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Tips for new kitten owners

What are tips for new kitten owners?

Since the announcement of shelter-in-place orders across the country in March, a swell of animal shelters has temporarily halted operations.

As a result, more pets are in need of foster and permanent homes that can care for them while shelters are at capacity and unable to continue their work as usual. However, adopting a pet isn't as simple as signing the papers and bringing your four-legged family member home; it's a commitment that requires know-how and specific supplies.

Hannah Shaw, known for her internet personality as “The Kitten Lady,” and Dr. Laura Pletz, a veterinarian and the Scientific Service Manager for Royal Canin Americas, are working to provide information to new kitten parents in this time of increased adoption. 

We talked to them to learn more about the current state of fostering and adoption and to get tips that new kitten and cat parents need to know.

More foster parents than usual are needed right now

Shaw acknowledges that fewer spay and neuter clinics are open right now to provide the surgeries needed to keep the feline population in check. As a result, she expects to see a surge of kitten births this spring. “Fostering will be more important than ever before,” she says. So if you’ve been considering fostering kittens, now may be the time to educate yourself and stock up on supplies. 

The first eight weeks of a kitten’s life are critical 

A kitten will ideally remain with its mother, receiving all necessary nutrition and nurturing, until the developmentally critical first eight weeks have passed. However, some foster parents must step in and care for kittens in these early stages. 

“Neonatal kittens are one of the most at-risk populations due to the level of care they need,” says Shaw. The first of her series of kitten care webinars, Caring For Itty Bitty Bottle Babies explores how caregivers can nurture neonates through bottle feeding, grooming, and more. 

Most foster parents and new owners need a little expert help

A fuzzy new family member can certainly bring joy during these unprecedented times, but caring for a new pet has its own set of challenges. If you’re fostering kittens under eight weeks old or even adopting them, you’ll want to educate yourself on what to expect. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to the shelter where you got the kittens, a local rescue group, or a veterinarian. “The stress of not having the necessary knowledge and support,” says Pletz, “is one of the most common reasons for people to stop fostering.” And that’s the fear: that the increased need we’re about to see won’t be met due to lack of support. Pletz and Shaw are working hard to ensure that foster parents receive the support they need. Shaw’s website and webinars are also solid resources.

You don’t have to foster to help

Foster homes are vitally important, but so are the financial contributions that support your local animal welfare programs. Because so many sterilization programs are currently on hold, a greater volume of cats will need surgeries once clinics reopen. 

“We expect that spay/neuter clinics will have their hands full,” Shaw says. It’s a great time to donate to local spay/neuter organizations in your area. If you’re not sure where to start, contact your nearest Humane Society or check out the Sponsor a Spay program by the Humane Society of the United States.

New pets need special supplies

Whether you’re preparing for a new arrival or planning to donate supplies to your local shelter, there are certain items that kittens need.

Kitten formula: Bottle-fed kittens require a special formula. Note that cow’s milk and all other types of milk that humans consume should not be given to kittens. We like Powdered Milk Replacer from Revival Animal Health. Do not underfeed or overfeed a kitten, as both could lead to severe health complications. The Kitten lady provides feeding tips in this video.

Bottle: We like this nursing kit from PetAg. You’ll need to cut a hole in each nipple yourself, as these don’t arrive with any sort of perforation. The nature of the cut will affect the milk flow to the kitten’s mouth, so cut carefully.

Litter box: Kittens begin to use the bathroom on their own at around four to five weeks. Shaw suggests that you place them in the litter box as soon as possible so they become familiar with it. The best litter box for a kitten is a small, shallow box with an open top. We like this one from Fresh Step because it’s made of recycled plastic.

Litter: Many cat owners are accustomed to clumping litter because it’s so easy to scoop. For fragile kittens, however, Shaw recommends a pellet-based cat litter that doesn’t release inhalable dust. Fresh News Cat Paper Litter is made of recycled materials and baking soda to neutralize odors.

Wet food: Kittens can begin to enjoy canned wet food at five to six weeks. Royal Canin’s Mother and Babycat contain the perfect blend of nutrients for kittens and nursing mother cats. Regardless of the brand you choose, be sure to feed your tiny ones a specially formulated kitten food — not adult cat food — so they get what they need.

Toys: Perhaps the best part of living with kittens, other than the 24/7 cute factor, is watching them play. Each kitten has its own personality and will choose its own favorite toys. That’s why we love this affordable variety pack of toys from Fashion’s Talk. Inside, you will find 20 fun toys that are sure to get kittens zooming.


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Melissa Nott writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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