In some respects, raising a kitten is a lot like raising a child – you learn them important things when they are young that stay with them during their life. A well raised kitten will become a well-adjusted and healthy adult cat and a great member of the family. But it is also important to remember that they have specific needs at different times during their early lives and are not simply miniature adults.
Normally, at the age of up to eight weeks, a kitten will be with its mother and any littermates. They are unable to regulate their own temperature and need the heat from their parent to survive. Their coordination is not great and their eyes may not be open. If you adopt or foster a kitten of this age group, it will need to be bottle fed as often as every two hours in the first four weeks of life. You may need to help them go to the toilet as well. If this case arises, speak to your vet for specific instructions and plans.
Kittens are normally weaned at the age of eight weeks and will be switching to a kitten diet. This is special food that is rich in protein and energy as well as being highly digestible. There are both wet and dry kitten foods and both are great as long as they are specifically for the age of kitten in question. Other changes will start between eight and eleven weeks old including the development of complex motor skills – running around like a lunatic will stay! Jumping, playing and exploring will all begin during this time and this is when they begin to learn about the world around them. They will also need supervision during this time, as they will be accident pron and need to learn what they can and can not do. Think a toddler starting to get around the house.
Between two and four months, kittens grow rapidly and means they need three times as much energy as an adult cat. This will equate to three or four meals a day and these are ideally around 30% high protein protein to give their body everything it needs for their growth spurt.
From four to six months, kittens reach awareness and with it, sexual maturity. This is the time to begin planning to have them spayed or neutered if that if your plan and can be done early to stop behaviors such as territorial spraying and depositing waste outside their litter box.
Educating your kitten from the youngest age about what you do and do not want them to do it very important, as is socializing with them. Worry less about scaring them and more about giving them plenty of attention and exposure to the people and animals in the house. Experienced foster mums for kittens recommend everything from loud noises and introducing strains to learn about walking on a leash from a reliably young age. This leads to better behaved and well-adjusted adult cats. Introduce them to toys, allow them to try something out in a supervised manner and introduce them to other cats in a controlled environment, particularly others of a similar age. In other words, be a normal parent to the kitten!