1. Allow the kitten to get familiar with one room first.
Depending on the age of the kitten, even a studio apartment can seem threatening. Nita Heerk’s cat, Aurora, who was adopted at the far-too-young-age of 8 weeks, would hide in the bed’s box spring of their one-room apartment while her owner was gone. She would stumble out mewing only when Nita arrived home.
On the other hand, Nita’s other cat, Bob-Bob, at the tremendously advanced age of nearly 10 weeks, was ready to explore his owner’s apartment within 12 hours. Nevertheless, even an adventurous spirit will feel more comfortable being slightly confined. (Besides, you need to know what the kitten is up to.)
Since the kitten will be sequestered to one room for much of the first two weeks, be prepared to offer food and litter in that same room.
2. Introduce other animals slowly but not glacially.
Many experts suggest keeping a new cat away from an established cat for several weeks, introducing them incrementally. Veterinarian H. Ellen Whiteley suggests introducing the new kitten immediately but in a cage and only for 20-30 minutes. Behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett states that while you shouldn’t just throw the animals together, you should choose an introduction style based on your knowledge of your cats. What can they cope with?
Aurora met Bob-Bob four hours after his arrival. However, Nita did not leave Aurora and Bob-Bob alone together in the apartment until nearly a week after Bob-Bob arrived. Animals are basically two-year-olds in temperament; there is no knowing whether or not (or when) one will hit the other in the head with a toy airplane.
3. Remove chewable, easily damaged stuff from the new kitten’s designated holding cell.
You may be surprised by what is damageable. Nita discovered several chewed-through wires a few days after Bob-Bob’s arrival. Her CD player needed new headphones!
4. Don’t move furniture around for a few months.
You may have a curious creature like Bob-Bob, but even curious creatures, like any newborn, are busy processing new stimuli. What may seem old-hat to us is fresh and unusual to them. The hiss of a compressed air dispenser can shock a new kitten as can car honks and feet on an outside staircase. You can’t remove all these stimuli, nor should you, but you also don’t need to add to them unnecessarily.
Moving furniture, for example, can seriously disorient a new kitten. Once six or more months are up, though, go ahead! Moving furniture into new positions is an easy, cheap way to entertain a cat.
5. Finally, go ahead and love the kitten.
On the one hand, as most experts advise, you want to allow the animal time and space to adapt. On the other hand, new kittens need to be tamed. They need to get used to their owner’s scent and proximity.
So go ahead and manhandle but allow for some time-off too. Bob-Bob was very skittish when Nita first got him. She would let him run-off, explore, and even sleep under the bed. But then she would go and get him, pet him, and get him to purr. He is now a friendly, inquisitive cat who enjoys sitting on Nita’s lap.
You feed the cats; ergo, they will love you. But it will take a few weeks for them to realize you are the leader of the tribe.
For more good advice on handling a new kitten, check out The Cat Doctor of Portland, Maine.
Disclaimer: Katherine Woodbury is not a veterinarian, behaviorist, or professional animal trainer. Her observations and advice are the result of on-the-ground, real-time exposure. Her perspective is that of an experienced cat-owner searching for practical solutions. When a suggestion does come from an expert source, this will be noted in the article.