When it comes to bringing kittens home, take the new arrivals to their 'safe room' and let them get their bearings. Fill their litter trays with litter brought from the breeder and let them have a good sniff around and find their bed. When they have investigated every nook and cranny, have a cuddle and see if they need a rest. Kittens need lots of naps, and all the excitement of the car journey and a new environment will make them tired, so try and resist the urge to start playing straight away. If they are due a feed offer some food, but don't be surprised if they don't eat it - cats won't eat if they are stressed.
When they are rested and confident in their room, then they are ready to meet their new human family. Everyone should sit on the floor and only touch the kitten if approached. There should be no grabbing and no arguing. If kittens hide, tempt them out with a toy or a treat - encourage (but don't force) them to be sociable.
- Teach young children how to stroke the cat gently. Toddlers generally 'pat', which can hurt.
- Also teach them where to stroke the kitten - the top of the head and along the back. Although tummies are irresistible when a kitten is rolling and playing, most are rather sensitive about this area and may lash out.
- The litter tray is not a sandpit - so don't let young children play in it!
- Your kitten should always be left alone when eating, toileting or sleeping.
- Tails should never be pulled.
- Hands should be washed after handling the kitten and the litter tray.
Meeting other cats
Most cats will eventually accept a newcomer, though it very much depends on the personalities involved. Let your kitten settle in for a couple of days before any introductions are made.
Play it safe and use an indoor pen or carrier to protect your new arrival from any over-reaction by the surprised resident territory holder. There may be a fair amount of huffing, puffing, ignoring and sulking, but when resident cats realise the new arrival is here to stay, they generally accept that they just have to get on with things.
- Place your new kitten in a pet carrier and put it on the floor of a chosen safe room.
- Invite the older cat into the room. Both cats will be able to assess each other through the bars of the crate without coming to any harm.
- Stroke your older cat to provide some reassurance and show there is no favouritism (although most cats will probably be too busy checking out the new kitten to be bothered about being fussed).
- If there is a spat with hissing and arched backs, don't worry - it's natural. Try to distract your older cat away. Over time, less posturing should occur. After a few minutes, let the older cat leave the room.
- Once the introductions have started going smoothly, reverse the positions and bring the kitten to meet the older cat. Praise them both if they are civil to each other and give them each a treat.
- Hold the next meeting in another room. Keep moving around the house so the kitten's scent spreads too. Each time, try and alternate who is being introduced to whom.
- Repeat short introductions frequently until there is less of a reaction by either of the cats.
- With time, the cats will become quite bored by these introductions and will be used to the sight and smell of each other. When these meetings no longer appear to interest either cat, delay their meal-time by an hour so they are both hungry and feed them in the same room, with the bowls set a good distance apart.
- Usually, the cats will be wary of each other before the kitten becomes bold and oversteps the mark. The new housemate may get a clout from the older cat and will become more respectful until the next overwhelming urge to pounce…but by then their interactions should be playful.
- Before you know it, they will be getting on with their own lives with only the odd scrap. They will either learn to ignore each other or become best friends, curling up with one another for a nap and grooming each other regularly.
The smell of success
Animals recognise each other through smell. When introducing a kitten to a cat or a dog, try to intermingle their scent. Stroke one and then the other so the scent is transferred, swapping their bedding as well. This way they will start to associate nice things (sleeping comfortably and being cuddled) with the other animal's smell.
Even if a resident dog doesn't get terribly excited at the sight of a new kitten, great care should still be taken at first introductions. Over-exuberant play can harm a kitten, so mutual respect needs to be encouraged.
- Place the kitten in a pet carrier, putting your dog on a lead and letting him investigate the new arrival. If the dog shows any signs of getting over-excited, tries to leap on the carrier or starts to bark, you need to remain calm. Try to distract your dog's attention. Calmly ask your dog to sit and reward them with praise and a treat when they settle down.
- Repeat the process over several days, moving the carrier around the house until they are paying little attention to each other. Remember to always reward your dog for calm behaviour around the kitten.
- Now it's time to prepare for a carrier-free introduction. Choose a room that has an upward escape route (e.g. a tall cat tree, a high windowsill) so your kitten can jump up and out of the dog's reach. Make sure the doors are closed.
- Ask someone to sit down and hold the dog on a lead before bringing in the kitten. It is important that the kitten doesn't run away, as this will make things more exciting for the dog - fun, like a chase game. This is why the doors should be closed and why the dog is on the lead.
- Keep the meetings short and sweet. Over several meetings, they will probably start to ignore each other. Throughout each meeting, reassure your dog and reward calm behaviour. If you see any signs of over-excitement, take the dog out of the room and wait until calm is restored before starting all over again, always offering gentle praise and small treats for being calm.
- The kitten may become bolder and come over for a sniff. Keep calm and don't immediately tighten the lead or your dog may start to get over-excited or tense. Just holding the lead should provide all the control you need. If your dog oversteps the mark, a swipe from the kitten will help to show that a respectful distance needs to be kept!
- When they are no longer bothered by each other's presence you can remove the lead, always ensuring that the kitten can jump up to a safe spot out of the dog's reach.
- As before, keep rewarding the dog for behaving in a calm manner around the kitten. But treat the kitten as well, to associate the other's presence with tasty rewards.
- With time and patience feline-canine harmony should be achieved, but never leave the two unsupervised until you can trust them completely with each other.
- If, despite your best efforts, you just cannot trust the dog around the kitten, keep them separated and contact a professional behaviourist (your vet should be able to refer you, or see www.coape.co.uk for details).
With birds, rodents, small exotic creatures and so on, do not take any chances. Cats have evolved to hunt and eat such creatures and they are unlikely to change their habits after millions of years. Use your common sense and keep them well apart, keeping small pets securely in their cages when your new kitten is at large!