How to Raise a Kitten Properly and Avoid Common Mistakes
Although I love all animals equally, cats will always hold a special place in my heart. Back when I was living with my parents, I adopted a long and chonky girl tuxedo girl I named Calliope.
Then, I convinced my boyfriend and his family to adopt an equally chonky tuxedo boy we called Cipriano, first as a joke and then it stuck.
However, this article is about neither of them. Today, I will be sharing with you the journey that has been adopting a newborn orphaned kitten one year ago together with my long-term boyfriend.
In this way, you will hopefully get some valuable tips and not repeat the few mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Mura’s Adoption Story
I’ve grown up around pets my entire life, which is a huge reason why my love for animals blossomed to the magnitude it has. It’s also one of the many reasons I decided to become a vegetarian. Thus, when I moved out of my parents’ house more than a year ago, it only felt natural to adopt my very own bundle of joy.
Of course, me being the crazy cat lady I am, I immediately knew I wanted a cat. It was one overcast May afternoon when I went and picked her up. I had just been over at my parents’ house for lunch when I saw a Facebook post on the page of a local cat rescue. And what do you know? My tiny Mura was a 15-minute car ride away from their house.
The litter consisted of four adorable orphaned baby kittens. Their mother had been hit by a car a couple of days prior, and they were only two weeks old. I knew I had to do something, so I called the number in the post and drove there right away.
I was actually supposed to adopt her brother, but when I got there she practically jumped in my lap right away. This is how I knew it was meant to be. She chose me.
The drive home was nerve-wracking to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever driven so carefully in my entire life. Suddenly, this tiny furry baby was my responsibility, and I had to keep her safe all the time.
The most important thing to mention at this point is that I was working from home during that time, so I rarely left her side. Adopting a neonate kitten requires round the clock commitment. Even after weaning them, there are still plenty of other things you need to take care of.
They will pee and poop in odd places because they’re just too tiny and excited to get to their litter boxes in time, and they will need help with it as well. Thus, it’s up to you to take on the missing momma cat’s responsibilities.
Newborn Kitten Care
One of the hardest parts about raising newborn kitties is that they have a hard time regulating their body temperature. According to the National Kitten Coalition, they start doing it at around four weeks old, which means that they will need a lot of help in this direction until then. This is where the heating pad, blanket, and box trio can come really in handy.
You should ideally place the heating pad inside a box that has a larger surface, then cover the entire bottom with a blanket. In this way, the baby cat can simply slide off the warm area if it gets too hot. Hypothermia may be the main danger to look out for here, but don’t rule out overheating either.
With this being said, Mura never had a heating pad, as I was blissfully unaware that I should get one for her. However, she always had plenty of blankets, cushions, and old T-shirts to snuggle into, as well as her very own plushie.
Its name is Foccy, and it is a white and fluffy seal. She mostly ignores it now, but they used to be napping buddies. I did, however, keep a couple of bottles of warm water around her, but she didn’t care much for them to be honest.
In spite of all these options, my little girl always favored sleeping on people. I was her favorite pillow, but she slept on my boyfriend every now and then as well. Oddly enough, she didn’t grow up to be the lap cat I dreamed she would, but she still likes to make biscuits, purr, and cuddle on my knees every now and then.
During this time, we got her checked out periodically at the vet as well. The nurse took her temperature rectally, which made her hiss and growl the tiniest baby hisses and growls. While this is definitely uncomfortable, it’s also necessary. This is how we were always reassured she was fine, healthy, and growing.
For the first couple of appointments, I simply carried her in my arms, wrapped in a blanket. She was always so soft and sleepy, so she was easy to handle. However, we soon had to invest in a carrier, as she became feistier and naughtier every day.
Like most pets, she grew up dreading vet visits. Fortunately, we’re mostly able to put her in her crate with ease with a lot of patience and a bit of determination.
Remember, checkups are essential for the wellbeing of a cat of any age, but especially for a baby one. Thus, you should take yours as needed in spite of its reluctance.
What Do Kittens Eat?
As a general rule, it’s advisable to feed neonates special kitten formula to replace mother’s milk. However, the guy I adopted her had already weaned the litter and started giving them mousse baby cat food mixed with a few teaspoons of water, so I did the same.
Looking back at it, I maybe should have alternated between them at least. It didn’t impact her development in a major way, but I can see that she is indeed a bit tinier than normal.
One crucial thing to remember is that cow’s milk isn’t a solution. Kittens don’t have enough stomach power to process its heavy lactose contents, which can lead to stomach upset. On top of that, it doesn’t contain the nutrients they need to develop harmoniously. Mother’s milk replacement will always be the best option, so ask your vet to recommend a good brand of it.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself in dire need of baby food for your newborn kitty and the pet store is closed, try mixing condensed milk with water, yogurt, and an egg yolk. This quick recipe works for a few meals, but make sure not to feed it to the bebe for more than 24 hours. It will need proper nutrition soon.
An even better option is to mix goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt with an egg yolk. Goat’s milk has a little less lactose than cow’s milk, with just 9 grams per cup compared to the latter’s 12 grams.
Plus, it’s readily available at just about any grocery store, although it comes at an additional cost. Nevertheless, if you want to keep a neonate kitty’s digestive system diarrhea-free, it’s a superior alternative.
Finally, always keep a bowl of fresh water around, but get a small one to start. Babies need to stay hydrated, but you don’t want them taking a bath in it, now do you? I recommend bottled water or filtered tap water, especially if the plumbing in your area isn’t too great. For instance, Mura drinks the same type of water I drink, and I recommend this for any cat and owner combo.
Oh, and don’t bother getting your neonate kitty fancy snacks just yet. I tried this with Mura when she was a wee feline, and she sat down and screamed in front of the bowl until I brought out the mousse. Sometimes, she would try to eat them while crying at the same time. And these were soft treats in gravy, mind you.
What kittens SHOULD NEVER EAT is as important as what they do eat, so keep your baby away from foods like canned fish, nuts, raw meat, grapes, sugar, and particularly chocolate, which is the biggest no-no of them all (for all cats, but for kittens in particular).
Litter Box Training
Did you know that the size of a litter box is closely related to that of the cat itself? As a rule of thumb, try to pick something that is at least one and a half times larger than your own kitty. Thus, the smaller the pet, the smaller it should be. What is more, it’s essential to get something with low edges so that the tiny one can jump inside easily.
Of course, this also depends on the kitten’s age. I got Mura when she was two weeks old, and she became curious about the litter box right away, although she didn’t use it all the time. By the time she was four weeks old, our home was officially accident-free. However, a newborn that is just a couple of days old won’t have any use for a private pooper.
Until you can be sure that the cat uses the box and the box alone, it’s wise to place a few clean diaper pads around the house and hope for the best. Still, don’t be surprised if your kitty pees on the bed or on that fresh pile of clean clothes. It’s not doing it out of spite, but because it’s small, excited, and overworked about every single aspect of life.
In case of accidents, never punish the baby cat. It won’t understand what you mean, and the experience will mostly scare it instead of teaching it a valuable lesson. Instead, thoroughly wipe the area clean with a vinegar-soaked pad to remove any smells. Cats tend to pee or poop in places they can feel they’ve done it in before.
Another essential care tip on how to raise a kitten has to do with stimulating it to urinate and defecate. Unfortunately, young cats cannot pee and poop by themselves, which is when momma intervenes. The queen cat promotes their excretion by licking the area, but don’t worry. You won’t have to do the same.
With the help of a warm and moist washcloth or cotton pad, gently rub the little guy or girl’s belly and bottom using circular motion. This is when the kitty will start peeing, so be prepared to see a bit of yellow on the fabric. Then, using a new pad, massage the anus until it starts to poop as well. You should ideally do this after every meal time.
To start toilet training your cat once it starts showing interest in digging around, try stimulating it after mealtime inside the litter box. If it starts pooping there, its instincts to bury the resulting excrement will kick off. Soon enough, you won’t have to worry about wild kitty waste appearing around the house.
How to Clean a Kitten
When it comes to cleaning up, you should always keep in mind that the mother cat is in charge of hygiene and grooming until the kitten gets the hang of it. Seeing as how your kitty most likely doesn’t have a mother anymore, it is now your job to ensure that the smol floof stays unsoiled and comfortable.
At this point you might be thinking “come on, how dirty can one baby cat get?”, and whoa boy are you in for a surprise. When Mura was the babiest babe there ever was, she didn’t grasp the concept of a food bowl.
Instead of leaning with her head into it, she pretty much swam inside her food. Her tiny face and pawsies would become covered with liquid mush, and she would start to stink. One of my friends used to joke that she smells like she lives in a dumpster.
In addition to this, remember that traces of poop might still cling to her butthole and fur. I know it sounds disgusting, but it tends to happen often while kittens are still small. Mura proudly jumped in my lap after taking a huge dump one day and smeared my leg with poo. It definitely wasn’t a fun time, but at least now I remember it and laugh (sometimes at her expense).
Regardless of how dirty your kitten gets, don’t bathe it. As I mentioned before, baby cats have a hard time regulating their body temperature without their momma as is. Getting them soaking wet would only be detrimental. Instead, gently clean them with baby wipes or moistened towelettes, then ensure they stay warm and dry.
If you insist on giving the kitten a bath, don’t do it until it is at least 8 weeks old. Nonetheless, this should be reserved for hopeless cases only. For example, if she falls inside a bowl of chocolate mousse or cake batter, it’s ok to help with the cleaning up. Otherwise, your cat can take care of most of its grooming needs by this age.
Still, getting your kitty used to a little bit of water is always a good idea. I did end up bathing Mura a couple of times when she was old enough, and now she’s really chill about the whole H2O thing. she hangs out on the side of the tub with me, and doesn’t get scared when she trips and falls inside. She just calmly gets out and starts drying herself off.
How to Socialize a Kitten
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to conclude this article on how to raise a kitten by discussing the importance of socialization and suggesting a few techniques. Not many feline owners know this unfortunately, but familiarizing a kitten with other people and animals is crucial after a certain point in its life.
This is already being widely discussed in the case of puppies, but let’s not forget about kittens. As explained by animal behavior professor Miranda Workman, socializing needs to occur when the baby cat is between three and nine weeks old. Of course, it’s still possible to do that after the window closes as well, but it will be much harder.
Ideally, the queen cat takes care of socializing all her babies with one another and supervises playtime. Of course, when you’re trying to raise a neonatal orphan, things can get complicated. I adopted Mura on her own because I lived in a studio apartment that couldn’t possibly offer enough space for two kitties.
Looking back at it, that might have been a mistake, but I just rolled with it. The first thing I did to socialize her once she started showing interest in life in general was to buy her toys. Right off the bat, she hated mechanical toys and balls, but she loved her wand toy. To this day, it’s her favorite entertainment option, other than eating garbage off the floor.
She still sleeps like a baby after playtime.
The important takeaway from Mura’s toy story is that you should always let the kitten get used to its playthings and not stress her out over it. I used the wand during playtime exclusively for a few weeks. Then, one day, Mura decided she loved colorful balls, so she started engaging with those too. Mechanical toys followed shortly.
One thing to keep in mind is that cats ruin their toys fast if they’re into them, so it can become quite the investment over time. If you’re on the budget, you shouldn’t skip out on them. Felines find joy in the smallest household items, such as an old shoelace or a discarded candy wrapper. You don’t have to be rich to entertain your cat at playtime.
For example, Mura is obsessed with makeup sponges and hair ties. So, whenever one gets worn out, I simply clean it and pass it along to her. Still, if you do this you should keep a close eye on their replacements, as cats don’t really differentiate between old and new Beauty Blenders.
Another important aspect of socializing a kitten has to do with acquainting it to the presence of other people and animals. Cats tend to be cautious around strangers, but there’s a fine line between carefulness and disdain or fear. I had friends over as soon as Mura was three to four weeks old, and instructed them to interact with her gently.
My feisty baby is now totally comfortable having other people around, and she sometimes lets them pet her as well. Plus, this has made it a lot easier for us to leave on vacation with a light heart knowing that whoever babysits her won’t have too hard of a time.
Teaching your cat how to channel its play aggression is also crucial during these first few formative weeks. While having a kitten nibble on your hands and stalk you around the house might be cute at first, it can develop into something a lot more painful later on. This is what happened to Mura, mostly because my boyfriend loved to offer his hands up as a toy when she was smol and adorable.
If this hostility gets out of hand, don’t punish or reprimand the cat. As previously mentioned, you will only freak it out and weaken the affectionate bond between the two of you. Instead, get up and walk away. Give the kitten a time out, and it will start to understand that its actions have consequences.
Nothing wrong with a sweet lil’ nibble though.
Adopting and raising a neonatal kitten is definitely challenging, but it can be rewarding as well. As long as you keep your baby cat happy, healthy, and safe, you will definitely find a solution for any bumps that appear along the road.
Remember, you are not a feline yourself, which is why it’s essential to accept you might do some things wrong at first. Whatever the case may be, patience is the best policy.
What about you? Would you ever adopt a newborn kitten? Did you already go through these steps and have something to add? Feel free to leave any comments, questions, or concerns in the comments below.
I owe my love of animals, felines in particular, to my mother. For as long as I can remember, cats and dogs have played an active role in our household and family. Frankly, I can’t remember a moment in my life that I have spent without the cherished company of a furry friend, and I couldn’t be happier about it.Read more »