Aura is the last of the kittens to leave. She’s going to her new home this weekend, so we’re taking care of all those last-minute things: microchipping, rabies shot and making sure all her papers are in order — and not just the medical ones.
Every rescue group I’ve ever worked with has insisted on a signed contract from the adopter. While you can’t control everything, it does give your furry little protégée some travel-home insurance, if needed. Think of it as her very own magical ruby slippers.
I’m also packing a travel bag. In it are a favorite toy, a blanket that smells of her temporary stomping grounds and some dry kibble to tide her over on the trip.
It’s all pretty standard stuff, but what about the new person waiting on the other end? What should he or she be doing to get the house or apartment kitten-ready?
Here’s a basic checklist for those of you getting ready to let a kitten — or kittens — into your life:
Find out what the kitten has been eating. Kittens have delicate stomachs, and it doesn’t take much to upset the balance. “I think that doing a proper gradual transition from whatever the breeder/shelter has been feeding to what you have been feeding is probably one of the biggies,” observes Kim Kaplan, who does foster work for Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue (NEAR).
Get a supply of the kitten’s original food. You can stay with it or gradually work in another brand.
Kittens, maintains Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, should be eating food that is specifically formulated for their age group, as “[t]he first 6 months are particularly important for bone, muscle and nervous system development.” But if need be, give them an all-life-stages food, “which essentially means that it is formulated for the most nutritionally demanding life stages.”
Make sure that your new kit on the block has her own water and food dishes. Go ceramic. Plastic tends to retain germs and odors, potentially leading to feline acne.
2. Litter and Litter Boxes
Stick with familiar litter, at least in the beginning. Kaplan says that she has “always found that sprinkling a little of the old litter on the top of the new litter box makes the transition easy.”
Bandofcats and the U.K.-based Siamese Cat Breeder website also suggest using whatever type of litter box the kitten’s already used to. And get a good, sturdy litter scoop, preferably a metal one that’s easy to clean.
3. Sleeping Arrangements
Be flexible about this. After all, you’ve got a scared little kitten wondering what happened to his nice, predictable world.
Recently, I delivered a male kitten to his new home; he made a beeline for the cellar, where he stayed till the next day. His new human made a small space for him upstairs; within a few days, he was running around and playing with the adult cats.
So give your kitten a retreat, “whether it is a box draped with a towel or a cat pyramid bed,” says Kaplan. “In fact, a safe time-out place like a puppy pen or a pet cage isn’t a bad idea for the first few weeks when you leave the house.”
4. Cat Trees and Scratching Posts
Teach your kitten some claw etiquette early. Believe it or not, “[s]cratching behavior begins about the time that your kitten is being weaned,” according to the Partnership for Animal Welfare in Washington, D.C. Which brings us to…
5. Claw Clippers or Scissors
The sooner he gets used to having his nails trimmed, the better both your lives will be — trust me.
Watch these pups acclimate to a new kitten in the household:
Kittens have a lot of energy, and toys will help them work it off. But they have to be toys without strings or detachable parts that she can swallow. Kittens, like toddlers, are experts at swallowing things they shouldn’t.
Keep an eye out for other small, easy-to-swallow objects: beads, pins and needles, earring backings…and tiny doll accessories. “I read a tragic story of a kitten [who] died choking on a Barbie shoe,” cat person Susan Fish Johnson tells me.
Young cats are “much more adaptable than their detractors — and even some of their supporters — might say,” John Bradshaw observes in his book Cat Sense. “During the first year of their lives, they effectively tailor their personalities as much as they can to suit the particular household, or indeed other environment, in which they find themselves.”
True — but it’s up to us to make things easier and safer for them.