Considering a Kitten?

It’s that magical time of year when images of adorable baby animals are everywhere. Few things in life are as irresistible as a fluffy, purring kitten, and you’ve made the decision to get one. Congratulations! Before you bring your new friend home, there are a few things to consider, like where to get her from, how much she will cost, and what to expect from her while she grows up.

First things first- where should you go to find your kitten? Newspapers, online classified ads, and even the occasional supermarket entrance can all offer sources for free kittens. Beware of the word “free.” Food, toys, and veterinary care will still be your financial responsibility! Breeders, pet stores, and shelters are also places where you can find kittens. These places usually have a purchase price or adoption fee. Be picky about where you get your kitten. Is the place clean? Do the animals look like they are healthy, active, and social? Is information available, and readily given to you, about the kitten’s vaccination and health history? Consider adopting a kitten from an animal shelter who has already been examined, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered.

Whether you get a free kitten from a child on a neighborhood corner or purchase a purebred with a second mortgage, there will still be a lifetime of expenses ahead of you. The most frequent expenses are litter and food. While it may be tempting to save money by purchasing the cheapest thing in the store, cheap foods are often cheap quality; for the long term health of your cat, spend the extra money and purchase quality food. Beds, toys, identification, and licenses are less frequent purchases, but should still be considered when budgeting for any pet. The priciest things that your kitten will require are, of course, visits to the vet. Kittens need a series of vaccinations to get them started when they are young, then boosters at regular intervals throughout their lives. Wellness exams and parasite prevention also needs to occur regularly. Getting your kitten spayed or neutered can set you back a few hundred dollars. Though it hopefully never happens, you should be prepared to pay for the treatment of any illnesses or injuries that your furry friend may suffer. Think about whether you have this kind of extra money before giving in to those pleading little eyes.

Raising a kitten can be a wonderful, fulfilling experience. Like rearing human children, there will be the occasional frustrating moments and miscommunication between the two of you. Kittens go through phases as they grow, but with a little perseverance and patience, you can navigate through any “naughty little habits” and have a well behaved feline friend.

One of the most common concerns people have about cats regards the safety of their furniture. Rather than surgically removing the kitten’s claws, which is a painful experience that can lead to a lifetime of behavioral problems, teach them immediately that there are appropriate places to scratch. Get them a post and place it in front of their favorite “scratching corner” of the couch. Reward them with a treat when they use the post. Rather than punish inappropriate scratching, startle the kitten with a non-human made noise (like clapping two books together) to redirect their attention. Aversives, like a strong citrus or vinegar scent, may prevent scratching in that area.

Another common concern lies in the litter box. Kittens will, once they are able to eliminate on their own, want to use the litter box. It is a natural instinct for cats to bury their waste and the box provides that opportunity. Cats appreciate a frequently cleaned litter box- some are even unwilling to use one that is not clean. If a cat or kitten suddenly stops using the litter box, it’s time for a trip to the vet- many times the cause is actually an infection that can be easily cured. Many people believe that all male cats will spray in the house. This is a myth. To prevent territorial marking, neuter your kitten early and introduce new pets into your household slowly.

Kittens can play rough. Be prepared for a few bites and scratches along the way and always supervise young children when they play with kittens. If your kitten does bite your hands, immediately stop playing with the kitten, but do not physically punish. Whenever possible, offer a toy to bite before play escalates to that point.

Plenty of help is available should you have any questions or problems while your new friend grows up. Your veterinarian, and, of course, your local animal shelter, are great resources of information and support.