I got an email the other day from a family who is getting an Abyssinian kitten — and they have never had a pet before! So I am going to do something different with this advice column: I am going to give my suggestions, and then I want you to comment below and offer yours! I know I have readers with loads of kitten experience, and I would love to have you offer your wisdom to this nice human and her kids.
We get to bring our Aby home in the middle of May! We named her Pixel. (We are geeky computer humans.) We brought her a fuzzy mouse, a crinkle pompom and freeze dried chicken. Here’s the thing: I am a 41 year old mother of two. My kids (aged 6 and 9) are healthy and happy. We love to play. Even so, I have never had a pet. Weird, yes. As someone who has never been owned by a pet of any kind, I am feeling a little lost as to how to prepare to care for a living thing with more legs than I have.
After an incredible amount of research we decided that an Aby would be smart enough to train us somewhat. 🙂 Do you have any advice as to what to have in the house on arrival day and how to handle the first weeks? She will be almost 4 months old when we bring her home. From a cat carrier to litter selection, I am lost. Help?
Dear Kitty Newbie,
You are in for a lot of fun! Kittens are always an adventure, and Abys doubly so because they are so active and bright. To prepare your home for your new kitty, you need to think of two things: 1) how to create an awesome kitty playground, and 2) how to kitten-proof your home to keep her from getting into anything that would be bad or dangerous for her. Since #2 is crucial for her safety, I will address that first.
A four-month-old kitten is like a human toddler in curiosity, intelligence and propensity to get into everything! Abys especially because they tend to use their paws like monkey hands. So you should consider kitten-proofing any cabinets containing cleaning materials or anything that would be dangerous for cats, and making sure all your trash cans have lids. Some things are dangerous for kitties that you might not expect, such as dental floss, rubber bands and ribbons — if swallowed, these could harm your kitten and possibly endanger her life. My human always thinks keeping the lid down on the toilets is a good idea so kitties don’t fall in. If you have flowers or plants around the house, be careful because cats often will chew on them, and many of them are deadly poisonous to kitties. Lilies for example, will kill a kitty very quickly. This list from the ASPCA is helpful. And here is a great PDF file from PetCo about common household dangers to watch out for.
As for things like litter, carrier, types of food, etc., the best thing to do is ask the breeder what she is using or suggests. When bringing a new kitten home, it’s best to keep the same brands of litter and food she is used to. Ultimately, an all moist food (i.e., no kibble) diet is best, preferably grain-free or perhaps raw, but start with what the breeder is feeding. The litter pan should be open, without a lid. Why? Imagine having to use an outhouse as your bathroom for your whole life — that is what a covered litter box is like for a cat! Leave her litter box open and scoop daily. For a carrier, get something made out of hard plastic that has openings on the top and in the side, so you have different ways to get her in it. Ask your breeder how large a carrier you should get — she knows about how big your kitten will be as an adult.
Now for the fun part — making your home a kitty playground! Kittens are hyperactive, have ADD and get bored easily. You need fun climbing surfaces — a cat tree in front of a window is always a good idea, especially if the window has lots of birds and other critters running around. If you have the budget, I’d say get more than one tree for different rooms. Your Aby kitten will likely use these as a jungle gym. Little mice, balls and crinkly toys are fun, and some kittens even learn to fetch. Also get some interactive toys — feathers on wands or mice or feathers on strings attached to sticks (like Da Bird). Playing with your Aby is fun for both of you and helps create a human-kitty bond. You should play with her every day, even after she is an adult. We are all over 10 years old here, and we are still maniacs about playing! One note — the stick and wand toys should be put away when you are not using them. Kitties might chew and eat the strings and make themselves sick. Make sure you have a variety of scratching surfaces. They can be cardboard, sisal or carpet, and you should have both vertical and horizontally-oriented scratchers, because scratching is not just for claws — it is also a way for your kitten to stretch and exercise her limbs.
The first few days when you bring your kitten home, you will want to confine her to one room to have her get acclimated. Being free in a whole, big house or apartment might be overwhelming, so introduce her to the rest of the house gradually. Let her call the shots, but keep an eye on her. She will find hiding spots that will frustrate you when you go look for her! So as soon as possible, get her to know her name and come when called. If you reward her with treats or play when you say her name, she will learn.
Never punish a kitten by screaming at her, handling her roughly or even squirting her with a water bottle — it only teaches her to fear human contact, and to save her misbehavior for when you are not around. The best thing to do is distract her with something more interesting if you catch her in the act, or close off the area where she is making trouble and figure out things that are more fun for her to do. If she is constantly getting in trouble, it could mean she is bored and you are not playing with her enough. Play with her until she is exhausted! Vigorous play is good for a kitten.
There are books you may want to get, because living with a kitten — especially when you have never had a pet before — is a big topic that needs more than I can give you in one blog post. I have a list of great kitten books, written by respected experts — I recommend any and all of them.
That’s what I’ve got for you, but I really hope my readers have more tips to add! Because you can never have enough knowledge when you are adopting a kitten! More advice, anyone?