The day your cat gives birth to kittens is a joyous occasion. Provided they all arrive safely, your early input and kitten care are vital to their ultimate health and well-being. As you welcome them to the world you can put them on their first footing to a fabulous life and future.
The first three weeks after a litter is born should be a tranquil and happy time for the queen (female cat) and you. You should watch the mother cat carefully – if she has a healthy appetite and she uses her litter tray regularly and normally you can assume all is well.
The kittens will spend their first days and nights feeding and sleeping.
1. Eyes and ears
The kitten’s eyes will start to open when they are five to ten days old (Siamese, Burmese and their relatives are early developers!). It usually takes three days for the eyes to open fully. During this time, carefully wash away any sticky discharge with warm water. The discharge usually clears quickly but if it recurs and the eyes close again, this could be a sign of infection and require immediate vet attention and antibiotics. All kittens have blue eyes, to begin with – the adult colours don’t appear until the kittens are about 12 weeks old.
2. On the move
At the age of 2.5 weeks, the kittens will crawl about and their tiny ears – folded down at birth – will become erect and alert. At the age of three weeks, they will stand – rather unsteadily, their milk teeth develop and they begin to look like little cats.
3. Eating, drinking and kitten care
Your kitten will be fully weaned at around eight weeks. They should then take around four or five meals a day – two of which should consist of meat and/or fish. Other feeds should be milk-based – but variety is key at this stage. Kitten’s tummies are small and need to be filled frequently – so little and often is necessary. The feline digestive system is designed to process concentrated foods, so human baby foods (including milk) should be used at twice the concentration advised for babies. Weak mixes simply put a strain on the kitten’s tummy while giving little nourishment.
4. Doing their business…
While the kittens are still being fed by their mother, she will take care of their toilet habits – licking away any waste. Once the kittens take solid food she will stop cleaning up after them but she will continue to teach them to groom themselves. They will usually adopt a corner of their kitten box as a litter tray. If they climb out – and for the best kitten care – encourage them to use an area some distance from the kitten box.
5. Toilet training
Kittens are usually easier to toilet train than puppies as they naturally cover their urine and faeces. Well-reared kittens will be expertly trained by their mothers. But if you have a kitten that doesn’t know what the tray is for, show him/her what to do. Stand the kitten in the tray, hold its front paws and show it how to scratch in the cat litter – most kittens get the idea very quickly. Always be ready with a spare tray and place it whenever it seems about to defecate. A breakdown in good toilet manners is unusual. It is rarely ‘naughtiness’. Kittens usually choose an inappropriate area of the house for a toilet because the alternatives are not attractive. The litter might have a strong scent that the kitten does not like, maybe it is not clean, or maybe the tray itself is not a good design.
6. The litter tray
The litter tray is a vital piece of equipment whether your cat has access to the outdoors or not. it is best made of recycled plastic or bamboo so that it can be easily washed and disinfected. A simple open tray is quite adequate for a kitten provided it is big enough for him/her to turn around in – and deep enough to prevent spillage while allowing easy entry. It should be no deeper than 8cm for kittens.
7. Taking your kitten home
You will need a few items to make your new kitten feel at home – A sleeping basket or box, feeding bowls, a supply of fresh food, a litter tray and some Kittilitt crumb or original. Scratching poles and towers can be bought later but the basics are essential.
Your new kitten will be bewildered by its new surroundings at first so it is important to keep its own ‘special’ furniture in one place to start with so that it can establish its own routine.
Aim to collect your kitten when it can be given as much attention as possible – at a weekend or at the start of a holiday.
8. Sleeping and eating spots
Position its bed in a quiet dimly lit, warm, draught-free corner. Take care if you bring a kitten home in winter and if your home is not well heated. If you allow your new pet to sleep on a chair you should provide a washable cover for cleanliness – cats are fastidious and like to be clean. They are also creatures of habit and will adopt a few favourite sleeping spots.
The litter tray should be close by within easy reach of the kitten’s bed – as should its feeding place. Choose a position that allows your kitten to eat undisturbed. If your kitten is not allowed outdoors, it is a good idea to provide a tray or pot of long grass for it to munch on. Grass is often eaten by cats and kittens but the reason is obscure. It may add roughage to their diet or represent a deliberate attempt to get rid of hairballs.
9. Settling in
When your kitten first gets home, close the doors and windows, and ensure that your home is safe before taking him out of the carrier. Offer a bowl of water or milk and introduce it to the litter tray. During the first few hours, the kitten will explore every corner of the room – savouring each scent with interest – and apprehension. Set aside many hours to spend with it and be ready to amuse it with toys. Your kitten will be best confined to one room until it gains confidence. Avoid the presence of too many people and distracting noise. Children should be quiet and gentle and you should show them how to handle your kitten safely and carefully.
10. Introducing the great outdoors
The first outing should be made in your company – any unexpected noise could cause the kitten to bolt which could be tragic! Encourage the kitten to walk out so it knows how to get back to safety if it needs to.
You’re now well on the way to enjoying life with your new special friend. It is an incredibly rewarding time… with hours of fun, pleasure and with potentially years of companionship. The joy of owning a kitten cannot be underestimated as you guide him into maturity. And remember, as Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland said:
‘It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens that whatever you say to them, they always purr’