Bringing home a new kitten is super-exciting for you…but what about for the kitten? That cute fluff-ball has left everything familiar behind and ventured out into a huge scary world that looks, sounds, and smells different to everything else she’s known in her short life so far.
Your new kitten is going to love her fur-ever home, but that first night it’s going to seem strange and scary to her. Help her to settle in quickly by thinking about events from her point of view and adjusting the arrangements accordingly.
A Kitten’s Eye View
So far the kitten’s had the warmth and security of her mother and litter mates, and she’s grown up knowing where her food, water, and toilet are. The earliest a kitten can leave her Mom is 8 weeks of age, which is equivalent to being a four-year old child leaving home.
When an 8-12 week old kitten goes to a new home, nothing is familiar and her default behavior when uncertain is to hide. This is a coping strategy. Now all kittens are different, some are shy whilst some are bold, but regardless she needs the option to be able to hide in order to feel safe.
From her bolt-hole she’ll watch and wait. If she concludes this new world is safe then she’ll venture out. If she decides it’s noisy and dangerous, she’ll stay safely hidden and take longer to settle in.
In short, avoid overwhelming kitten on her first night and she’ll settle in more quickly in the long run. Here’s what to do (and not to do!)
Make Things Recognizable
This starts before bringing kitten home by setting up a room as her sanctuary. Ahead of the big day speak to the breeder about what food the kitten eats and what type of kitty litter she’s comfortable with. Also, arrange to pick up a blanket that smells of her Mom, so she has that reassurance to snuggle up to.
Give the kitten a blanket smelling of the mother to sleep on. You may also wish to plan ahead and give the breeder an old T-shirt of yours, for the kitten to rest on whilst still with the litter. This mingles the smells of old and new, by way of a scent introduction.
The Kitty Litter she Likes
Keep as many constants in her world as possible, which includes offering a toilet substrate she recognizes. Bearing in mind she’ll use a new tray in a new location, the least you can do is give her something she recognizes as toileting material.
Don’t change her diet right away, but offer the food she ate at the breeders or shelter. Not only is this familiar to her, but it helps avoid stomach upsets due to a sudden change of food. After a few days, when kitten is more settled, is the time to make slow dietary adjustments.
If you are giving the kitten meals (instead of ad lib feeding) then four small portions spaced over the day is appropriate.
Plug a Feliway diffuser into the kitten’s room. The former is a synthetic feline pheromone which cats find hugely reassuring, and can make a stressed kitten feel more relaxed.
Make a Room into a Kitten Sanctuary
Set aside a room as an oasis of peace and calm, to bring the kitten home to. Put everything she needs into the room and let her explore this space, before opening the door on the whole house.
Having a smaller space to investigate is less intimidating and will help the kitten find her paws sooner. Take things at her pace and once she’s spending most of her time out of hiding, then you can leave the room door open to let her explore the rest of her new home.
The kitten sanctuary needs to contain everything to make her happy, including:
- Food and water bowls: Avoid double-dipper bowls as cats don’t like water right next to their food. Have the food and water in separate locations, both at a distance from the litter pan.
- A comfortable bed: Line it with the blanket smelling of Mom
- Hiding places: Cardboard boxes will do.
- A large litter tray: If the sides are high create a staircase using books, so she can get in easily
- Toys: Never leave a kitten unsupervised with toys on strings. She may get tangled up and hurt herself.
- Scratch post: Site this beside her bed and she’ll be more likely to use it.
Ensure the room is a comfortable temperature and pleasantly calm. You can leave a radio playing quietly for company if you wish.
Bring the kitten home, take her out of the carrier, and gently place her in the litter box. Then let her decide what to do next. If she wants to hide, let her.
A top tip is that if the kitten uses the tray after the journey (many kittens do), don’t poop-a-scoop straight away. Leave her offering in the tray for 24 hours to act as a marker to draw her back. Most kittens are very clean and will seek out the tray. However, if your fur-friend is slow on the uptake, gently place her into the tray a few minutes after she’s eaten, as the urge to go is stronger then.
And for those ‘little accidents’ never scold or chastise the kitten. Just blot up any liquid and thoroughly clean the area with a cleaner that doesn’t contain ammonia or bleach. Dry the area with a hair dryer and place something over the area to stop the kitten going back to the same spot and developing a bad habit.
Making Life Less Scary
This first night is all about the kitten’s needs, so be prepared to take a step back and let her settle in. Now is NOT the time to invite the neighbors round to see the new addition. Indeed, if you have excited children eager to see the kitten, only allow them in one at a time and have them sit quiet and calm.
Don’t be disappointed if the kitten hides; Not all do hide, but remember, this is a coping mechanism so don’t disturb her. Once she feels confident, she will venture out. Likewise, this means no staring at her. Direct stares are aggressive body language to a cat, so if you want to admire kitty, do so from the corner of your eye.
It’s natural to want to spend time with her, so make yourself less intimidating by lying on the floor. In fact, make yourself appealing by scattering treats around you, which may make her bold enough to investigate.
Speak to the kitten in a soft voice, so she gets used to you. A great idea is to lie on the floor and read a book aloud, which means you aren’t staring at her but she hears your voice. If she is brave enough to approach, let her do so without reaching out, but instead tell her how clever she is. In other words, let her come to you so she feels in control, and she’ll be more confident more quickly.
The First 48-Hours
The first 48-hours are all about the kitten getting used to new sights, sounds, and smells. Let her take it at her pace and don’t overwhelm her.
After a couple of days, that’s when you start stroking and handling her, and working on those vital socialization skills. But for now, especially that first night, let her set the pace. She must approach you, rather than the other way round, and only fuss her if she asks for it.
Whilst this may seem disappointing when your excited about a new arrival, when you do things right you’ll have a loving, confident companion for many years to come.