Kitten care: the basics of looking after kittens

raising a kitten

Kitten care is especially important in the first few weeks of a kitten's life. During this time they absorb a wealth of information from their mother and their siblings. However, the importance of looking after a kitten through human contact cannot be overstated. This combination of learning from different sources is the best way to prepare your kitten for its journey through life.

The cat mother will take care of the socialisation aspect: she will do everything she can to make ready her kittens for whatever comes their way and give them the wisdom to thrive as fully-fledged cats. The motto? Learn by doing.

The human way of kitten care

Your job is a little different: the first task is to make your new friend understand that the furniture in your home is not intended as a scratch post. It is generally helpful to understand why your cat does this before trying to change behaviours. A lesser known fact that scratching releases odours to that serve as territorial markers. This scent is undetected by the human nose, but does not escape cats and other animals. Scratching also keeps claws sharp and healthy, while allowing cats to stretch and shake off any lethargy.

So, scratching is totally normal behaviour for cats. Simply direct their attention away from your prized furniture and towards one of these cat trees or perhaps a scratching pads or boards. As long as you are patient and kind, you should easily be able to get this across to your cat.

Looking after kittens is easy – with a little bit of luck

Some studies suggest that cats are natural loners. This means that they don’t follow any commonly seen subordination routines seen in the wild. What this means for humans is that they aren't the boss or alpha (to keep it in wild terms). However, following these general rules should make things go as smoothly as possible:

  • Be decisive. If you see your cat somewhere it shouldn’t be (on a table, sharpening its claws on your curtains) say “no” softly but firmly. Pick your cat up/carry it to the scratching post
  • Place your scratch post(s) somewhere where cats can easily access it. Another top tip is to place them near to objects your cat tends to target. To make the scratching post irresistible, try using some catnip spray to entice your cat.

These simple rules will make looking after kittens much easier.

Being swift and decisive when faced with a misbehaving cat

When your cat does something it shouldn’t, you only have a few seconds to let your cat know that this is wrong, so time is of the essence. To really make positive/negative reinforcement work, you must act quickly. If you follow up good behaviour with positive reinforcement, it will become much easier for your cat to pick up on your signals.

Give your kittens as much time with their mother as possible

It cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to keep kittens with their mother for as long as possible. This proximity to their mother is paramount for the kitten’s mental and physical wellbeing. Early separation from the mother can lead to negative side-effects like increased anxiety levels in kittens. This obviously reduces the kitten’s quality of life, as well as making the task of bringing them up much harder. Kittens, like any other sentient being, are more receptive when they feel safe and emotionally balanced.

Aids for positive reinforcement

You have several tools at your disposal to help you raise your kitten just the way you like. One of, if not the most, famous is the clicker: this gives out a marker signal that positively reinforces the behaviour of your cat. In theory, it should be possible to raise all kittens using a clicker like this one, but there is no one-size-fits-all and individual responses can vary a lot across different training methods.

How to use the clicker

The clicker works through the unique sound that it makes, a sound that does not exist in a cat’s natural environment. When used as a positive reinforcement tool, it is an unambiguous signal that the behaviour just engaged in was a good one. After using the clicker, your window of opportunity to complete the signal by giving your kitten some kind of treat is again very brief (1-2 seconds).

Clicker training can also be used for more advanced training techniques like teaching your cat how to perform a trick. This is how they do it in the movies! It takes it time and patience to come to master the kind of conditioning needed to wow spectators.

Rewarding your kitten with treats and tenderness

It is worth noting that, although popular, the clicker is by no means universally accepted. Some experts feel it is too impersonal, and that education should be about building and maintaining a deep, trusting connection between human and kitten.

Methods of training

Critics of the clicker method often say that a combination of food, treats, and lots of praise and affection are enough to show kittens that their behaviour was positive. This also allows you to share your genuine pleasure at seeing how your kitten grows.

So, constructive reinforcement (with or without a clicker) is a fast and reliable way of making a positive difference to the behaviour of your kitten. At the same time, punishments like splashing kittens with water are strongly advised against. The reason is understandable: it will break any trust that exists between you and your kitten. And, this connection is the cornerstone of looking after kittens.

Kitten care: How to say no

If your kitten is being cheeky, the best thing to do is to calmly, but firmly, say “no”, taking care to annunciate clearly. At the same time, pick up your mischievous kitten and put them down softly where they should be. This will let your cat pick up what it should and should not be doing.

House-trained in a hurry!

Kitten care also involves taking care of physical urges. That’s not to say that there won’t be a few mishaps along the way. As long as you approach these mistakes calmly and patiently, they should be few and far between. When they occur, pick your cat up and move it to the cat tray while offering gentle reassurance and maybe even a head pat. Then it’s best to slip away quietly and let your kitten get on with its business.

As soon as one kitten goes to the litter tray, it becomes the latest craze and all its siblings want to join in too. It’s not unusual for kittens to share a tray or box as they grow up. However, once they reach a certain size each cat should have its own cat litter box or tray.

Don’t stroke one spot for too long

The basis of kitten care is love and respect. This also means that as much as cats love a cuddle, their receptors are incredibly sensitive. Prolonged stroking of the same area can set them off. This could spark a less than friendly reaction, so it’s better to not let these things become an issue in the first place.

We're sure that you and your new kitten will enjoy each other's company for years to come, and you can find everything the pair of you could need on our dedicated kitten page.

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