A recent study indicates that the best age for homing kittens is closer to 14 weeks than the commonly advised eight weeks [i]. This is due to various developmental factors, and ensures fewer behavioural problems throughout a cat’s life. If you’re obtaining your kitten from a breeder, ask if the kittens can stay longer to ensure that they have ample time with their mother and siblings – this will help prepare them for life in a new home.
This ideal is not always possible, though; adopting a kitten from a shelter, or rescuing an abandoned kitten, may necessitate early homing. Regardless of the age at which you get your kitten, there are a few important things to keep in mind: kittens are extremely vulnerable, unreservedly inquisitive, and have a lot to learn about living in your home.
Preparing the home
Safety is the ultimate priority when preparing your home for a kitten. Their small size means that they can squeeze into potentially dangerous spaces, and their curiosity means that they probably will! Look around your home carefully from a kitten’s perspective – look for all those tiny spaces where a kitten could get stuck, cause damage or get hurt.
A good example is reclining chairs: if a kitten sneaks in and someone unwittingly adjusts the position, the kitten could be severely injured. Kitten-proofing such areas is essential. Be especially careful with washers and dryers – they must be closed at all times, and always check that your little fluffball hasn’t managed to creep in there before switching them on. Cupboards, drawers, dustbins and fireplaces should be completely secured as well.
Time to play
Keep in mind that many things around the home will be perceived as potential toys or worthy of investigation, but could be harmful for your kitten. Medicines, cleaning products, plastic bags and items such as rubber bands or sewing kit should all be kept out of reach.
Also watch out for burning candles and electrical cables, as well as breakable or valuable items – removing, securing or blocking access to such objects may be necessary. It’s important to provide your kitten with appropriate safe toys, and to play with them regularly, so that she can learn where she should direct her play and interest.
Indoor plants are an aspect that deserves special attention as many are toxic to cats. A quick internet search will inform you which plants may be hazardous, and those should either be removed or placed in an inaccessible spot.
Your kitten should have a safe room prepared for her when she arrives at your home. The room should contain a comfortable bed, food and water bowls (not too close together – cats prefer their drinking water separated from their food), and a litter tray with fine litter (for delicate little paws!). The litter tray should be completely isolated from food, drinking, sleeping and playing areas. It’s a good idea to get your kitten a scratching post and a cat gym for climbing, as well as some catnip to encourage the use thereof (a much better option than your curtains).
If your kitten is your only companion animal, she can start exploring the rest of your home after about a day. If you have other animals, introductions will have to proceed gradually and positively, with your kitten remaining in the room when supervision is not possible and until safety is ensured.
While it’s fairly simple, if a bit of a nuisance for humans, to kitten-proof the home, the outside world may be a bit trickier. Go through the same process in your garden – look for areas where your kitten may get stuck or encounter danger. Garden sheds must always be securely locked, pools should be covered or fenced, and ideally your kitten should not be able to get close to cars. A kitten can easily climb into the engine compartment of a car, and is more likely to do so in chilly weather or if she’s startled. There’s no need to clarify the danger of this occurring.
Garden visits, especially if your garden is large, should be supervised until your kitten is old enough to avoid dangers on her own (and even then, caution remains important and cars should be checked regularly in winter).
The world outside your property should not be an option for your kitten or your adult cat. It is simply too dangerous. Countless cats disappear, are hit by cars, get into fights with other cats (and potentially contract diseases), are attacked by dogs, discover poison… the list is endless. Many consider it cruel to confine a cat, but it’s far crueller to abandon them to the dangers of the outside world. Cat-proofing an entire property is possible, but can be more challenging if the property is large. In that case, outdoor catios are a great option and can be achieved via the DIY or professional route.