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ASK A VET: The 5 things you need to know before bringing a new kitten home.

Royal Canin
Thanks to our brand partner, Royal Canin

A few years ago I decided I wanted a pet. A kitten, specifically.

Getting a cat seems easy… right? They are cute, adorable, snuggly and generally pretty easy to look after... surely?

Well, after scrolling through lots of adoption and rescue sites I found the cutest ginger kitten, and before I knew it he was mine. Banjo's now a member of the family, but there were definitely a few things I needed to learn in those early days.

I’d never owned a cat before (our family grew up owning dogs), so it was an exciting new experience. This also meant that I needed to do a whole lot of research to find out what my new kitten needed. What type of litter should I use? Where will he sleep? What do I need to know beforehand?

Banjo, a complicated being. Image: Supplied.

It seems my experience is very common, and veterinarian Dr Chantelle McGowan knows exactly what it’s like to welcome a new kitten into your home, and be overwhelmed with where to start.

"Whether adopting your cat from a rescue, a breeder or a friend, make sure you are aware of the health and behavioural needs of cats," Dr McGowan tells Mamamia. "Many people think of cats as ‘low-maintenance’ versions of dogs; while the average healthy cat may sleep or rest up to 20 hours a day, they are not ‘little dogs’ and have equally specific environmental needs in order to keep them happy and healthy."

So what exactly do you need to know?

1. Indoors or outdoors? Know where you plan to keep your kitten.

The number one question I had when I first adopted my kitten was “Do I keep him indoors only or let him roam outside too?”. At the time I lived in a second-storey apartment, so I opted to keep him indoors to keep him safe. However, both options are important to consider depending on your circumstances.

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"Keeping your cat inside can really help minimise their risk of injury, territorial altercations and protect the local wildlife from a cat’s instinctive needs," Dr McGowan says. "However, alternative adventures and hunting opportunities need to be provided indoors so that your cat can freely engage in their nine fundamental behaviours: grooming, hunting, resting, playing, eating, hiding, exploring, observing and marking."

If you decide to keep your kitten indoors only, like me, it’s important to keep them stimulated. This means you should consider having a variety of toys they can play with, a scratching post, food puzzles or perches up high where your cat can watch what’s going on outside (the world is a VERY interesting place!).

Short sessions of ‘play time’ with your kitten are good as well, and this can be super fun for you too (I personally couldn’t get enough of watching Banjo run around after toys and things - the simple pleasures).

Banjo's an indoors cat for sure. Image: Supplied.

2. Have the essentials ready.

When you bring your kitten home it’s important to have everything you need ready to go. Here are a few things that Dr McGowan recommends:

  • A food bowl - Stainless steel bowls are durable and easy to clean.

  • Water bowls – These need to be kept separate from the food bowl, at least 0.5m away.

  • A collar - A quick-release one is best, with a tag with your contact details.

  • Bedding and cat carrier – Keep the carrier out and reward your cat when it explores inside.

  • Toys - Try a few different options and see what your cat enjoys the most. Banjo loveeees chasing fast-moving toys, and is obsessed with catnip, but every cat is different.

  • Grooming tools - grooming your cat regularly familiarises them with being handled by people - remember to take it slow (grooming a cat can be hard!).

  • Litter trays that are easy for your cat to turn around and dig in.

  • Pet food - Feeding your kitten a premium pet food that is nutritionally complete and balanced and backed by science, like Royal Canin, is the perfect way to ensure your new best friend is getting the best start in life. You can find more info about kitten feeding and nutrition in this comprehensive guide. Premium pet food also helps with the all-important control of poo odour and volume (trust me, I know from experience, this is IMPORTANT).

3. Give your new kitten space.

Just LOOK AT THAT FACE. Image: Supplied.

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When you first bring your kitten home all you want to do is cuddle them… believe me, I did. But it’s important to give them space when they first arrive in their new home.

Banjo is quite timid, so he disappeared under my bed as soon as I brought him home - and he still does the same thing today whenever we are in a new place. This is totally OK, and part of the process. Just make sure you have food, water and their litter nearby, and check on them every so often - they will come out eventually, I promise!

If you’re really worried, Dr McGowan says, “Most cats are averse to change, even the adventurous and outgoing types, so pheromone diffusers and cat calming music can also help ease the transition.” 

4. Use positive reinforcement.

Another question I had when I first brought Banjo home was “Can cats be trained?”. Having only had dogs I was curious to know whether I could teach my new four-legged friend tricks or whether that was just a dog thing. It turns out you can.

"Not only does training new behaviours and positively reinforcing desired behaviour help you learn to communicate with your cat, it can be extremely useful for veterinary and safety reasons," Dr McGowan advises.

"Also, it’s really fun. Cats can easily be taught to ‘sit’, ‘high five’ and more if you can pinpoint what motivates them. I have used this to train my Labrador-cat Mittens to stay off the benches and sit on a stool while I’m cooking. Saves me a lot of frustration and conflict with her, and keeps Mittens at a safe distance from sharp knives and hot flames.

"Training is also really important for their vet visits, as 66 per cent of cat owners would take their pet to the vet more frequently if it were less stressful. ‘Cooperative handling’ is the concept that cats and dogs can be trained to calmly tolerate actions such as trimming nails, collecting blood samples, cleaning ears/eyes, brushing teeth and so on. And starts in the home. Training your cat to get used to handling in a similar way a veterinarian would helps to safeguard their trips to their doctor from being scary: when done right. Pick your moments and start really slow.”

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"Teaching your pet using positive reinforcement (in the form of calorie-controlled treats, kibble, toys, praise or combination thereof) has time and time again been scientifically proven to not only build confidence and trust between pet and owner, but have a more lasting and repeatable behaviour."

The face of a very curious kitten. Image: Supplied.

5. Don't forget the vet.

Compared to dogs, cats can seem relatively low maintenance. They sleep A LOT and almost seem to look after themselves. Which is a common misconception.

“Cats naturally mask their illnesses, so visiting the vet is essential for your cat’s overall health and wellbeing. To ensure short-term and long-term feline health, your cat needs to see their veterinarian at least once a year, ideally twice,” Dr McGowan says.

Taking your cat to the vet can be a stressful experience - believe me, I’ve been there. Banjo used to HATE it, no matter how hard I tried.

Luckily for us, Royal Canin has some great pet owner resources to make the experience much more enjoyable for both you and your cat. You can find all their tips and tricks here.

For your complete Start of Life guide to raising a kitten, visit Royal Canin's website for some detailed resources.

What tips would you recommend for welcoming a kitten into your home? Let us know your experiences below.

Royal Canin
Royal Canin create tailored nutrition that helps cats and dogs live their healthiest lives. The individual health of every dog and cat is as unique as they are. Every breed is unique, and so are their health needs. Get advice and information on the right breed for you, and the right nutrition for them. Discover how Royal Canin nutrition ranges can help every pet enjoy its best health possible.
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