Introducing Your New Kittens to Your Home
Moving to a new home is usually a scary venture for kittens, even for friendly ones. Therefore, it’s critical that you set up a “safe room” in your home where the kittens are confined to one room for a short period of time (e.g., a few days to a few weeks depending on their personalities and your home environment).
Choose a small room where the kittens will have a lot of human contact (e.g., a den or small family room) and can hide only where you can easily reach them (e.g., not under a bed). A large bathroom might be a good choice if the kittens are very small, and they have enough room to move around. If a bedroom is the only choice, that’s OK, but keep in mind the kittens may hide under the bed initially. Do not use any room where they can hide or get into a potentially dangerous situation (e.g., behind a washer or furnace or inside an unfinished wall in a basement).
- Reasons: Kittens feel safer in smaller places. Introducing them to too many new things at once can be overwhelming!
Once kittens feel safe in their confined space, open the door and let them explore other rooms – slowly, one at a time. Keep the door open to their “safe room” so they can run back to the space where they feel “safe” as needed. If there are a lot of rooms in your home, close doors to other rooms so your kittens have a smaller space to initially explore. This also helps ensure your kittens know where their litter box is. It’s critical they be introduced to your home, new people, and other pets* slowly and in stages.
- Reason: It’s important that your kittens trust and bond with you first before introducing them to other things.
Ensuring Good Litter Box Habits
Number of Boxes
One large litter box for two kittens is usually OK. Once they are adults, they will need at least one litter box per cat. You may need more litter boxes depending on the size and layout of your home (e.g., large or multi-floor homes may need more than one litter box per cat).
- Reason: Kittens from the same litter are usually fine with sharing a litter box. But once they are adults, they can become territorial and may want their “own” box. They also want easy access to their litter boxes.
Size and Style
Litter boxes should be large. It should also be open and high sided (lower in the front). The exact size depends on the age and size of the kittens.
- Reasons: Kittens grow quickly and urinate and defecate a lot as they are growing. Small litter boxes get filled fast, deterring the kittens from using the box. Open litter boxes allow fresh air into the box to keep it fresher smelling and more appealing for the kittens, and minimize dust from staying inside the box which isn’t healthy for the kittens to breathe. Finally, an open box allows you to watch your kittens for signs of straining when urinating or defecating which can be a sign of serious health issues.
Always use unscented litter. Fine sand-like, low dust, clumping brands are good choices. Corn-based litter can be problematic for kittens – they tend to try and eat it.
- Reasons: Fine litter is more comfortable on their paws, lower dust limits how much they may breathe into their lungs, and clumping is easier to scoop.
You must scoop the litter box several times a day (preferably three times a day while kittens are young and still growing). Also, dump the litter once a month; clean the litter box with hot water and soap; and add fresh litter. Once kittens are adults, you should scoop twice a day, depending on how many litter boxes you have.
- Reason: Kittens are usually very finicky and like their litter boxes clean!
Place litter boxes in quiet places (e.g., extra bedroom, extra bathroom, closet with an open door). The boxes need to be easily accessible – don’t expect your kittens to go up and down flights of stairs to find their boxes or place them on multiple floors. Do not place litter boxes in laundry rooms or unfinished basements near washers, dryers and furnaces. Finished basements are ok (when there are boxes on multiple floors) if washers, dryers and furnaces are behind a closed door. Litter boxes should also be away from food and water bowls.
- Reasons: Kittens want peace and quiet and privacy when using their litter box. Imagine a washer, dryer, or furnace kicking on and startling a kitten while the kitten is using the litter box. This is a sure way to scare your kitten away from using their litter box. And, they don’t want to eat and drink close to where they urinate and defecate.
Choosing Quality Food and Feeding Appropriate Amounts
At least initially, continue feeding your kittens the same food they were eating in their foster home. SPCA will give you recommendations about transitioning them slowly to different food, if needed. If your kittens are on special prescription food it’s very important you follow our instructions for keeping them on this food or making changes down the road. Any changes should be done gradually by mixing new food into the current food for several days to a week.
- Reason: Changing your kittens’ diets can cause diarrhea and vomiting, especially if changes are made quickly.
Types of Food
We generally recommend a combination of canned and dry kitten food – unless we provide you with different instructions at the time of adoption. Younger kittens need more canned food because it’s easier for them to eat than dry food. Regardless of type, kittens should generally eat “kitten food” until they are close to full grown (about a year old). However, if your kittens are putting on too much weight when they are about nine months of age, it’s OK to transition them to quality “adult food.”
We recommend quality brands, such as Science Diet or Royal Canin. Consult your vet for additional recommendations.
- Reasons: “Kitten food” has special nutrients kittens need while they are growing. Giving your kittens a “cheap” brand (e.g., Friskies and most Purina brands) is like giving them “junk food.”
How Much to Feed
Dry kitten food needs to be available 24/7 for “free feeding.” Canned food should be given once or twice a day, depending on age and other factors.
Once your kittens are adults, we do not recommend “free feeding.” As adults, you should feed them twice a day and only the appropriate amount of quality food to maintain a healthy weight.
- Reasons: Since kittens need to eat a lot, free feeding encourages them to eat. Adding canned food – something they usually love –allows you to make sure they are eating well and putting on the appropriate weight. Also, feeding time is a good way to bond with your new kittens.
Access to clean water 24/7 is essential. Also, do not give your kittens cow’s milk. If you want to give them milk, give them milk specifically designed for cats.
- Reason: Kittens need lots of water to maintain their health just like people. And, kittens can’t properly digest cow’s milk, so it often causes diarrhea.
Providing Follow-up “Kitten” Vet Care
You must provide additional follow-up vet care as specified in your adoption contract (e.g., distemper and/or rabies vaccinations, deworming, etc.). In addition, Virginia law requires that all cats adopted from animal welfare organizations be spayed/neutered. This should be done at about five months of age. Our Spay/Neuter Coordinator will contact you shortly after the adoption to provide you with information about vets we work with who will provide you with a discount or other vets available through our Spay Inc. program. If you observe reproductive signs in your kittens before we contact you, contact us immediately to get appointments set up sooner.
- Reasons: Vaccinations and deworming are given on a strict schedule to ensure their effectiveness. Spaying/neutering on time helps prevent unwanted behaviors, such as males spraying urine and females “going into heat.” It also helps ensure long-term health (e.g., “going into heat” increases a female cat’s chance of developing mammary cancer down the road).
Providing Preventative Vet Care Once Kittens Are Adult Cats
Once your kittens are adults, they need annual vet exams – even if your cats appear healthy. Your cats will need future FVRCP/distemper and rabies vaccinations on a one- to three-year basis to maintain their immunity to various diseases.
- Reasons: Preventative care that includes annual exams, or twice-yearly exams for older cats and cats with special needs, are important for ensuring long-term health. For example, regular exams, with blood work when needed, can detect early signs of dental and kidney disease. Caught early, these diseases can be managed to lengthen and improve your cat’s life.
A Note about Vaccinations
We recommend a conservative approach to vaccinations. This means only vaccinating your kitten for those diseases that are: 1) highly infectious (e.g., feline viral rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus that cause upper respiratory infections); and 2) required by law (i.e., rabies).
Consult an SPCA official and your vet to determine an appropriate one- or three-year schedule for rabies and FVRCP/distemper vaccinations once your kittens are adults. For most healthy adult cats, once they have received their adult FVRCP/distemper and rabies vaccinations, a three-year schedule for future vaccinations is appropriate. However, you should discuss the appropriate schedule with your vet based on your kitten’s age, health history, exposure to other cats, and various other risk factors. Indoor-only kittens that are not exposed to other cats with an unknown medical history do not need to be vaccinated for feline leukemia (FELV), feline AIDs (FIV), or feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
- Reasons: Vaccinations are very important for helping to maintain your kitten’s life-long health and protection against various diseases. However, all vaccinations carry some risk. Some kittens have no adverse reactions to vaccinations. Others may have mild and short-term reactions (e.g., slight lethargy and fever 24 hours following the vaccination). Less common are more severe reactions (e.g., lethargy and fever lasting more than 24 hours) that may require hospitalization. Another risk is “vaccine-related sarcoma.” This type of cancer is caused by vaccinations, and while it’s not common, it’s very aggressive and can be fatal.
Keeping Your New Kittens Safe and Happy Indoors
SPCA-adopted kittens must be kept indoors at all times for the rest of their lives (even as adult cats). The only safe exceptions are if your kittens are on harnesses and leashes, or inside a cat enclosure or screened-in porch. Because your kittens will be indoor-only, it’s important that you provide them with a stimulating indoor environment.
Create a “Kitten Friendly” Home
Indoor-only kittens need lots of toys – interactive toys like a feather on a stick and toys they can bat around on their own. When your kittens get bored with a certain toy, put it away and bring out a new toy. Continue cycling toys in and out of your kittens’ play area to stimulate their interest in playing.
Once your kittens get older, make sure you have multiple places in your home where they can perch in front of a window or glass door to watch the birds, squirrels, and other activity outside. If space permits, add a cat tree or two to your home.
Kittens also need to explore. Leave boxes or paper bags out for them to climb inside of. Keep some doors closed then open them up and let your kittens explore inside a “new” room.
Of course, nothing replaces your kittens’ need for human affection. Set aside time during your day to play, interact with, and/or brush your kittens.
- Reasons: Kittens are affectionate, curious creatures. They need lots of human interaction and affection. They also need a stimulating indoor environment that nurtures their “hunting” instincts and encourages them to be active as they get older.
For more information on keeping your indoor-only kittens happy and ensuring proper socialization, see “Tips on Raising a Happy Kitten.”