The complete guide to raising a kitten: Part 2 – settling into a new home and life

September 02, 2019

Now that your new feline friend has a name as special as them, it’s time to help them settle in.

In part 2 of our series, we give you the lowdown on how to ensure all bases are covered so both you and your little meower are set up for a life of love right from day one.

In this blog post, we cover:

  1. Prepping for kitten’s arrival: poison-proofing your house.
  2. Housekeeping: registering and microchipping your kitten.
  3. Setting up a safe haven: helping your kitten settle.
  4. Food: feeding your kitten the right diet and the right amount.
  5. Litter: training your kitten to use their toilet.
  6. Introducing your kitten to other pets: both cats and dogs.
  7. Keep your kitten safe: night-time confinement and outdoor enclosures.
  8. Grooming: when and why you should brush your kitten.
  9. Health: following up on kitten vaccinations.

Let’s get into it!

Prepping for kitten’s arrival: how to poison-proof your house

Before you even bring your beautiful ball of fluff home, a few things need to be sorted.

As much as we love kittens’ playfulness and curiosity, it’s this exact nature that could lead them to get their hands on plants or household items that pose a great risk to their health.

Lillies are one of the most toxic plants to poor kitties and can be fatal, with the potential to cause imminent kidney failure. Make sure all lillies are removed from any floral arrangements, pot plants or flower beds before kitten’s arrival so there’s no temptation for them to nibble the pretty flower.

Sorry lilly lovers, but it’s the price to pay!

In addition to lillies, please ensure that the following poisonous items are out of reach of your kitten:

  • Batteries
  • Vaseline
  • Items that your kitten could choke on, including:
    • Elastic hairbands
    • Wool
    • Tinsel
  • All medications
  • Detergents and fabric softeners
  • Bleach and other household cleaners
  • Fertilizers that contain poisonous amounts of the following:
    • Nitrogen
    • Phosphorus
    • Potassium
    • Iron
    • Zinc
    • Herbicides and pesticides
    • (It’s best to keep kitty away from fertilised lawn until it’s dry)
  • Tea tree oil (yes, this includes oil diffusing):
    • If you’re big on burning essential oils, stick to pure, diluted oils and steer clear of tea tree oil at all costs

For more information on poisonous plants to animals, our friends at RSPCA Queensland have put together a great downloadable guide to toxic plants.

Remember, if you think your animal is displaying signs of poisoning at any time, please contact your vet immediately!

(And for the lowdown on foods that are poisonous to cats, read through our food section below.)

Image: RSPCA New South Wales

Housekeeping: make sure your kitten is registered with your local council and update their microchipping when needed

It may seem like a trivial step, but if you haven’t already, it’s super important to register your new kitten with your local council.

This is as simple as heading to the Dogs and Cats Online website and entering your details. While not yet a legal requirement in South Australia, registering your kitten can help authorities identify and return your animal to you, should they become lost.

While you’re at it, you might like to call your local council and ask about any cat curfews or specific housing requirements they may have set. Some councils require cats to be kept indoors at night and some may even require cats to be kept on your properly at all times.

Remember, since July 2018, microchipping has been mandatory in South Australia – so it is vital to keep your animal’s details up to date.

Handily, all animals adopted from RSPCA are already microchipped. But you will need to keep your own contact details up to date. If you need to update your kitty’s details at any point – say, when moving house or changing phone number – simply head to Dogs and Cats Online and enter your new address.

If you don’t know your cat’s microchip number, simply take your kitty into your local veterinarian. They can quickly and painlessly scan your kitten and supply you with the microchip number.

Now that you’re aware of all your obligations and duties from your council, you’re well on your way to being a responsible cat owner! Yay!

Setting up a safe haven: how to help your kitten ease into their new home

While you may be super excited to introduce your kitten to their new home, the process can be more stressful for our four-legged friends.

To allow your feline to make a more comfortable transition to their new home, it’s a good idea to set up what we call a ‘safe haven’ – a small, quiet and confined area of the house where they can stay until they feel comfortable with the idea of exploring the rest of the house.

For some kittens, this settling in period might be over within hours, while for others it could take days or even weeks. For very timid cats, the process could even take 4 to 6 weeks. Just rest assured that this is normal, and be patient.

You’ll know your furry one wants to leave their haven when they start pawing at the door asking to be let out. When this happens, let kitty explore the rest of the house at their own pace – if they’ve used the litter box at least once, that is!

It’s a good idea to confine kittens to this safe haven whenever you can’t supervise them, until they grow up a bit. By the way – make sure you don’t burn essential oils in the haven, even if you’re not using tea tree oil!

Where?

The best places for a safe haven are a well-ventilated bathroom, a small bedroom, or the laundry. Ideally, pick somewhere where ample natural light streams in.

To set up the haven, furnish it with a cat bed, water and food bowls, some toys, a scratching post near the bed, and a litter box as far away from the bed and food as possible.

The safe haven will also become a place kitty can retreat to any time they need a little space or alone time.

And remember: don’t stress out if your kitten takes a bit longer to adjust.

Everyone is different, and while many kittens settle after just a few days, some can take weeks.

Food: what to feed your kitten, and when

First thing’s first, it’s important to know that adopting a kitten means brining an obligate carnivore into the home. With sharp canines, strong claws and a short digestive track, cats need to eat meat to survive. Remember – cats hunt their own prey in the wild!

The amount your cat needs to eat depends on their age, breed and level of activity, and should be adjusted according to their needs.

Bear in mind, it’s common for kittens not to eat at all within the first 24 hours in a new environment. Make sure to offer your kitty food when you first bring them home, but if they take a day to eat it, don’t worry.

At RSPCA South Australia, we’ll advise you what to feed your kitten when you adopt them.

But – feeding can be individual and may vary depending on each kitten or cat. If you do have any concerns, it’s a good idea to ask your vet to assess your fur-baby as they grow and provide advice on how to adjust their diet.

Since cats prefer to eat multiple small meals per day, we suggest feeding them both in the morning and the evening.

RSPCA recommends providing Hill’s Pet Nutrition dry food as the base of your cat’s diet, but including small amounts of wet food on occasion, with quantitates and types adjusted to suit the needs of your cat.

Appropriate quantities of dry food will be advised on the packet.

Remember, overfeeding your kitten can be just as dangerous as underfeeding. It’s best to use a measuring cup or jug and measure out exact amounts of food each feed, to ensure you’re not overdoing it.

In addition to food, make sure your kitten has access to clean drinking water at all times. Please do not give your kitten dairy milk, as this can cause stomach problems.

In addition please steer clear of the following foods and drinks, which are poisonous to cats:

  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Onions and garlic
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Avocado
  • Citrus
  • Dairy
  • Coffee and caffeine
  • Alcohol

If you suspect your kitty has eaten a dangerous food or drink and is showing signs of poisoning, please contact your vet immediately.

Good nutrition is not only super important but can actually be fun and provide a great way to keep your feline mentally alert, so stay tuned for our ideas for homemade cat treats in part 7 of our kitten care series!

Litter: how to toilet train your kitten

Implementing our safe haven idea is a great way to help train your kitten to use their litter box.

In the haven, it’s important to ensure that kitty’s food and water is positioned well away from the litter tray, though, since most cats will not eat their food if it’s too close to their toilet (and fair enough!).

While a variety of litter trays are available, make sure to choose one with plenty of space and depth for your cat to dig and cover their number twos.

If your kitten seems to avoid their tray, it could be because they don’t like the type of litter you’ve chosen. Cats are fussy creatures! We use unscented and recycled wood pellets, which can be found at our RSPCA PetVille store at Hillcrest (but just be aware that some cats prefer clumpy or clay litter). As a bonus, this litter can be thrown directly into your council green bin, providing a win for the environment.

Ideally, remove your kitty’s business from the tray daily and replace the litter at least once a week. If you allow the tray to become dirty, don’t be surprised if your furry one starts using the floor instead!

Remember to check that cleaning products used are safe for cats. It’s best to avoid strong-scented products, since these may deter your cat from using their tray. Instead, cleaning with boiling hot water and vinegar, then allowing the tray to sun-dry, works perfectly as an environmentally friendly disinfectant.

If your cat starts refusing to do their business in the tray, have a look at our tips for dealing with this in part 3 to this series.

Introducing your kitten to other pets: a gradual process

If you have other animals in your home, make sure to introduce them to your new kitten gradually and while under your supervision.

Many owners make the mistake of assuming that their new kitten and existing animals will simply figure things out and adjust to each other on their own. But this is a dangerous mindset as it’s very rarely the case.

It’s a good idea to associate each supervised interaction with something positive, by rewarding calm and friendly behaviour with treats.

The process differs a little between resident cats and dogs – so we’ve laid out each one below.

Resident cats

Since cats are territorial, they need time to get used to each other before actually meeting face-to-face. For this reason, RSPCA recommends confining your kitten in their safe haven for up to two weeks at first – and a minimum of 10 days.

During this time, allow your resident cat to smell under the door to kitten’s haven. If they hiss or run away, don’t worry! Try to associate the smell of each cat with something positive by feeding both cats on either side of the haven’s closed door.

Next, use a doorstop to prop the door slightly ajar – just enough so that the animals can see each other, but not enough to allow them to get in or out of the room.

If the animals respond to this process positively, you could then switch sleeping blankets or beds between cats so they become further accustomed to each other’s scent.

You could also rub a towel on the kitten and put it underneath the food bowl of your resident cat. This is another way to associate the new cat’s scent with the positive experience of eating.

Once your kitten is using their litter tray and eating well when confined to their haven, give them time to explore the house, while then confining your resident cat to the new cat’s room.

If the cats now seem comfortable with each other’s scents, it’s time to introduce them face-to-face.

Start by bringing your kitten out in their cat carrier and see how it goes. Once they’re comfortable with this, they can meet outside the carrier.

If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them and start the introduction process from the beginning.

Resident dogs

Similarly to above, start with the process of allowing both animals to smell each other under the door of your kitten’s haven, while also feeding each pet on either side of the closed door.

After propping the door ajar, and switching the animal’s bedding, let your dog outside while keeping your kitten inside so that they can watch each other through the window. It’s a good idea to do this when your kitten is ready to leave their haven and explore the rest of the home.

It’s now time to introduce controlled meetings inside the house.

Keep your dog on their leash and give them a cue to sit and stay while offering a treat. Then, allow your kitten to walk around the room and explore without your dog chasing them.

During this time, make sure that your kitten has access to jump to a height where they feel comfortable (this could be the top of their scratching post or a counter top).

You can repeat this process until both the dog and cat are tolerating each other without fear or aggression.

Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t allow your dog to chase your cat, as this will make them scared and uncomfortable!

Keeping your kitten safe: night-time confinement and the option of an outdoor enclosure

Whether you decide to train your cat to stay on your property at all times or roam during the day, RSPCA strongly encourages the confinement of cats in an enclosed area at night time.

Confining cats to your property during this period can help to protect them from disease and injuries that occur through fighting and accidents, while reducing the impact of hunting and disturbance to neighbours. Some local councils even require night-time confinement as a matter of law.

Plus, if you have a brand new kitten, you don’t need to worry about the stress of sudden confinement for an adult cat who may be used to roaming outside freely.

When it comes to the great debate of whether to confine your cat and if it’s fair at all, we’ve laid out all your options in our detailed guide about how to keep your cat safe and happy indoors.

In our guide, we give you the 101 on outdoor enclosures as a way of allowing your indoor cat to enjoy the outdoors while still staying safe (it’s a scary world out there).

Can’t keep your cat on your property at all times? Outdoor cats get used to routine, so if your puss is allowed to roam during the day when you are out, call them to come inside as soon as you’re back – rewarding with a treat really helps – and they should learn to come home at the same time each day.

If you use a collar for identification, remember that it’s also super important to invest in a quick-release collar and adjust it correctly as your cat grows. These can be purchased from our animal shelters or our RSPCA PetVille store at Hillcrest.

Grooming: when and why you should brush your kitten

We all know that cats love to clean themselves on the regular, but some varieties may still need a bit of grooming help from their fur parent. Without regular brushing, medium-haired and long-haired cats can be prone to furballs, matting and other problems.

So, if your cat has luscious locks, they could benefit from having their coat frequently brushed – and it’s best to start the process when cats are young so they can get used to it.

Short-haired cats may also benefit from regular grooming, mainly because you’ll notice less cat hair stuck all over your couch!

Have a suss of this complete guide on cat grooming, prepared by our friends at RSPCA Pet Insurance.

Health: following up on kitten vaccinations

Prior to adoption, all kittens and cats from RSPCA South Australia have received their first set of vaccinations, and are therefore protected from serious diseases including Feline Enteritis and Feline Respiratory disease.

They’ve also been desexed and had worm and flea treatments (this is one of the reasons we charge an adoption fee when we rehome an animal), so these are things you needn’t worry about.

But, some kittens are rehomed before they are ready for their second set of vaccinations. If this is the case, we will give you a vaccination certificate at the time of adoption and advise you to make arrangements with your local vet.

After your kitten has received their second set of vaccinations at three months old, it’s important to remember that they require booster vaccinations every 12 months.

Vaccinations are vital to protect your cat from severe infectious diseases, while preventing them from passing anything nasty on to other animals in the area.

Like the other steps in this post, it’s all part of being a responsible cat owner!

Stay tuned for part 3 to this series, where we cover common behavioural problems in cats and what to do about them. Don’t forget to keep us updated on your journey at Facebook or Instagram at @rspcasa and #rspcasa.


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