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Ask the experts: A guide on getting a kitten

Did you know, we’re entering kitten season, aka the peak breeding period for cats? Over the next few months, thousands of kittens will be born and many people will be thinking about welcoming one of these fluffy bundles of joy into their lives.

Woodgreen’s behaviour and training specialist, Juliette has been working with cats and their owners for almost 30 years and has been asked many questions in her time. Here Juliette shares her advice on what to think about when getting a kitten.

How do I know if a kitten is the right pet for me?

Like any pet, cats are a big commitment of time, money and effort – and they need to get on with any other pets and people living in the home. You should be prepared to give them everything they need for a bright future. If you already know what qualities you’d like in a cat (for example an affectionate lap cat or an independent hunter), you might want to rehome an adult who’s already developed their personality. Kittens need lots of socialising and regular meals, so bear in mind your lifestyle if you aren’t at home all day. If you decide that a kitten is right for you, be sure to use The Kitten Checklist by The Cat Group to help you find a healthy, friendly kitten from a reputable source.

How can I socialise my kitten?

The socialisation period covers a specific time of a kitten’s life between two and seven weeks old and should be continued in the first few weeks after you bring them home. To successful socialise your kitten, they should have pleasant interactions with different sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Think of all the typical situations your kitten is likely to encounter in their life, and introduce them to as many things as possible to prevent issues in their adult lives. This includes getting them used to a cat carrier, travelling in the car, examinations, grooming, interacting with people and animals, loud household noises, as well as different textures and noisy packaging. The more positive experiences your kitten has, the more likely they are to grow into a well-rounded, confident adult cat.

How can I teach my kitten to play appropriately?

Every cat has a desire to hunt, it’s one of their natural instincts and some will be more keen than others. When a cat plays, they mimic the hunting sequence – eye, stalk, chase, catch and kill – this helps to satisfy their primal urges. When you have a kitten, it’s tempting to get them to chase your hands and feet by wiggling them. And this might be sweet when they’re tiny kittens, but encouraging this behaviour teaches them that you’re a toy and this could hurt when they get bigger!

A popular toy with our cats here at Woodgreen is feather wands including ’Da Bird Flying Purrsuit’. This helps a cat’s hunting instincts kick in, and they can pounce on the end to complete the hunting sequence. We also highly recommend the Kong Kickeroo, a small catnip toy that cats love to hold in their front paws and kick with their back paws. This is another important part of play to help get all their energy out, and leave them feeling satisfied.

Never use laser pens when playing with your cat. As much as they might enjoy chasing the light, they can’t physically catch it which can be frustrating for them. In some cases, it can lead to behavioural issues like attacking owners after a play session, or becoming obsessed with chasing light around the house.

How can I get my home ready for a kitten?

When you first bring a kitten home, keep them in a quiet room or designated area with plenty of food, water and toys, as well as their litter tray, scratching post and a cosy spot for sleeping. Once your kitten is consistently using the litter tray, you can gradually expand the area they’re allowed to roam. Cats are very sensitive to their environment, so keep their litter tray in a quiet, easily accessible place away from anything noisy like the television or washing machine.

Cats like to scratch things to keep their claws in good condition, but also as a way of marking their scent in their favourite rooms. It’s a good idea to have scratching posts near the entrance and exits to places where they spend a lot of time. As cats love to get up high and hide away, make sure your kitten has somewhere they can relax without being interrupted by children or other pets. If you have more than one cat in the home, each cat will need their own separate resources.

When can I let my kitten outdoors?

Letting your kitten outdoors for the first time can be daunting, but it’s vital for their wellbeing as they can explore and display natural behaviours. Before you do so however, make sure they’re microchipped, fully vaccinated and neutered to prevent any unexpected litters. If you’ve rehomed your kitten from a pets charity like Woodgreen, they should have already had these procedures and be ready to go!

To help your kitten adjust to the outside world, and make sure they return safely, start preparing a few weeks in advance. Feed them around the same time each day so they learn to expect food at certain times. When you’re preparing it, make a sound, call ‘dinner’, whistle or rattle a food tin. This way, your kitten will associate the sound with food and know it’s on the way. Let them out for the first time shortly before their mealtime, as they will be more keen to return home when they hear a familiar sound.

Choose a calm, quiet day without heavy rain, strong winds or lots of people in the garden. This could be scary or overwhelming for your kitten, and may put them off going outside again. Make sure there are places for your kitten to explore and hide behind, like potted plants near the back door. After a few trips outside, they will start to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, and you’ll be more confident letting them out to explore!

We don’t recommend putting your kitten on a harness and lead, as it takes away their natural flight response and can cause them to feel anxious. Your cat should just wear a collar with a safety release mechanism, as it will come off without causing injuries if it gets caught on something.

Should I neuter my kitten?

Yes, we always recommend neutering your kitten(s) as early as possible. There are lots of benefits both for you and your kitten, and it’s a myth that female cats should have at least one litter. Cats can fall pregnant as early as four months old, and siblings do mate with each other. Cats can get pregnant again immediately after giving birth, meaning one female cat can be responsible for up to 20,000 kittens over five years!

As well as helping to control the cat population, neutering can help keep cats healthy and safe. Un-neutered females will call and attract males who often travel across large areas. This puts them at greater risk of getting into road traffic accidents and fights with competing males, causing injuries and the spread of disease. Female cats who are not neutered are also at risk of contracting diseases during mating or suffering from pyometra, a potentially fatal womb infection. The up-front cost of neutering your cat outweighs the cost and risks associated with not neutering them. Woodgreen may be able to help with the cost of neutering – just get in touch to find out more.

For trusted advice on all aspects of cat ownership, please visit www.woodgreen.org.uk/pet-advice or contact the team at Woodgreen for free support.

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