Getting a kitten: what you need to know

On average, cats live for 14 years, but can go on into their early twenties, and so how you choose your kitten can impact on the rest of its life and your enjoyment of owning a cat.

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On average, cats live for 14 years, but can go on into their early twenties, and so how you choose your kitten can impact on the rest of its life and your enjoyment of owning a cat.

Whether you get your kitten from a rehoming centre such as Wood Green, or buy from a breeder or a private home, there are general things to look out for, to ensure you bring home a healthy kitten which will live and grow with you and thrive for many years.

Where to start

Try to find out as much information as possible before meeting the kitten, as once you see the kitten it may be hard to resist. Once you are happy with the initial information you have on the kitten, if you can arrange a pre-visit with no expectations of purchase, this will take the pressure off all parties involved and will give you a little more time to make a decision. 

The best scenario for any pet kitten is that it is born and raised in a home environment. This is especially important between the ages of 2-7 weeks and preferably up to 9 weeks old, when they are in their sensitive socialisation period – meaning they are the most sensitive to learning all about the world in which they live.  Being in a home environment will help them to become accustomed to the sights, sounds, smells, sensations and comings and goings that happen in a home. As long as the kitten has had appropriate experiences in this time and handled gently for short periods by a variety of people, he should not be stressed by living with you in your home in the future.  A kitten born outside or reared in a shed, an outside pen, a cattery or kept in a single room in a home, may not experience normal human home life and can become so fearful of it that they never become  comfortable living as a pet cat. If you have a dog or there is a possibility you may want to get a dog in the future, find out if the kitten has had pleasant interactions with dogs. If it has, it will be more likely to be confident around dogs in the future. 

Questions to ask

A kitten should not be homed until it is at least 8 weeks old, so check the birth date of the kitten you are interested in. Ensure the kitten is eating solid food and is healthy. Find out if the kitten has health issues and has seen a vet. Ask what the health issues were and if there is a copy veterinary records available for you to see. It is important to bear in mind that some health issues may affect future insurance cover.

Ask if you will be able to see the kitten with its mother. This is very important if you are buying the kitten from a private home or a breeder. This helps to avoid kittens that have been ‘farmed’ or imported illegally without their mother and also lets you to check the mother’s health and behaviour when you visit. An unhealthy mother may not care for her kittens as well as possible or could pass on a disease or health issues to her kittens. It may also indicate that the breeder or owner has not cared for the mother as well as they should. Ask whether the mother is up to date on vaccinations, flea and worming treatment. A confident, friendly mother is more likely to raise kittens which are confident and friendly too.

Ask if the kitten is friendly. If the kitten is nervous you may decide not to go and see it or you will at least be aware that the kitten may not come immediately to you when you do visit. Ask if there is anything known about the father of the kitten.  Friendly fathers are more likely to produce friendly kittens, so this is useful extra information to have, but the father is often un-known for most non-pedigree kittens. 

The kitten's breed - what to do

Ask if the kitten is a specific breed and if you can see a photograph of the kitten. That way you can check if the photo of the kitten corresponds with a photo of the breed. It has been known for people to advertise a kitten being a particular breed when it isn’t.  You should also do lots of research on what specific care that breed will need. Some breeds have certain health issues, daily maintenance needs or behaviours that you will need to be aware of. Some may have inherited defects – the breeder should know what these are and if any tests to rule out these inherited defects have been carried out on the parents or even on the kitten if appropriate.

The parents of the kitten may also have had surgical procedures to correct painful or uncomfortable physical features that may have been inherited by the kitten.  If you are buying from a responsible breeder, the kitten will have been registered with GCCF (the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy), Felis Brittanica (FB) or TICA. These bodies ensure that the breeder has complied with certain rules about ethical breeding and health and which breeds they recognise and register. 

The kitten should come with specific paperwork about its pedigree, including a registration certificate with a unique registration name and number.  It should also be fully vaccinated and may also be insured.  If you intend to breed from the kitten, it will need to be registered as ‘active’ with the above bodies. The breeder may have put limitations on what you can do with the kitten, including whether you can breed from it or not. If you intend to breed from your kitten, remember that you will be responsible for the health and welfare of the offspring, including any inherited problems and will be responsible for ensuring the kittens find secure and loving homes.

Even if the kitten isn’t a particular breed, ask if it is likely to be long haired. If one or both parents are long haired then the kitten may well be too. This will help you to decide if you are happy to take on the responsibility of putting in the extra time into getting the kitten used to being groomed, so that it can be groomed throughout its life without stress. Many long haired cats that have not been introduced to being groomed at a young age, can be fearful of being groomed, resulting in their fur becoming matted, which is uncomfortable and often painful. As a result, they then have to be sedated and groomed, or even shaved, throughout their lives at the vets.

When you visit the kitten, check if there are lots of other cats and kittens in the home. Large numbers of cats can increase stress amongst the cats and reduce the cats’ ability to fight disease. It may also reduce the ability of the breeder/owner to keep everything as clean as necessary to minimise the risk. The breeder/owner may also struggle to give each kitten the attention it needs.  Check if the environment is clean, including the food and water bowls, litter trays and beds.

Check the kitten looks healthy and ask if it has been treated for worms and fleas. Ask if the kitten will have any of its vaccinations, be microchipped, insured and if it will be neutered before you take it home. This will help you to work out what costs you may have to incur when you get the kitten home.

Find out what the kitten has been eating and ask if you can take a little of this home with the kitten to tide you over until you can buy some. It is important not to change a kitten’s diet suddenly – any change of diet must be gradual to avoid stomach upsets and having something stay constant as it transitions to its new home, will lessen the stress. The same applies to cat litter and the tray it has been using – try to use the same type of tray and litter when settling the kitten into your home.

By the end of your visit the kitten should have been confident and friendly towards you. If it was still nervous, then consider the type of home you are offering and whether this would be suitable for a nervous pet.

Adopting a kitten from a rehoming charity?

If you are getting your kitten from a rehoming charity, the mother may not always be around due to the circumstances in which the kittens arrived at the charity or, in some cases, the mother may have already been rehomed if the kittens are fully weaned. Most reputable rehoming charities send their kittens (with the mother if she is present) to a foster home at the earliest opportunity and will have socialisation procedures in place for the foster carer to carry out in the home. 

Ask if the kittens have been with their mother or if they have been fully or partially hand – reared, as this may also have an effect on the kitten’s behaviour, especially if raised as a single hand reared kitten. A kitten that has been raised with other kittens is more likely to have learned appropriate cat behaviour, which may help it to live with other cats in the future. Also, kittens who have had the opportunity to interact and play with other kittens are less likely bite and scratch humans during play.

Use the kitten checklist

The kitten checklist is a handy, downloadable guide to prompt you to ask the important questions we've discussed above with space to write the answers, which will to help you choose the right kitten for you.

Click here to download the kitten checklist.

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