The first hours after bringing a kitten home
You’re bound to be excited about welcoming your new kitten home, but after leaving their mother and littermates behind, it's important that you introduce your kitten to their new life carefully.
A hectic first encounter filled with an assortment of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, can be overwhelming for a kitten. That’s why it’s best to take things slowly, especially during the first 24 hours, to help them feel safe and comfortable in your home.
What do I need for a new kitten?
Before bringing a kitten home for the first time, you should ensure that you have all the necessities – like bedding, bowls, litter tray, a cat carry case, and food. You’ll find the full list on our bringing home a kitten checklist.
You’ll also want to prepare your household, as there are things within your home that are dangerous for a kitten, such as toxic plants, electrical wires, and sharp objects. A list of safety checks can be found in our page on how to prepare for a kitten.
As well as covering the important safety checks, it’s recommended that you adapt your home to your kitten’s needs by creating comfortable places for them to perch up high, or areas where they can hide if they’re overwhelmed.
Travelling with a kitten
When you first collect your kitten, bring a carry case lined with a blanket and some paper towels (to mop up any accidents). You may also want to have a spare blanket and some fabric to drape over the carrier – that way you can darken their environment and make them feel safe as you travel home.
If you’re travelling with a kitten in a car, the cat carrier is essential as it’s dangerous to travel with a pet loose in a vehicle.
We’d also suggest that you collect an object like a blanket or a towel from your kitten’s current home. This soft item will be infused with the scent of their mother and littermates, which should help to calm your kitten and make it easier for them to settle during the early days in their new home.
What to do when you first bring a kitten home
Your kitten’s first steps should be handled carefully and gradually. It’s natural for you and the family to be enthusiastic, but you must be quiet and stay calm to avoid agitating your kitten as they explore their new environment.
Handing the kitten between one another should be avoided. If you need to carry them, place one hand under their tummy and the other under their rear end. Remember, sudden movements are likely to scare them.
It’s also recommended that you limit the areas in the home that your kitten has access to at first to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed in the new space.
It’s best to choose a room where the kitten can be kept for the first few weeks to adjust gradually to their new surroundings. This confinement also aids toilet training and avoids the risk of ‘accidents’ elsewhere in the house.
Position the litter tray in a discreet corner, with the food bowl in the opposite corner and the water bowl away from both the food and the tray. Place a cardboard box on its side with a thick fleecy blanket inside so that the kitten has somewhere to hide if they feel insecure.
It's recommended to place another padded washable cat bed in a quiet area away from all of the busy household activities. Toys and scratching posts should be introduced to allow your kitten to play and encourage bonding between you and your new pet.
Kittens and children
Children will often want to touch, cuddle, and play with a new kitten; however, this enthusiasm is usually too much for a kitten. Unlike an older cat, a kitten can’t avoid children when they’re tired, so you’ll need to supervise their early interactions to make sure the kitten is treated gently and doesn’t become overwhelmed.
By explaining that the kitten is not a toy and that they shouldn’t be pulled or grabbed, you can keep your kitten calm.
Introducing your kitten to other pets
You should try to introduce your kitten to existing pets early on, but again this will need to be done gradually and gently to avoid feelings of jealously and frustration developing within your current pets.
If introduced carefully, a well-socialised dog who is familiar with cats should accept a kitten, although older dogs may need a little longer to adapt to the new arrival. It’s important to leave options for the kitten to hide away from the dog if they become overwhelmed. This will allow the kitten to approach your dog in their own time, when they feel confident to do so.
If you have another cat, however, you may find they’re less accommodating. Cats are not socially obligate animals, and so they’re likely to be less welcoming to a new member of the family. They may show their annoyance at having their routine disrupted and it could take several days or even up to a couple of months for them to accept your kitten as a new family member. That being said, adult cats have been found to adapt more easily to kittens than other adult cats.
Try to introduce the two cats on neutral area during play time and do not accept any aggressiveness. Continue this process and over time they should learn to tolerate one another, and eventually a sense of hierarchy will be established between the pair.
What to do with a kitten on the first night
You may hear your kitten meowing on the first night in their new home. This is normal behaviour for a kitten, and it may continue for three to four nights. It’s likely they’re feeling lonely without their mother and littermates. One action that you can take to settle the kitten in the night is to add a soft blanket, preferably with the smell of their mother and littermates, into their bed.
Reading kitten body language
You can tell how your kitten is adapting to its new home by observing their body language.
If a kitten lightly touches you, rubs against you, purrs, or kneads at your knees, then it’s an indication that they’re feeling happy and are connecting with you. They may also roll on the ground when they first see you, which is a sign of submission and shows that they’re relaxed.
If your kitten waves its tail from side to side as you pet them, stop at once, as they’re becoming irritated. Growling and hissing are used to intimidate and can signal an attack.
The first 24 hours are an important period for you and your kitten, and it’s important to make sure this is a positive, calm experience for them. To find out more about how to care for your kitten as they grow, visit our Kitten section.
A healthy start to life
Kittenhood is a time of huge physical and behavioural change, and a steep learning curve for new owners. Find out how you can provide your kitten with the best start in life so they develop into strong, healthy cats.