How to Take Care of a New Kitten 101: The 1st Year [Vet-Approved]

A healthy new kitten with comfortable bedding
Download - Starting Off on the Right Paw: Kittens 101

Congratulations on your new kitten! Stepping into this delightful adventure as a kitten parent is a thrilling experience. 

To assist you on this amazing journey, we prepared a downloadable guide which provides essential information on new kitten care, vaccination schedules, a shopping list for your new kitten, and more. This article highlights the key tips from our downloadable kitten guide — don't hesitate to click the download button on this page to have our practical reference at your fingertips.

Note: Feel free to download Starting Off on the Right Paw: Kittens 101, a handy resource covering the fundamentals of great kitten care!

What’s in This Guide?

I. New Kitten Shopping List

Let's start with these essential tips on choosing the best food, accessories, and supplies for your new kitten.

A. Choosing the Best Food for a New Kitten

Choose kitten food that is certified by AAFCO. Our veterinarians advise against grain-free or plant-based diets to ensure your kitten receives essential nutrients.

While adhering to the recommended quantity, frequency, and timing on the food label is generally advisable, it's also helpful to consult with a primary care veterinarian for personalized guidance. Our experienced veterinarians can offer insights into necessary dietary adjustments based on your kitten's development and needs.

Note: Watch out for any indicators of cat food allergies or food intolerance such as excessive itching, diarrhea, or vomiting.

B. Choosing the Best Toys for a New Kitten

Kittens love toys. Kitten-safe toys provide mental and physical stimulation for kittens as they grow. Kittens tend to love toys that they can pick up, chew, chase, or kick. A few well-known favorites among new kittens include balls (especially ones with bells), kitty fishing poles, interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and kicker pillows. Some toys (e.g. chew sticks) are specially designed to alleviate discomfort during teething.

When selecting toys for a new kitten, steer clear of items with small parts that can easily come off — these may pose choking hazards. Pet owners should also refrain from choosing excessively tough toys, as they can potentially lead to tooth fractures. Try indenting the surface of the toy with a nail. If the material allows for indentation, it has sufficient flexibility, lowering the risk of fractured teeth. 

Note: Regardless of the quality of the new kitten toy, it's advisable to routinely examine toys for any signs that parts may have been accidentally ingested. Furthermore, we recommend supervising kittens while they play with toys; this helps reduce the chances of accidental ingestion.

C. Choosing the Best Accessories & Supplies for a New Kitten

Time to get some new kitten care essentials! Here are some of the most important accessories and supplies to get!

1. Collar

An excellent method for keeping tabs on your kitten, especially when you're at home, is by using a collar with a bell that is designed for kittens. Given their high activity levels and playful tendencies, kittens often engage in activities such as jumping and climbing during playtime. 

It is essential to choose a collar with a safety breakaway snap (breakaway collars for cats) to prevent them from getting caught on objects and risking injury.

2. Cat Bed

Choose a cat bed that is either donut-shaped or covered, as these options tend to work best for a new kitten. You can start with a smaller bed that your kitten will eventually outgrow, or opt for a bed designed for a full-grown cat and simply use blankets to make it cozy for a kitten.

3. Crate

During a new kitten's initial weeks in a new home, the ideal sleeping spot is within a crate placed close to their pet parent's bed or in the bedroom. Therefore, a new kitten’s crate should serve as a secure and cozy space. 

Opt for a cat crate that allows your new kitten to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. It should have proper ventilation. Consider getting a crate that has a removable divider so that the size of the crate can be adjusted as your new kitten grows.

4. Travel Carrier or Cat Backpack

Selecting a suitable travel carrier is crucial for your cat's safety and comfort during journeys. The carrier should be large enough for your cat to move around and have comfortable bedding inside. Consider carriers with top openings for easy access and stress-free loading. 

Another option for cat parents is to get a cat backpack that is appropriately sized and has great ventilation. This may be more convenient for regular use (e.g. going to the veterinarian for a pet wellness exam).

5. Litter Box & Litter

When choosing a litter box for your new kitten, ensure the box is large enough for your kitten and can be easily accessed. As long as the litter box has an entry point that the kitten can reach, it is generally fine for a kitten to use an adult–size litter box. Covered or uncovered options depend on your cat's preference. 

As for selecting the best litter for your new kitten, the safest and healthiest options are typically non-clumping, natural litter (e.g. grass litter, pine litter, paper pellet litter). These types of non-clumping, biodegradable litter are also good for the environment.

6. Brush 

Get a brush that is designed for cats. Consult your local pet store or groomer on the best brush for your kitten’s fur. Regular brushing presents opportunities for parasite inspection (i.e. fleas, ticks, mites) and also acclimates the new kitten to regular handling. This grooming routine also helps strengthen your bond with your new kitten.

7. Shampoo 

Initially, it is recommended to use an oatmeal-based kitten shampoo to nourish your kitten's fur and skin. As your kitten matures, their requirements may evolve, such as needing relief for itchy skin in cats or fur matting.

8. Nail Clippers

Select nail clippers that are specifically designed for kittens, and check to ensure the blades are sharp for making clean and precise cuts without causing any discomfort.

9. Cat Toothbrush & Toothpaste

When selecting a toothbrush and toothpaste for your cat, opt for products specifically designed for feline dental care. Choose a small, soft toothbrush with gentle bristles, or consider finger brushes for ease of use. Make sure to use toothpaste formulated for cats, as human toothpaste can be harmful to them.

II. New Kitten Schedule - Vaccines & Veterinary Care

The initial year of a kitten's life plays a crucial role in establishing a foundation for excellent health. It is advised to choose a primary and urgent care veterinarian for your kitten, allowing them to receive comprehensive care from a single, familiar, and comfortable clinic — like Sploot Veterinary Care.

Once you've secured a veterinarian for your kitten, here's a comprehensive list of everything your new kitten requires for routine new kitten care:

A. Kitten Exam: As Soon As You Get the Kitten

We strongly advise scheduling a kitten exam as soon as possible after bringing your kitten home. This examination encompasses a comprehensive nose-to-tail physical check, and veterinarians can give personalized recommendations on nutritional optimizations, behavioral concerns, and more.

In essence, an early kitten exam enables veterinarians to evaluate the kitten's development and recommend timely routine care procedures, ensuring optimal health benefits and effective protection against common diseases.

B. Kitten Vaccines Schedule: Starting at 6 Weeks of Age

Regular vaccinations protect cats from transmissible diseases; some of which are viral infections that are carried for life. This is why vaccinations need to be on schedule for new kittens. The following cat vaccines are commonly recommended:

  1. FVRCP vaccine (6 - 8 weeks) -  a combination vaccine for cats that protects against 3 transmissible viral infections — 2 of which are viruses are carried for life, necessitating a timely initial vaccination for protecting a new kitten.
  2. FeLV vaccine (8 - 12 weeks) - protects against a retrovirus that is also carried for life and impacts the immune system.
  3. Rabies vaccine (16 - 20 weeks) - protects against the fatal rabies virus that can impact cats, dogs, humans, and other mammals. Compliance with this vaccine is frequently mandated by law.
Note: While the above is the recommended timeframes for each initial kitten vaccine shot, we recommend consulting with a veterinarian for personalized recommendations. Pet parents are also encouraged to take note of vaccination dose schedules and revaccination schedules provided by the veterinarian.

→ Learn more about cat vaccines, cat vaccine schedules, and the diseases that cat vaccines prevent in this complete guide: The Ultimate Pet Parent's Guide to Cat Vaccines

C. Heartworm Preventives: No Later Than 8 Weeks of Age

Heartworm prevention is a vital aspect of ensuring a kitten's overall well-being. Heartworm, a type of parasite that is transmitted through mosquito bites, can cause severe health issues, including heart and lung damage

Heartworm prevention is crucial for cats since, as of the writing of this article, there is no drug or satisfactory method to cure heartworm in cats once an infestation has started — which further necessitates a timely start in heartworm prevention in kittens.

The American Heartworm Society advises initiating heartworm prevention for kittens as early as permitted by the product label, and no later than 8 weeks of age. Once heartworm prevention is started, it is crucial to administer preventives on schedule (administered every month).

Along with a timely start at heartworm prevention, testing for heartworm is also an important part of routine kitten care. Dr. Deluty, Sploot's veterinarian, explains: "For kittens, we recommend the FeLV/FIV/Heartworm testing (aka the feline triple test) at their first vaccine appointment before we vaccinate them."

→ Learn more about Heartworm prevention for cats: Heartworm in Dogs & Cats: Causes, Prevention, & Treatment 

D. Spaying or Neutering at 5 Months of Age

Spaying, also known as ovariohysterectomy, is a surgical procedure that carefully removes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus in female cats. Neutering, or orchiectomy, involves the careful removal of the testicles in male cats.

Spaying and neutering offer numerous health and behavioral benefits for female and male kittens. In addition to preventing unwanted pregnancy later on, these procedures help prevent certain cancers and infections — while also reducing potentially risky reproductive-related behaviors such as vocalization, wandering, and attempts to escape to find a mate.

Both male and female kittens can undergo neutering or spaying procedures respectively, at around 5 months of age. This is a general recommendation; make sure to consult an experienced veterinarian to get personalized recommendations for your pet's individual needs.

E. Sploot Vets App for Pet Care Notifications

Receive timely reminders for new kitten care directly to your mobile phone through the Sploot Vets app. This convenient tool assists pet parents in managing vaccination schedules, heartworm preventives, and more.

With our app, you can also chat with our vet team, easily make appointments in our modern clinics, and replenish your stock of heartworm preventives (or other medications) with just a few taps.

→ Learn more about how the Sploot Vets app is making pet parenting a breeze!

III.  New Kitten Grooming: Schedule & Tips

Curious about the proper methods and frequency for bathing, nail clipping, and more for your new kitten? Discover everything you need to ensure a clean and healthy kitten.

A. Nail Trimming for New Kittens: Consult Your Veterinarian

Nail trimming for cats is not always necessary; it depends on the cat’s lifestyle and behavior — as well as the pet parent’s choices and needs. In any case, getting cats used to nail trimming now and then will serve them in later years. Consult your veterinarian for the best nail-trimming schedule for your new kitten. 

Note: Here at Sploot, we can trim your new kitten's nails for you and show you the best techniques to ensure safety. Book a kitten wellness exam today

B. Toothbrushing for a New Kitten: Daily 

For a new kitten, it is advisable to gently brush their teeth daily, starting at around 8 weeks of age. Although their baby teeth will fall out eventually, getting them acclimated to daily toothbrushing is beneficial for their long-term dental health. 

As cats grow, consistent toothbrushing aids in preventing the buildup of tartar and plaque, reducing the risk of tooth cavities and gum disease.

It is advisable to be patient with your kitten when it comes to toothbrushing, as it is not a natural behavior for them. Therefore, getting them accustomed to this routine may require time and plenty of positive reinforcement.

C. Bathing a New Kitten: As Needed

A kitten can start bathing as long as they are healthy and older than 4 weeks of age. We suggest bathing your new kitten, as needed, using a kitten-friendly, oatmeal-based shampoo, no more than once a month. Bathing more frequently can result in dry skin and a lackluster coat.

IV. New Kitten Training: Vital Skills

Kittens can be trained as soon as they get home. The most important skills that kittens need to learn during their first year include the following: 

  • Litter box training
  • Crate training and being accustomed to being inside a carrier
  • Acclimation to baths, toothbrushing, and nail clipping

Final Thoughts on New Kitten Care

Concluding our in-depth guide to new kitten care, we trust that this resource has offered valuable insights for your exciting journey into kitten parenthood. If you have specific questions, don't hesitate to reach out to our team—we're always here to assist!

Sploot Veterinary Care is your go-to provider of primary and urgent veterinary care for cats and dogs. We offer unmatched availability across our convenient clinic locations. Our modern veterinary clinics operate for extended hours, 365 days a year, including holidays!

Whether your kitten requires routine care or you seek guidance from our experienced veterinarians on their health and well-being, scheduling an appointment is easy through our online booking platform or the Sploot Vets app.

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!