by Taylor Vogel
I’ve always been a self-proclaimed dog person. My little bichon-mix, Woodford, and I are best travel and adventure buddies. But about two months into isolation after the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, we realized that another animal was just the joy and interaction that we all needed. Woodford’s doggo and person interactions were way down, unfortunately, since we couldn’t go anywhere, and sitting around all day wasn’t good for any of us.
Enter: a kitten. We adopted Minette (“Minnie”) from the Oklahoma Humane Society in May 2020 and she has been (mostly) a delight. While I said that a kitten was the next to last thing I wanted (last thing being another puppy--they’re SO much work), it’s been a treat watching her grow, gain confidence, and learn to trust. And while I still have a lot to learn about cat behavior, and wish that there were training classes for them like there are for dogs, I’ve identified five primary things I wish I knew before bringing this sweet little fluff into my life.
1. You have to keep the litter box clean.
Kittens and cats are prone to getting sick. They’re sweet and highly temperamental little creatures that the slightest bit of change in routine can impact. One of the biggest of these? The litter box. I was surprised when my vet told me that if I didn’t keep the litter box scooped every other day minimum (she told me that daily is ideal), kittens and cats can get UTIs. A big part of that is because they really don’t like the smell of used boxes. If it’s enclosed? Even worse. So they’ll try to visit the box less frequently for business time, and we all know what that can lead to. The best tools I’ve found to help keep that litter box tidy are:
2. You can't choose their personality.
Cats are instinctively flight creatures the majority of the time, meaning, that if they feel nervous they are going to move to running away and hiding. This is a defense mechanism that is primary to fighting. Some cats are more playful than others and more quick to trust--based on their experiences. So, while you can nurture kittens to grow up trusting you, you can’t necessarily choose whether they snuggle you, are playful, hang out in the same room with you, or prefer privacy. Creating welcoming environments has to do with this, as does allowing privacy when they want it. But cats are all different. If you only want a kitten that is playful and snuggly, then you might want to find a friend with one instead of making that commitment yourself.
3. Trimming their nails is a must, and most kittens aren't big fans.
Trimming nails is a tricky thing for us, mainly because I allowed Minnie to suckle my fingers while I trimmer her nails the first few times as a soothing behavior. Now, she expects to be able to do that every time I trim her nails. So, it’s more of a team effort. One person holds, one person trims with our regular human nail clippers. This is fine, but I wish I had introduced nail trimming more slowly as a kitten so she was comfortable without that coping mechanism.
De-clawing, thankfully, isn’t really a thing now. But to cut back on many scratches and scrapes, and to reduce unwanted clawing of furniture and belongings, keeping nails trim is a must. Try a few different moods, see when your kitten is most amenable to nail trims, and go from there.
4. Rescue kittens might try to nurse on you.
As mentioned above, my kitten nursed on my fingers when she was a little thing, and still does several months later. While I allowed this initially as a form of bonding, I’m slowly weening her of this practice--she’s bigger and so are her teeth! She feels comfortable enough to snuggle and knows she’s safe and loved. But the assumption is that her biological mama was sick and passed shortly after giving birth to her, and so I understand that she absolutely needs the comfort of this behavior. She also likes to nurse on the fray of my jean shorts and fringed fabrics--and while this is a useful tool for keeping my fingers free for nail trims, I’m also really diligent about ensuring she doesn’t consume threads or strings that might cause intestinal obstructions. Know that this is a normal behavior, and that it’s a possibility if rescuing a young kitten.
5. Their color might change over time!
This has been such a cool thing to learn about with Minette! When we got her, she was solid black. But after several weeks, a bit of skunk striping began to appear on her back. Flecks of silver and white pop up throughout her coat (particularly on her tummy, which is SO cute)and separate her from other black cats. We’ve since learned that this is actually an exceptionally rare genetic mutation! She’s perfectly healthy, but her faint skunk stripe was unexpected. The color of kittens can change over time, subtly or drastically. Some kittens, if their mother had high fevers, can also get a silvery “fever coat” that shows up and fades away throughout kittenhood. This is all perfectly normal!
I hope that if you’re considering getting a kitten, that you’re able to connect to a sweet rescue baby that’s right for you. Always check any concerns and questions with your veterinarian (and find one you love) to make sure that your sweet fur baby is healthy and around to love for a long, long time. Kittens are an adventure, for sure!
Have you adopted a kitten recently? What advice would you give to new kitten parents? Let us know in the comments below!
Taylor Vogel was a public school teacher, and isn't any more. She is the creator and host of the podcast, Now That I'm Not Your Teacher.