Cats and kittens are unpredictable creatures and this is probably half their fascination. It should be said straight away that recommendations concerning boxes, cat houses and bedding can all have little impact on the cat itself. During the winter, the cat will probably choose to sleep in a corner of the room on the lambswool carpet or where a central heating pipe passes under the floor providing continual warmth. For the summer, the cat will be sitting or sleeping in the only patch of sunlight in the room or on the windowsill stretched out in total and abandoned comfort.
When a new kitten arrives in the house, it will obviously be slightly bewildered by its new surroundings; it may be lonely after the companionship of its mother and the other kittens, and it will certainly be inquisitive. It will want to explore the rooms of the house carefully, sniffing and examining nooks and crannies and determining whether its new home is secure. At this early stage it is sensible to provide a cardboard or wooden box lined either with a soft blanket or torn up newspaper which will provide insulation and warmth. A luke-warm hot-water bottle is an added luxury but this should be covered. A radio played nearby, particularly when the kitten is being left alone, can often simulate the background noise in the home where it was born.
Of course there are more sophisticated cat houses with little flaps and openings where complete privacy can be enjoyed, but young kittens are playful and active and like companionship. An open box is therefore preferred so they can watch what is going on but can go there to rest between bouts of frantic play. The bed should always be placed in a warm and draught-free position, perhaps near to a radiator, and out of the way of domestic ‘traffic’; under a table or cupboard or in a quiet corner of the kitchen or living room would be a suitable place. The bedding should be regularly changed or washed to avoid smells and also to keep any parasites under control.
If the kitten is having difficulty in learning to use the litter tray then it may have been placed in the wrong position. Kittens are discreet and like to have their litter tray away from public gaze if possible, so try changing the location. If the litter tray is not kept clean and free of smells the kitten may refuse to use it. Also, the choice of litter can make a difference and if there are problems the type of litter should be changed perhaps to dry soil or sand or even finely torn up paper.
Finally, the kitten will require feeding bowls, one for food and one for milk or water. It is a good tip to place the litter tray and two feeding bowls reasonably close together on a large sheet of newspaper. The paper prevents the cat litter being scattered all over the floor and also collects bits of food or milk which might be spilt.
Getting to know your kitten is important and this means playing with it and talking to it and starting off with a routine and discipline which you would expect to continue. It is foolish at this early stage, when your sympathies are with the kitten, to indulge it by allowing it to do things such as sleeping on the bed which ultimately you will want to stop. It may be necessary to be firm and even slightly hard-hearted in the first few days while the kitten settles down to the new routine.
Very young kittens have soft bones which are growing fast and the whole process of muscle-bone mechanism is developing the shape of the body, the movement of the joints and the strength of the tissues. However adorable and irresistible, children in the house should be left in no doubt that kittens are living creatures and not animated dolls. It is necessary sometimes to restrict the amount of handling which children are permitted. Kittens should not be carried about in children’s arms or dangled by the legs. Excessive handling can, in fact, affect the bones and joints and may even lead to mild deformity. It is far better to let children play with the kitten using a suitable toy, such as a ball with a bell inside or a piece of paper tied at the end of a piece of string. Kittens are easily amused and will play for hours with a table tennis ball batted about the room. They will stalk and pounce on any moving object including people’s feet and, as they get bigger, will leap about from chair to chair and climb the curtains and generally become the despair of the mother in the house. However, the kitten will repay all this damage to property by totally endearing habits and activities, vigorous and affectionate purring and an infectious excitement about the world around it.
Like babies in their early years, kittens divide their life into periods of intense and furious activity followed by long and blissful sleep, with intervals of frantic miaowing when the stomach is empty. Depending upon its age, the kitten will be eating mainly solid food by the time it comes home from the breeder. The kitten can be taken at anything from five to eight weeks, depending upon the number of kittens in the litter — the more kittens there are, the less mother’s milk there is to go round and the slower the development.