What are some tips for raising kittens?
If you've just gotten a kitten, you should know at least the basics about how to keep them healthy and happy. How you raise your kitten will strongly influence how it turns out as a cat, and that can determine whether you have a good pet or a bratty one.
Some of the basic tips:
For Very Young Kittens:
In the first couple of weeks of life kittens need special care.
1) Keep them with their mother, and keep her well-fed and undisturbed. Don't let dogs or other animals go wherever they are, as that will aggravate her and can interfere with nursing.
2) Make sure there are towels or other cloth materials in the box where the kittens are being kept. They need to stay warm, and you should stick a thermometer in with them to make sure the temperature stays pretty high. For the first week or two it should be in the eighties.
3) Make sure the mother stays calm. Anxious cats will move their kittens around or even kill them, and that can be dangerous to the kitten because of the loss of body heat. If you see the mother begin to move the kittens, the best option is to put both mother and kittens in a cage. You will have to watch them closely in that case. Keep the room dark and keep people away from them if they aren't well-known to the mother.
4) Watch for illness, sneezing, coughing, or constant crying by the kittens. These are all signs of illness, and kittens have weaker immune systems and are thus subject to die much more easily from diseases that do not affect adult cats. Make sure the mother is making milk - sometimes she will not make enough, and the kittens can die from a lack of nutrients. There are artificial forms of milk you can give them if this happens.
5) Watch for kittens that do not grow. If they look like a "runt" there may be something wrong with them.
6) Beware of fading kitten syndrome, a disease that suddenly afflicts entire litters and is somewhat mysterious.
7) Keep the litter away from other adult cats for the first few weeks if you have a multiple-cat household. Many adult cats carry bacteria and viruses that are harmless to them, but would be dangerous to kittens who have no built-up immunity.
8) Wash your hands with soap BEFORE and AFTER handling the kittens. Because they get sick much more easily, you could transfer germs to them if you do not disinfect yourself. This is especially important if you have any kind of contact with other cats.
What if the kittens have no mother?
Then you will need to bottle-feed them if they are very young. Orphaned kittens will require special precautions to raise. There is a very good guide to raising orphaned kittens here, and you should read it over if you have found kittens with a dead mother or whose mother has abandoned them or become too sick to nurse.
Weaning the Kittens from their Mother:
When the kittens are around four weeks old, you should start getting them to eat food instead of nursing. You will first have to get them to drink milk out of a bowl. Put some artificial milk in it, and bring the kitten to the bowl and gently push its face into the milk. Don't try to force it, but make sure some of the milk gets onto the kitten's face. If it doesn't drink, that's fine - just do it a few times each day. It will get the idea eventually.
Then after a few days you can either start giving them wet, canned kitten food or mixing in dry chow with the milk until it is soggy enough that they will get some of it when they lap at it.
Kittens should go to the vet to get their shots when they hit six to eight weeks old. You might want to be aware of some problematic cat vaccines that have been known to cause cancer - it is only a couple of specific kinds and the tumors are relatively rare, but you should talk to your vet about it and be informed. You will need more vaccines if your kitten is allowed to go outside, but it is generally a good idea to raise all domestic cats as indoor cats.
Training Kittens to Use the Litter Box:
Most of the time this will be fairly easy - you just put the kitten in the litter box after it eats once it is around four weeks old and eating solid food. Gently hold onto its paws and drag them in the litter - instincts will usually kick in from there. If the kitten is having difficulty with the concept, look to our page on toilet training cats.
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