as any other animals in your household. The old adage about dogs not getting along with cats is anything but true, however some dogs have a strong prey instinct and cannot decipher a cat from a rabbit. For this reason, proper interspecies interaction and overall behavior requires hands-on, responsible, and sustained social development including:
- Litter box training
- Frequent petting and cuddling
- Toy introduction
- Exploration with boxes, paper bags, etc.
- Rewarding good behavior with treats
- Redirection from biting or scratching
- Introduction to new people and animals in a controlled environment
- Weekly combing and grooming and handling
- Nail trimming
As you can see, kitten development is filled with fun but requires you to be actively involved in the process. It is critically important that you consider the time commitment necessary to do your part and ensure proper kitten development. To learn more, click here to read about our Kitten Kindergarten class.
What Can Go Wrong with Kittens
Newborn kittens (0-4 weeks) are a lot of work in many regards. One of the most important things to take into account is what can go wrong with newborn kittens. Some warning signs to look for with newborn kittens include:
- Not accepting food, especially for younger kittens who have been abandoned by or separated from their mothers
- Motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties
- Lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting
Kittens older than 4 weeks will have moved past the more delicate stages where feeding requirements and body temperature maintenance are of paramount importance. During this next phase, you will still need to be aware of the above warning signs but should begin to be more concerned with behavioral issues such as:
- Litter box usage
- Signs of aggression and play-biting
- Fears and other behaviors that we want to address while they are still impressionable
If you observe any odd or concerning behaviors during kitten development, don't hesitate to bring your kitten in for a special visit in addition to the veterinary appointments that should be scheduled for preventive purposes and kitten vaccinations.
Preventive Care for Kittens
Preventive care is important in ensuring your kitten is given the best opportunity to live a healthy life. Preventive kitten care begins with finding the right veterinarian and working with them to implement a sound checkup, kitten vaccinations, and preventive maintenance schedule. At Cat Care Center, we are able to pick up on subtle signs that something may not be quite right with your kitten. Between a thorough discussion with you and a physical exam, our veterinarian will be able to identify health or behavioral issues that your kitten may be experiencing.
When to Schedule Your Kitten's First Veterinary Appointment
No matter when you get your kitten, you should schedule a veterinary appointment within the first week. Early and frequent visits will help socialize your kitten with the vet and help establish an informed baseline for your kitten's health and wellness.
Intestinal Parasites, Fleas, and Heartworm Disease in Kittens
All kittens need a regular deworming program which includes medication to kill most intestinal parasites. In addition, we will want to check your kitten's stool for more uncommon but potentially serious parasites. In addition to intestinal parasites/worms, cats can contract heartworms. If cats develop heartworm disease, there is no treatment. Therefore, we recommend consistent heartworm prevention for all cat patients.
Of all threats to your kitten, one of the most common parasitic dangers is fleas. A discussion about your cat's lifestyle and proper flea and tick control is an indispensable component of kitten care. We do not recommend over-the-counter sprays, powders, or collars. They are less effective and more toxic to your kitten. At your next appointment we would be happy to discuss an effective flea/tick and overall parasite prevention program.
Schedule for Kitten Vaccinations
Vaccinations are very important to your new kitten’s health and wellbeing! Here at Cat Care Center, we follow the AAFP guidelines for vaccinations. This means that your kitten will receive the following booster vaccinations during 3 visits, each 3-4 weeks apart. (This schedule may vary at your veterinarian’s discretion, depending on the age and previous vaccination history of your new kitten.)
- 3 to 4 FVRCP vaccinations, which protect your cat from Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia (feline Parvovirus), until at least 16-20 weeks of age
- 2 FeLV vaccinations, which protect your cat from Feline Leukemia Virus
- 1 Rabies vaccination
Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)/Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Testing in Kittens
When Should You Spay/Neuter Your Kitten?
By 4-5 months of age, kittens are reaching a point of mature adolescence, or kitty puberty if you will. Because of this, it becomes essential for you to have your kitten spayed or neutered. Reasons for spaying and neutering include:
- Avoiding unpleasant habits like territorial scent spraying, in heat females, and aggression
- Avoiding unplanned litters
- A decrease in the chance of mammary or testicular cancer later in life.
If your kitten is in contact with other kittens or cats of the opposite sex, it is essential that you have them spayed or neutered before or as they reach 4-5 months of age.
Schedule a Kitten Care Appointment with Cat Care Center of Baton Rouge Today!
Caring for a kitten can certainly be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences you can have as a cat owner, however, if you are under-informed about the needs of your kitten during this time, you can leave them at a developmental disadvantage.
At Cat Care Center of Baton Rouge, kitten care is one of our greatest joys. Our veterinary staff would be delighted to spend some time with you and your kitten, ensuring that your relationship will be a healthy, happy, and rewarding one for many years to come. Schedule your first kitten care appointment today!
Kitten Care 101
Dr. Aimee Edwards
Cat Care Center
Hi, my name is Dr. Edwards from Cat Care Center, here to talk a bit more about kittens. So, you have gotten a kitten. Congratulations. Welcome to your little furry family member. The most important thing is to make sure that you bring them to see us within the first two to three days that you have them. We'll do a good exam; we’ll deworm them if we need to, and check for any parasites like fleas or even intestinal parasites, and then make sure that they're where they should be at their life stage.
And then the first, most important thing that we'll recommend is a fecal check for any intestinal parasites. There are many common in new kittens, and some can even be transmitted to your other pet and yourself. So we'll do a fecal. Nice and easy to test for, send it off to the lab, super easy to treat, get them all nice and healthy.
The next thing we'll recommend for them is definitely starting them on their vaccines. There are three vaccines that we recommend for all kittens. That's the FVRCP vaccine, which is all the upper respiratory, viral, very infectious diseases that kittens can get a lot. They'll need it every three to four weeks until they're about 16, 17 weeks old. The kitten’s age will determine how many doses they get.
The next one is feline leukemia. Even if they're going to be indoors, we recommend at least getting a series started with them, just in case to prevent this viral disease that can cause some pretty bad problems down the road. And then, of course, rabies. They'll get that between 15 and 16 weeks old. They'll need that every year. That's required by law, so we'll make sure that they're up-to-date on that.
And the next most important thing is a heartworm and flea prevention. Even if your cat's indoors, we need some heartworm and flea prevention. The heartworms down here in Louisiana are terrible. Louisiana is the number two state for heartworms in the country, so heartworm and flea prevention will help prevent that. And cats can be really susceptible to it. It can make them really sick. Luckily, it's super easy to prevent with some topical stuff you put on the back of their neck once every one or two months, and then we'll get them all good to go.
We'll also come up with a diet plan for your new little kitten. If they're under a year, they should be on good-quality kitten food. Both canned and dry food has extra vitamins and minerals, extra fat, and protein to help them grow big and strong. And then they should have a little bit of dry food to graze on throughout the day. But the most vital thing is to offer several small meals of some canned throughout the day to help them get that extra moisture.
They should be on it until about a year old. And if they're a little chunky, we can always start them on adult food a little bit earlier to help them get nice and trim. And then the next thing is, you need to get them spayed or neutered at five to six months old. We want to prevent overpopulation and keep them from going into heat—prevent all those bad things that they can get. Super easy procedure. Very quick, especially if they're nice and young.
And another crucial thing to consider for pets is pet insurance. Many great companies out there can help in cases of emergencies or even with chronic issues as they get older. And if we start them when they're young, we know they're protected for their whole lives.
And every age of kitten has a different life stage, starting typically about six weeks until they're older, like a teenager. When they're six to eight weeks old, they're tiny, timid, and used to being around their siblings at that age. And they might be a little shy and kind of awkward. But then, as they start getting used to the home, from about eight to 12 weeks old, they're active. They love to play. They'll begin to exploring, playing with you, your other animals or dogs, kids, anything. They love this age.
Interactive toys are essential at this age, whether they're little balls and the towers, lasers, feathers to play with—those are perfect for them. When they get a little bit older, from about 12 to 16 weeks old, that's when they start to hunt so that they might get a little moody. This is the teenager stage. But they're still establishing their place in their home.
And once they get to about four to five months old, that's pretty established. They'll start to come down a little bit as they get older, and then they'll grow to be the friendly adult cat you'll come to know and love over the next 15, 16 years.
Thanks for watching. I hope y'all learned a lot. And stay tuned for the next video, where we'll talk about some more fun kitten things.