This writeup is designed to assist those people who are planning to purchase or otherwise obtain a kitten for the first time. It was written for the most part in answer to oblivius’ plea for help in the catbox – which gained many suggestions that How to calm a cat in heat would be a good place to look, but no useful hints.
The writeup is divided into four sections:
Things to consider about your prospective cat:
Things to do before getting your cat:
Buying your cat:
Your cat’s first weeks with you:
A list of other useful nodes can be found down the bottom of the w/u. If any reader has questions which don’t appear to be covered here, feel free to msg me, and I will either add to the w/u, or just msg you back.
Things to consider about your prospective cat:
Choosing a breed
Do you live in a tiny apartment? A house? An 18th storey penthouse? Is the nature of your abode one that suits an energetic, inquisitive moggy with a penchant for getting into trouble, or a placid, snoozy kit who won’t decide to see what happens if she jumps off the balcony? If it doesn’t matter, think about your personal preference. D’you want a cat who’ll kip quietly in the sun most of the day, or a cat who’ll race madly round the house killing things? Good breeds for snoozing placidly – British shorthair, Persian. Good all rounder breeds – Russians, Siamese. Good energetic climbing breeds – Burmese, Bengal. There’s lots of other breeds of course, and many moggies, who will often have an overriding trait from one of these groups.
Watch out for things like manx cats (yukky spinal deformities), long haired cats (much brushing and vacuuming required), white cats (get skin cancer) or even cats with white noses or ears (also cancer). Statistically, the longest lived cats are spayed female moggies.
DejaMorgana reminds me that white cats are often deaf - another problem to deal with, and also strongly recommends that nobody choose a polydactyl cat (cat with extra toes) as their first cat, due to increased difficulty in caring for the cat.
What sex do you want?
Either a male or a female cat makes a rewarding companion.
Male cats should be fixed, unless you’re a breeder. A whole male cat is something you just don’t want. They spray, they’re aggressive, they impregnate whole neighbourhoods of queens. But, once spayed, they can be very rewarding pets – most of the very close cat-owner bonds I’ve seen have been a guy with a male cat.
On the other hand, nasreddin tells me most of his family owns entire male cats, and they have no problems. So there you go.
Female cats are my preference (me being a chick), and I would strongly suggest spaying a female unless you intend to breed from her. A cat in heat is a horrible thing. They spray, they yowl, they squirm in a sluttish manner on the floor if you even touch them.
Effectively, either gender of cat makes a wonderful pet. The slight personality differences are merely a matter of personal preference and experimentation.
Where do you want to get your cat from?
A breeder, so you get a pedigree longer than your arm? A shelter? A pet shop? Pet shops aren’t always a good idea, as the cats are often not socialized with sufficiently in their young days. A good shelter is often a good idea, or, if you want to spend lots of money, a breeder. Or, get your cats from someone whose queen has had kittens. Ideally, you want a kitten that’s been left with its mother long enough to be trained, and who has had lots of positive human interaction.
Age of cat
A kitten less than 6 weeks should not be taken from its mother. A kitten more than 12 weeks – well, you’ve missed quite a bit of its cute kitten stage. 8 weeks, I find, is a good age to get your kit. If you intend to get an older cat, that’s fine too.
More than one cat?
I’m a strictly one cat person 1, though having two or more cats is often fun as they get to socialize with each other. I tend to want a cat whose main focus for attention and love is me, not another cat. And, two cats means you’ve got to change the cat litter at least twice as often.
If you intend to have more than one cat, it’s often advisable to get them both at the same time, and even both from the same litter2.
1 That is, I used to be a one cat person. I gave in and got a friend for my little girl, and I have to say she's now much happier.
2 Footprints tells me I haven't stressed this enough. It can be disastrous trying to introduce a new cat into a household that already has cats. I've seen several examples where it just has not worked out. If you want more than one cat, please get them at the same time.
Things to do before getting your cat:
Find out what the regulations are in your area as to spaying, registering, number of cats allowed, and outdoor cats.
Buy a cat litter tray – I like the big covered ones – they contain the smell a bit. Have some cat litter on hand, I use clay based ones. You may wish to buy some of the brand that your kit is used to when you buy the kitten. I use litter tray liners – as they cut back on the soggy, disgusting mess that otherwise sticks to the tray over many weeks.
StrawberryFrog reminds me that cat faeces can transmit the toxoplasma bacteria - you should wash your hands after changing cat litter. Pregnant women should be doubly careful.
Make sure you’ve got a food and water bowl, preferably two separate bowls (those twin bowls get food in the water easily).
Set up a place where your kitty will have its main area. For my cat, it’s the laundry. It’s warm, secure, and safe, and can be shut off from the rest of the house. Set up a warm bed for your cat, preferably with a roof and comfy blankies or pillows so she/he feels warm and secure. Have the cat litter, food and water in the area as well, but the litter needs to be well away from bed/food/water area. At least a metre, ideally.
Make sure your house has no dangers for kittens. They shouldn’t be able to get outside, reach sharp knives, or pull stacks of books/crockery/whatever onto themselves. Kittens are pretty resilient though.
If you’re getting your kit from a breeder or shelter, they’ll often have cardboard carriers. Pet shops vary. You’ll need to get your kitty home, so make sure a carrier will be available. If not, either just use a cardboard box, or buy a carrier. You’ll probably need one eventually anyway.
Buying your cat:
Check that the kit is friendly, not cowering in fear (often a sign of mistreatment that will be hard to overcome). Must have clean fur, and, while most kittens have slight eye discharge, it should only be slight. Any other discharge is bad. Make sure there’s no white ears/noses – you don’t want your cat to get cancer. Age – around 8 weeks is ideal, the cat should just overflow over your hand when held on outstretched palm (depending on size of hand, of course). Have a look at the kittens’ litter tray – check that there’s no evidence of diarrhoea.
Find out whether the kittens have had their shots, and make sure there’s a veterinary record available for these. Find out what sort of food they’ve been given, and make a note of it. It should be specific kitten food. If it’s not, prepare for tummy upsets. Buy some of the type of food they’ve been getting. If it’s not designated kitten food, get some kitten food as well. Find out what sort of kitty litter they’re used to. You don’t have to stick with this brand, but it’s a good idea to use it while they get used to their new abode.
Choose a kitten you’re happy with. Play with them, see which one you take to. If you have to look at several different places, so be it. This cat will hopefully be with you for at least a decade – choose carefully.
Your cat’s first weeks with you:
Bringing kitty home:
Introduce your cat to its food/sleep/crap area. Make sure there’s litter and food and water available. Don’t get too friendly all at once. Be there to reassure your kit, and to bond with it, but let it look at its new surroundings. Now is not the time to play chasies with that new furry mousie toy. If kitty gets scared, let it stay in its safe area, with the door shut, for a while. It’ll settle down. If it copes well, let it investigate other parts of the house (if it’s to be a house cat). Look after it, stroke it, but don’t restrain it or speak loudly to it. Try to get down closer to its level – don’t loom over it too much.
For the first few nights, keep the cat in its little living area. If it’s to be a house cat, let it roam the house during the day, then gradually, when you’re sure it’s trustworthy, let it roam the house at night if you want.
While the kit’s young, stick with one sort of food. When you want to change, do it very gradually. If the food it’s been used to isn’t suitable, gradually change to a suitable kitten food (either tinned or dry). If it gets tummy troubles, go back to the original food, or try something different.
I don’t generally give cats milk. They often love it, but they don’t have a sufficient production of lactase, the enzyme that deals with lactose, and so they get upset tummies. There are options such as low lactose milk for cats – you can try these if you want.
Naming your cat:
I’m not going to say much here. Just check, before you fix on a name, that you don’t mind standing outside calling that name for half an hour when the damn’ thing won’t come home (my friend’s cat “dick” used to cause merriment), make sure you can abbreviate it if it’s long, and that the cat’s name isn’t going to be confused with any person who might be frequenting your house (having an Alice the person and an Alice the cat is a problem).
This should first be done under careful supervision. Make sure kit’s either microchipped, collared, or both. Take her/him outside, and keep close to the cat. When it starts to get scared, take it back inside. Take short trips outside fairly frequently. You can do this from about a week after you get it, or a few days after you feel kitty’s comfy in your presence and in the house.
When kitty’s ok with outside trips, let him/her outside, you go outside too, but don’t follow it around. Just keep a casual eye on it. If it shows any signs of leaving the confines of the yard, go get it. Now is not the time for it to roam the neighbourhood.
Gradually, let the cat outside for a while without you. Eventually, you should be able to leave the cat outside all day, if you so wish, without stressing at all.
I would not, however, condone leaving a cat outside at night. They fight, eat things, get lost….it’s too stressful. Some people do it, I know…up to you. It’s up to you whether you’re in charge of letting kitty out and in, or whether you get a cat flap. Drawbacks to the latter include the advent of bold neighbourhood cats into your house – an invasion that can cause problems with your terrified kitty.
Training your cat:
Your kitty should already be toilet trained. I’ve never run across one that wasn’t. Breathe a sigh of relief2.
2 Ok, "not toilet trained" is different from "toilet trained but goes anywhere he feels like on occasion". I've just run across the latter. Not fun. We're working on it.
Where not to go is important for your cat. Places like benches, armchairs, rat cages….An arsenal of water pistols here is useful. Leave one in each danger spot, and when you see kitty doing something you don’t want it to do – let fly with the water. A good loud SSSSSSSST! is handy too. They soon learn, and the sssssst noise is handy for when there’s no water pistol around.
Biting/scratching should always be discouraged. I know it’s tempting to play fight with your kitten – they’re so cute, the claws don’t hurt much at that age…..bad idea. The kitten you play fight with grows up into the cat who’ll swipe at you – and that hurts. Any clawing, biting or other such behaviour on the part of your cat should be stopped early. A good SSSST! noise, a rap on the nose, or a squirt with the water pistol – your cat will soon stop doing it.
Ruling out play fighting doesn’t mean ruling out playing. Give your kitty plenty of toys, drag around some paper on string, furry mousie toys, etc. Be careful with cheap toys that can come apart with bits that can be swallowed, and wool/string can also be swallowed. Your kitty will probably prefer toys it finds itself – pencils, wire twisties, pieces of pasta…use your discretion as to what’s safe for it to keep.
You should have some means of getting your cat to come promptly at need. Some cats will come when called – some of the time. When kitty’s doing something dangerous, or you really need it inside now - it’s another matter. I suggest having some cat treats that it can’t resist (tinned food, bits of mince, etc) and having a call or sound that signals this (tapping the tin with a spoon is good. Calling “yummy din-dins” gets embarrassing after a while.) Start training your cat to turn up when it’s about 16 weeks old…you don’t want to try it on new food too much before then. Clicker training can also be really effective with cats.
You may wish to get your cat used to car trips. If the only time kit gets in the car is to go to the vet or the kennels, it’ll soon react very badly to car trips. Popping the cat in the car for occasional drives tends to get them used to this, and some actually enjoy car trips. Never drive with an unrestrained cat in the car. Even with a passenger holding the cat – it’s risky. Either a harness arrangement or a cat carrier must be used.
Spaying and other medical matters
Spaying age varies. Some people do it around 8 weeks – I’m not big on that idea – you need your cat to be comfy with you and happy before you hand it over to the big nasty vet. Check with your local vet for this one. If it’s a girl, vets often have this tendency to carefully “save” all the skin. Very laudable, but it often leaves a hanging flap that makes your previously svelte darling look a little pudgy. I carefully instruct my vets not to do this: I like my tiger’s slim figure. As I mentioned above – spaying is really the best option.
Immunization and worming: this varies with area. Kittens need their shots. Check with your vet as to what inoculations are needed. Cat influenza is usually one. Worming can be done yourself – I like Revolution brand – little squeegy capsules that you squeeze onto the back of your kitty’s neck once a month. Very little mess, very convenient.
If hair balls are a problem – a once a fortnight dose of cat laxative can be useful.
Choosing a vet will usually be done when you need your kitty spayed. Most vets should be able to do this with no problems. The search for a decent vet comes in when something more obscure is the matter with your cat. If you don’t feel confident in your vet’s abilities, try somewhere else. Your vet should handle your kitty confidently, and be unafraid of clawing. She/he should be decisive, should give you all necessary information, should seem to truly care about your pet’s well being….you get the picture.
When to be worried:
Cats get sick. It happens. Often they’ll chomp a bit of grass, hurl up a bit, and feel better. However sometimes you need to get them to a vet quickly.
- If she vomits through the day or a few days in a row, or if the vomiting is recurring. It may well get dehydrated, and should be looked at promptly.
- If he gets injured – infection can set in quickly and with all that fur it’s not always easy to pick up. If your baby gets in a fight – get it checked out fairly soon.
- If it loses weight rapidly – never a good sign.
Discharge from any orifice– get it checked out very quickly. Eyes and nose are less of a worry, but still to be of concern.
- If it appears to be in pain – cringing away, limping, crying. Cats purr when in pain – a purr is not necessarily a sign that all is well.
Other useful nodes for the cat owner: