Kitten Care: How to Raise a Healthy Kitten

That cute little kitten stole your heart and now she’s part of your family. You love her to death, but remember: She’s your responsibility and you need to take care of her.

Of course, taking care of your kitten is a year round responsibility. You should keep a detailed medical file on each pet to remind you when vaccines are due, when the last fecal sample was checked, and what special seasonal events are required, such as a trip to the groomer.

To keep your kitten healthy and happy, there are several things you should do as part of her care.

Here’s what you need to know.

Caring for Newborns

Sometimes, kittens come from your own home! Delivering and caring for a new litter can be an overwhelming task for any mother. Even though your cat will probably do a great job caring for her babies, there are some things you can do to help maintain a litter and keep them healthy.

In the first few weeks of life, kittens are unable to maintain their body temperature. Usually, they snuggle up to their mother to provide heat support. You can assist by keeping the queening box in an 85 to 90 degree Fahrenheit environment for the first 5 days of life. Electric bulbs suspended far away from curious noses of the babies or mother or well-insulated heating pads work well.

From day 5 to 10, slowly reduce the temperature to around 80 F. Continue to slowly reduce the temperature until, by the end of the fourth week of life, the environmental temperature hovers around 75 F. Keeping the babies warm is essential. Chilling can result in serious illness or even death.

The queening box needs to be cleaned every day. Use newspapers or easily laundered towels or blankets. Change the bedding daily. The mother will try to keep the area clean but that can be a difficult chore, especially with a large litter. She will also take care of the elimination needs of her babies by frequently cleaning and licking their genital areas.

Making sure the babies are healthy and growing can be difficult unless they are frequently monitored. During the first few weeks of life, weigh each baby once a day. Record their weights and make certain that each baby is steadily gaining weight. The weight changes will be in ounces so, although their growth won’t be rapid, it should be steady.

After the kittens’ eyes have opened and the kittens can stumble around, offer them small amounts of moistened kitten food. They will probably walk through the food and be a bit messy, so bathing may be required after each feeding.

Developmental Milestones

When can you expect kittens to begin showing changes as they grow? Here is a quick overview of the developmental milestones in the kitten.

Senses. Kittens are born blind, with their eyelids sealed shut. By the time they are 2 weeks old, the eyelids open and the kitten can begin developing their vision. Kittens are also born deaf, with sealed ear canals. By the age of 17 days, the ear canals are open and the kittens can start to hear. By 25 days, kittens will respond to sights and sounds.

Elimination. In addition to being born blind and deaf, kittens are also unable to voluntarily eliminate urine and feces. The mother must lick the genital area to stimulate elimination. By 23 days, the kittens are able to eliminate without help.

Walking. Kittens will start out life squirming and “swimming” across the floor. By 18 days of age, kittens begin the rudimentary first steps of walking.

Eating. By the time a kitten is 4 to 6 weeks of age, he can start eating solid food. He can be safely weaned at 8 to 12 weeks of age.

Reproduction. Your kittens are growing quickly. Be aware that by the time most kittens are 6 to 8 months of age, puberty has set in and unplanned pregnancies are possible, if precautions are not taken.

Kitten Behavior

Your kitten is so cute and adorable — she could never do anything wrong. Or could she? Some kittens can be feline terrors leading you to question your decision about bringing her into your home. Before finding a new home or banishing your cat to the outdoors, consider learning about the problem and how to either stop the behavior or re-train your pet. With proper know-how, your cat can be a loving and playful member of the family, providing hours of amusement.

The best way to deal with behavior problems is to try to avoid them. Learn the best way to socialize and introduce your new kitten to your home. If you are adopting an orphan kitten, be aware that they have their own set of concerns.

Here are a few problems you might encounter (more can be found here):

Feline inappropriate elimination. Inappropriate elimination is not one condition but rather a cluster of conditions: some medical, some physiological (pertaining to normal biological functions), some to do with elimination preferences, and others related to anxiety and stress.

Feline aggression. Aggression is a natural behavior for the cat and was a survival-related behavior for the cats’ wild ancestors. Cats have five weapons with which to attack, including a widely opening mouth well-appointed with penetrating teeth and four paws bearing needle-sharp claws.

Medical problems. There are a variety of medical causes of aggression in cats. These include hyperthyroidism, ischemic encephalopathy, brain tumor, head trauma, and thiamine deficiency.

Feline fear. As unpleasant as fear may be to experience, it keeps us and our animals safe by encouraging caution and by preparing us for fight or flight when danger threatens. Problems arise, however, if fears become so excessive and irrational that they disrupt normal functioning.

Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in any species implies a lack of confidence and an over-dependence on others. Cats with separation anxiety don’t howl and bay like dogs and they don’t chew on doors and windowsills in frantic attempts to escape. Their misery is far less obvious and it sometimes takes a sleuth of an owner to appreciate what is going on.


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What Not to Do

When you acquire a new kitten, things that you do, or don’t do, can make a big difference to the way the kitten turns out. Happy and confident adult cats don’t just happen, but are the product of good decisions and correct treatment of the kitten from birth right up until the juvenile period (around 6 months of age).

A kitten’s genetic makeup may be out of your control, but you can sculpt or distort the raw clay of your kitten’s genetic legacy by how you look after her and act toward her. If you do the right things — and, most importantly, prevent things that are potentially damaging — the kitten will turn out to be all that she can be.

The so-called sensitive period of development for kittens is between 2 and 7 weeks of age. The sensitive period has been defined as a time during development when the kitten is most sculptable by environmental influences. This is a time when primary social relationships and emotional attachments develop between kittens and people and between kittens and other animals.

Note that most of the sensitive period has elapsed at the normal time for adoption. However, that does not mean that learning stops, just that it slows down, so it is still important for new kitten owners to get a grasp of the essential features of proper socialization and training. It does mean though, that what has happened at the breeders will influence your kitten’s temperament and behavior for the rest of her life, so it is important to consider this carefully. As cute as 7-week-old feral kittens may be, they will likely struggle around most people. Alternatively, a kitten raised in the kitchen of a friendly breeder’s busy home may be, in a manner, immunized against many of life’s surprises.

How to raise a good kitten has been discussed by numerous authorities, though the message has still not percolated through to all new kitten owners. In essence, when raising a newly acquired kitten, owners should concentrate on being patient and considerate while using positive reinforcement to reward acceptable behavior.

Resources for Caring For Your Kitten

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