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How to Create your Kitten's New Environment

If you've read part 1 of this series, you now have an idea of the type of kitten that would fit in with your family and lifestyle, and the importance of early socialisation and experiences.

So it’s time to get practical with the types of equipment you will need to provide for your new family member, and think about how you can set up your home to be a safe and non-threatening environment for your new bundle of mischief. 

It’s best to have all equipment prepared prior to bringing your kitten home so that it can immediately explore and start to feel comfortable in its new home, without too many subsequent changes. 

Cats are creatures of habit and are territorial, so whichever areas of your home you want them to use for sleeping, feeding, toileting etc., should be established from day 1. 

Setting up the basics

#1. Cat carrier:
Arya travels in a pre-loved pet carrier but does not mind getting in and out, even at the vet!

Shelters will often provide a temporary cardboard carrier for you to transport your new family member home, but it’s a good idea to invest in a good-quality carrier which will last the lifetime of your kitten

The author’s current cat (the lovely Maggie) currently travels in a carrier that is 20 years old and still going strong, so the initial financial outlay is well worth it. The carrier needs to be large enough for an adult cat to stand, lie down, stretch and move around comfortably, with enough holes to allow good air flow, and a comfortable blanket or other padding. 

Carriers with removable tops are great because when your kitten goes to the V-E-T the carrier roof can easily be removed, allowing an examination without trying to drag a scared and reluctant cat out of the carrier door. 

#2. Food and water bowls:

Cats prefer to have their food and water sources separate from one another, therefore providing both in a ”double” bowl is not advised. However, these bowls can be used to separate wet and dry food. 

Also consider that eating from a bowl is a very “human” activity and by providing meals in bowls we are forcing our pets to abandon their natural behaviours and instincts. 

Maggie is searching for treats in a DIY feeder made from empty toilet rolls

There are many interactive feeders commercially available or you can make your own, to safely foster your kitten’s hunting instinct and keep mealtimes interesting and challenging (imagine how boring it must be for natural hunters to have their food placed in front of them in a bowl every single day). 

The water bowl should be sturdy enough not to be tipped over. Most cats do not like their whiskers touching the sides of their bowls or dunking their heads into deep bowls, so wider and shallower bowls are preferable. Some cats like plastic bowls; others prefer ceramic or metal, so if your kitten does not appear to like one, try another. 

Some cats will prefer to drink from a running water source
, such as from a tap; if your kitten likes hijacking your sinks and playing with or drinking running water, you might like to consider a pet water fountain. 

Ask what diet your kitten was fed at the shelter or breeder and continue feeding this at home to begin with. If you plan to change the diet, do so gradually, over a 7-10 day period, to avoid gastro-intestinal upsets from a sudden diet change

Cats can also become fixated on particular diets, and some will simply refuse to eat a new food that suddenly appears due to its unfamiliar taste, texture or smell. (On the other hand, some cats will eat anything and everything they are offered, and then some!) 

Kittens need a balanced growth diet; ask your veterinary professional for advice about which diets are appropriate, but generally speaking try to avoid “supermarket” diets as these are usually a much poorer quality food with variable ingredients and inappropriate levels of nutrients, such as increased salt to make them more palatable. 

There are many other important dietary considerations, which are beyond the scope of this article, but providing an appropriate diet is one of the most important ways you can keep your furry friend healthy. 

#3. Litter tray 

Even cats with outside access should be provided with a tray inside. The litter tray should be situated well away from food and water sources. Cats are fastidiously clean animals; would you want to be eating in close proximity to your toilet? 

Ideally the tray will be located in an area which does not see a lot of foot traffic; again, consider your own preferences! A corner of the laundry or bathroom generally works well, however also consider how happy your kitten might be to use their tray while the washing machine or tumble dryer are running!
If you have multiple cats, the advice is to provide 1 litter tray per cat plus 1 extra (ie: 4 trays for 3 cats), with these trays situated in various locations. This ensures your cats can access at least 1 tray, particularly if they are territorial, and they are not all fighting for this important resource. 

Many commercially available litter trays are too small, so consider the size your kitten will become as it matures to adulthood. The tray length should be 1.5 times the length of the cat (including the tail), enabling the cat to move around in the tray comfortably. Tray sides should be low enough for your kitten to get in and out; smaller kittens might prefer a flatter tray (resembling a baking tray). 

Hooded trays are popular, allowing a cat to climb in and have a “private“ toileting experience, as most of us would prefer ourselves! 
Arya quickly took to her PetSafe ScoopFree self-cleaning litter box but after 3 months
 we had to remove the hood as she felt a little cramped!

However, some cats don’t like to feel “trapped” inside these trays, which happens sometimes in a multi-cat household when a dominant cat blocks another cat in a confined space. 

There are many types of cat litter commercially available; once again personal preference of individual cats comes into play. Types of litter or “substrate” include recycled paper, wooden pellets, clay-based or sand/small pebbles. 

The author doesn’t advocate the use of scented litter products because although humans might like the idea of masking the aroma of the litter tray with a flowery or fruity scent, cats tend to dislike these and they could deter your kitten from using the tray. 

It is preferable to clean the tray and replace soiled litter on a regular basis to minimise odours. Find out what litter type the kitten is used to and use this as your kitten settles in, then gradually change to a new litter type if you prefer to change it. Bear in mind that if your kitten starts toileting elsewhere, this could be a way of expressing its dissatisfaction with the toileting conditions you have provided! 

#4. Bedding:

It’s important that your kitten has its own comfortable sleeping area, located in a quiet area of the house, and ideally raised off floor level (cats like to be up high). Remember that kittens need a lot of sleep in between all those entertaining antics! 

Ensure your kitten is not disturbed once it has retreated to its private bed (or preferred nap spot), and teach children that they should not disturb the kitten during these times. 

Naturally, many cats will make themselves comfortable elsewhere such as the dog’s basket, human beds, furniture and the lap of the person who likes them the least, however their own designated bed should always be available as well. 

#5. Scratching post:

Scratching is an important behaviour for cats and serves several functions. Rather than try to prevent scratching, train your kitten (without punishing them) to scratch only in designated areas.

Kittens are fast learners and can learn quickly which are the appropriate scratching spots and which are not: such as the leather couch, the carpet, or the leg of any available human!
 Candice's cat Cee with her scratching post and toy collection

Scratching posts and toys can be either vertical or horizontal and your kitten will often have a preference for one or the other so follow its cues when providing scratching equipment. An important consideration is that many vertical scratching posts are far too short, even for a kitten.

Ensure the post is tall enough that the kitten can stretch up at full length on its hind legs, and as the kitten grows to full size the post might need to be replaced. Also ensure the post has a sturdy base and cannot be tipped over when in use. 

#6. Cat Toys:

There is no shortage of kitten and cat toys available, and let’s face it, when it comes to playing every cat is a kitten! Do you choose “fishing” toys on rods and string, feather toys, rattle balls, squeaky mice, climbing frames, tunnels… or all of the above? 

Safety is a major consideration when providing toys for your kitten. Ensure there are no small parts which could break off and be swallowed, and invest in toys that are sturdy enough to last more than a single playtime! 

Toys also don’t need to cost the Earth!

To a kitten a cardboard box, a ping pong ball and a piece of string tied to a peg are just as entertaining as expensive designer toys. 

Remember to rotate toys periodically so that your kitten doesn’t become bored with them. Compared with dogs, cats have been a domestic species for a much shorter time and it’s important that we are meet all of their behavioural and environmental (stimulation and enrichment) needs when we impose our human domestic ideals onto them. 

Remember also that cats love having their humans play with them, and this interaction is an important way of strengthening the human-cat bond. 

So, get down on your knees and drag that fish-on-string or bat that rattly ball across the floor – and watch your own stress levels come down! 

Written by Candice Drew, September 2020 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved).

About the Writer

Candice qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in 2005, being awarded the Novartis Award for Outstanding Achievement in Veterinary Nursing in her qualifying year. 
She has worked extensively in Australia and the UK, and is a UK Registered Veterinary Nurse. Candice is experienced in general practice, shelter nursing and referral nursing (Surgery and Emergency & Critical Care [ECC]). 

She attained the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing (surgical) in 2009, qualified as a trainer & assessor in 2015, and completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing in 2018. Candice is interested in most aspects of veterinary nursing but her passions are feline nursing, ECC and working with students.
Candice is the happy slave of a 10-year-old rescue cat named “Maggie”, whom she adopted in January 2018.

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