New Kitten Advice
Cats are the most popular pet in the UK, and can become a valued member of any household. Before bringing a kitten or cat into your home, please consider whether you can afford the time, patience and expense that any cat will need. Remember kittens can be hyperactive and destructive, as well as great fun, and will grow into an adult cat that could live for 15 years or more.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a pet owner has a legal duty to ensure the welfare of his or her animal/s. A pet’s welfare needs include:
- A proper diet
- Somewhere suitable to live
- Consideration of their need to be housed with or apart from other animals
- Allowing animals to express normal behaviour
- Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease
During the course of a cat’s life, veterinary treatment will be necessary at some point, and preventative healthcare such as vaccines, flea and worm treatment will need to be provided. The cat should be neutered, and we strongly advise the implantation of an identifying microchip.
Cats can either be moggies or particular breeds, and you should consider your lifestyle and the cat’s requirements before making a decision. The majority of cats (over 90%) are moggies, or domestic short or long haired cats, and are generally hardy and well-suited to an indoor/outdoor lifestyle. If you are interested in a particular breed of cat, such as a Birman, Persian, Siamese or similar, you would be well advised to research the breed and its quirks before committing yourself. Never select a kitten based on looks alone; the personalities of different breeds can vary, whilst long-haired cats require regular grooming. All these factors will need to be looked at when making a decision.
Pedigree cats are bred selectively to exaggerate various physical characteristics which are considered attractive, such as the length – or absence – of fur, the size of animal's legs or the shape of its skull. Some breeds are therefore prone to particular health issues, which you should research before making a decision.
Choosing a breeder
If you decide on a particular breed of cat, avoid buying from a pet shop or through a newspaper advertisement, especially if a wide range of breeds are offered. This is a sign of a dealer, and the kittens will often have been bought in from kitten farms where profit will be prioritised over the welfare of the kittens and the breeding queens. It can be tempting to want to rescue a kitten from a pet shop or a dealer, but this will only encourage the seller to purchase more kittens and continue the cycle. From our experience, these kittens are very likely to have health and temperament problems. The kitten may well come with complete pedigrees, but this is no guarantee of quality. If you are not sure if the person selling the kitten is a dealer, ask to see the mother with the kittens; a dealer will make an excuse to put you off.
Responsible breeders will be happy for you to visit their premises and view the kittens with their mother, and will answer any questions you may wish to raise. Some breeders will also have had their cats tested for breed-specific genetic disorders. (It is worth researching these disorders before you make a decision – a good place to start is the fab Cats website. Remember, there are always pedigree and non-pedigree kittens and cats in animal shelters that are need of loving, responsible homes; a pedigree cat or kitten will set you back several hundred pounds from a breeder, whereas most animal rescue centres ask for a donation towards their running costs. Good places to start include the catchat website and local rescue organisations are listed on our links page.
Bringing Your New Kitten or Cat Home
It may take your new pet some time to adapt to his new life. A kitten’s experiences of life so far will have involved the mother and littermates, and so it can be a daunting experience to be suddenly placed into an alien environment. Similarly, a new adult cat will also be understandably nervous. Be patient, and allow them the time to adjust to their new surroundings.
Territory is very important to cats. You should set aside a room for him to settle into, containing all the things that he is going to need, such as:
- Food and water (keep these in the same place
- A litter tray placed away from the feeding area, and in an undisturbed position
- A bed or box to sleep in
- A scratching post
- Toys and space to play
Ideally, this room should be quiet and undisturbed, and should be free from draughts and extremes of temperature. Cats like to hide, and will appreciate an upturned box with a hole in the side, an igloo bed, or something similar for them to retreat into. They also like to be able to observe from a height, and if there is a cupboard or ledge for him to sit on, all the better.
Your new pet may appear timid at first – this is to be expected, and it will take time to form a bond with you. Don’t force him to come out from his hiding place, but talk to him to allow him to become used to your voice and presence. Play is a great bonding tool and is less intimidating than physical content. Cats are naturally more active at dawn and dusk, so you may find that this is the best time to encourage him to play.
As your pet becomes more comfortable with his surroundings and with you, it’s time for him to explore the rest of the house! Make sure all external windows and doors are shut, then let him come out of his room of his own accord to investigate. He may keep dashing back into his room at first, but should gain more confidence.
Introducing Other Pets
Cats are not naturally social creatures, and it will usually take a few weeks for any resident cat to accept a newcomer. The resident cat will have established patterns and routines, and may never be particularly happy about having to share. A new kitten is smaller and less threatening than an adult cat, and will be more flexible in terms of fitting in with the resident. An older cat may be more difficult, as it will have an established personality and may be more likely to fight back, whereas a kitten is more likely to run. Be prepared for much hissing and spitting at the initial introduction, and make sure both cats can retreat to a place of safety.
Scent communication is very important to cats, and applying a synthetic feline pheromone called “Felifriend” to the newcomer may help to make the newcomer seem more familiar to the resident cat. It can also help to introduce the newcomer to the resident cat by keeping the newcomer in a cage near to the resident, allowing them to become acquainted with each other’s scent. Feeding them in close proximity to each other will also help the process of integration, and once you feel that they are happier with each other’s presence, you can dispense with the cage and help to promote a bond between them by encouraging play. There are many cat toys available, and a dangly toy on a stick that they both can pounce on is a good way encourage this behaviour.
Time and patience is the key, and it may take a few weeks before calm descends. Having said all that, there are many happy, healthy multi-cat households and hopefully yours will become one too!
Cats and dogs can also live together quite harmoniously, but their introduction should also be carefully monitored. It is important that the incoming cat has a place to retreat to away from the dog where the cat can feel safe and comfortable. Cats and dogs communicate in different ways, and it will take time for them to be able to understand the other’s body language. You may find it easier to keep your dog on a lead during these initial introductions, and they should not be left on their own together until you are confident that they have accepted each other.
Cats need a balanced diet with the right amount of nutrients. Our advice is to feed a reputable branded cat food that will contain the correct range of proteins, vitamins and minerals to keep your cat fit and healthy. It is very difficult to replicate this balance if you feed a home-made diet.
Cat foods are available as dry foods or wet foods. Dry foods are either ‘Complete’ (i.e. they provide the full balance of necessary nutrients) or complementary (i.e. they should be fed in combination with other foods to provide full nutrition). Wet foods are packaged in tins and pouches. A sudden change in diet can cause an upset stomach, so if you decide to change you cat’s diet you should introduce the new food gradually, over a period of 5-7 days. Remember, cats are carnivores and must have certain amino acids such as taurine in their diet. Taurine is only present in meat, and therefore cats cannot be fed a vegetarian diet. Cats have higher protein requirements than dogs, and should not be fed dog food.
The amount of food you give your cat will very much depend on the cat’s age, weight and level of activity. It is best to be guided by the instructions on the food packet. Kittens have small stomachs and high energy requirements, and should be fed kitten food little and often, such as three to four times daily, until they are six months old. From one year onwards, feed adult cat food, and meal times can be decreased to once or twice daily. Cats over seven or eight can benefit from Senior food, which has a lower protein content.
Whichever food you decide to feed your cat, it is important that your cat should always have access to fresh drinking water, and this will need changing daily. Wet cat food has a high moisture content, and you therefore may not notice your cat drinking separately, but water should still remain available. Some cats prefer to drink from puddles or ponds – this is normal! If your cat’s drinking habits change, please let us know as this can indicate a medical problem. Avoid giving your cats cow’s milk – many cats cannot tolerate lactose, and this can result in sickness and diarrhoea. Milk formulated for cats is available, but this has a high calorie content and should only be given as an occasional treat and never in place of drinking water.
Indoors or Outdoors?
A kitten will get plenty of exercise from his natural playfulness. He should not be let outdoors until he is fully adjusted to his new home – this can take a month or so, and also applies to new adult cats. Entire (unneutered) cats should not be let out – please see here for more advice about neutering. It is also important to have your kitten or cat fully vaccinated before considering allowing them outside. Full immunity to the diseases we vaccinate against is achieved approximately two weeks after the completion of the vaccination course, and annual booster vaccinations are essential to maintain this immunity. We also strongly recommend that your cat is implanted with a microchip. This is a straightforward procedure and can be done at the time of vaccination or neutering.
Cats certainly enjoy the outside, and the opportunity to play and explore and sunbathe. However, the outdoors can present considerable risks to our feline friends, not least of which is the risk of road traffic accidents. You will need to assess your location and lifestyle to consider if you think it would be safe to allow your cat outdoors, and remember that cat bite abscesses, ingestion of poisonous substances, exposure to disease and other cuts and wounds are all a real risk to your pet.
Cats can also lead contented lives indoors, but you will need to work hard to enrich their environment and provide them with plenty of stimulation. Indoor cats have lower energy requirements due to a less active lifestyle, so you will need to monitor the cat’s weight carefully. Diets specifically formulated for indoor cats are available, and these are higher in protein and lower in fat than regular cat food.
Parasites such as worms and fleas are far more of a problem for cats that have access to the outside, but we have seen indoor cats with fleas and worms and we would therefore always advise regular flea and worming treatments.
We realise that this may leave you with a lot to think about. Once your kitten is fully vaccinated, why not make an appointment for our free Nurse Clinics? Our Veterinary Nurses can help you with a wide range of issues relating to your kitten, such as feeding, insurance and behaviour, and can answer many of the questions that you may have.