Caring for a kitten is a special opportunity for any family. Beyond their penchant for cuteness, they fill our lives with a calming, curious presence.
Caring for a kitten, though, can be an involved process for any cat parent. From getting them used to their new home to paying close attention to their dietary needs at different ages, there’s a lot to do.
To guide you through these critical (and yes, adorable) first few months, our team of expert veterinarians has put together this guide. From understanding each developmental stage of your kitten’s life to necessary kitten vaccines and more, you’ll find the information below.
The First Six Months
When you’re asking how to take care of a kitten you’re likely talking about the first six months of a cat’s life. It’s a big question, so we’re breaking it down first by what you need to know for each stage of their life.
Caring For a Kitten Under 4 Weeks of Age
From when they are born till 4 weeks of age, kittens are considered newborns.
At this stage, they are developing coordination and motor skills, regulating body temperatures, and more basic functions.
This is also a vital stage between kittens and their mothers, as the kittens rely on them for warmth. If their mother is still involved, your job as a human caretaker is mostly to support the mom.
If the mother cat is not available, more in-depth care is needed. Plan a visit to your veterinarian to make sure you have what you need for your kitten. Care can include bottle feeding every 2-4 hours, helping the kitten to urinate and defecate, and making sure they have a warm, safe home.
Caring For a Kitten From 5-11 Weeks of Age
Kittens from 5 to 11 weeks of age have been weaned off their mothers (or bottle-feeding, as the case may be) and are onto a high-protein, energy dense diet.
From those cute first steps, your kitten is now becoming more surefooted as their coordination and motor skills improve. That makes them a handful to keep an eye on!
Your primary concern at this stage is supervising their adventuring ways and making sure they don’t end up in a potentially harmful situation.
Caring For a Kitten From 2-4 Months of Age
While not quite adolescence, your kitten will be growing rapidly. Here they’ll be even more playful, often having more energy than a comparatively docile adult cat.
Those bursts of energy may even happen throughout the night, so get ready for playtime. In addition to that bonding-based play, you’ll be feeding them 3 to 4 high-protein meals each day.
Caring For a Kitten From 4-6 Months of Age
Their teenage months are coming, and with that, so does puberty. It’s time to start thinking about the plan to spay or neuter them, which generally happens before puberty hits between 6-8 months of age.
Keep up the hands-on play activities, making sure to work on correcting any negative behavior. This is a good time, too, to think about how to make their environment more enriching. Your kitten needs plenty of stimulation, and for indoor cats, it’s up to you to provide it for them.
Nutrition Tips for Kittens
Proper kitten nutrition is important at each of the above mentioned stages to ensure they grow up to be as healthy as possible.
During the first 4 weeks, it’s either the mother feeding the kitten or a special milk replacement formula every 2-4 hours.
During weeks 3-5, it’s time to change from the mother or milk replacement formula to a shallow dish. Here, you can add an easily chewable diet of warm milk replacement formula and high-quality canned or dried kitten food. These feedings will happen 4-6 times a day.
During weeks 5-8, kittens can begin to chew their own food. With 3-4 daily feedings, focus on giving them a protein-rich diet. Canned food is a good option because it is similar to their natural diet, while canned and dry cat foods can also be a healthy mix.
Starting at 6 months of age, your kitten will move to 2-3 feedings per day.
To help your kitten grow to be as healthy as possible, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to make sure they’re getting the right food, in the right quantities, at the right moments throughout the day.
How To Socialize Your Kittens
Helping your kitten grow into a sociable, well-adjusted cat is a big part of their development. This includes both the human family members in the household and any other animals you may have.
While dogs not liking cats is more myth than reality, there are some behaviors that can be improved through regular social development.
For cats, these behaviors include:
- Training to use the litter box
- Regular petting and cuddling
- Learning to play with toys
- Engaging with boxes, paper bags, etc.
- Rewarding positive behavior with treats
- Redirecting from biting or scratching
- Introducing them to new people and animals
- Combing, grooming, handling, and nail trimming
This development process provides a lot of opportunities for bonding. Still, it takes a serious time commitment on your part.
Common Mistakes When Caring For Kittens
Newborn kittens (those from 0-4 weeks of age) need a lot of attention, especially if their mother is not around.
We don’t mean to sound any alarms, but one of the best ways to see if something is going wrong is with the following kitten warning signs:
- Not accepting food
- Motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties
Past 4 weeks of age, kittens will move past the stage of having to maintain their body temperature and maintaining their body temperature and having such detailed feeding requirements.
Kitten Preventive Care
With kittens, a large part of preventive care is finding the right vet to work with. With the team at Catonsville Cat Clinic, we will help to implement checkups, schedule kitten vaccinations, and preventive maintenance schedule.
By having these discussions regularly and doing the appropriate physical exams, your veterinarian will be able to identify health or behavioral issues before they become a problem.
Scheduling Kitten’s First Appointment With The Vet
No matter what age your kitten is when you get them, try and schedule a vet appointment in the first week. In addition to getting them started on the right paw health-wise, it will socialize your kitten with the vet so they are more comfortable for later visits.
Health Threats To Kittens
Kittens can be especially susceptible to a number of threats. Because of that, all kittens need a regular deworming program. This should include medication to kill most intestinal parasites.
Heartworm prevention is also key, because there is no known treatment for heartworm disease.
Another common danger is fleas. Depending on their lifestyle, finding a way to protect them against fleas and ticks is important. Most over-the-counter sprays, powders, and collars are not a good idea. As veterinarians, we can help plan a flea/tick/parasite prevention program that is less toxic and more effective.
Kitten Vaccination Schedule
Staying on top of your kitten’s vaccinations is vital, which is why we follow the AAFP guidelines for vaccinations.
From the list below, your kittens will receive booster vaccinations during 3 visits spread out every 3-4 weeks. There may be slight variations depending on the kitten’s age, vaccination history, and personal details.
- 3 to 4 FVRCP vaccinations – to protect your cat from Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia/feline Parvovirus until at least 16-20 weeks of age
- 2 FeLV vaccinations – to protect your cat from Feline Leukemia Virus
- 1 Rabies vaccination
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)/Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Testing
- AAFP- FeLV and FIV
- At What Age Should You Spay Or Neuter Your Kitten?
As we mentioned, you’ll want to plan to spay or neuter your kitten before they reach mature adolescence. This generally happens around 4-5 months of age.
These are the main reasons we advocate for spaying and neutering your kitten are to:
- avoid unpleasant habits like territorial scent spraying, aggression, and heat (for female kittens).
- avoid unplanned litters.
- decrease the chance of mammary or testicular cancer later in your cat’s life.
Book Your Kitten Care Appointment
Caring for a kitten is easier with the help of professionals!
At Catonsville Cat Clinic, we are here to support your family’s cats throughout their whole lives, from newborn kittens through mature adult cats. To schedule an appointment for your kitten, give us a call today.