Oops! Common Mistakes New Kitten Owners Make


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Belinda Stancombe

Becoming a new Paw-parent is an exciting time, with so much to learn and teach your new kitten. Training your kitten to be a well-mannered member of the family is a big responsibility and like all new things, mistakes can happen!

Our vets have listed some of the most common mistakes that Pet Parents make when training a new kitten and the best ways to avoid them. Knowing what to look out for in advance, could save you and your kitten a lot of frustration in the first year of raising your new fur-baby.

Common Mistakes New Kitten Owners Make

Giving Milk

Kittens gradually wean off their mother's milk and begin to be able to eat solid food from about 4-6 weeks of age. Once your kitten has started on solid food, there is no need for milk other than as the occasional treat. It is important that if you are going to give your kitten milk, you only use lactose-free milk or pet milk. Regular cows milk contains lactose which can cause kittens and cats to develop diarrhoea or an upset tummy.

Fresh water should always be provided. You may want to consider investing in a water fountain. Water fountains are beneficial for cats as running water encourages cats to drink more, keeping their kidneys and bladders hydrated and decreasing the incidence of urinary issues later in life.

Toys and Treats That Are Too Hard

While they are teething your kitten will probably start to chew on everything, so make sure you give them plenty of appropriate chew toys. Until your kitten has all their adult teeth, avoid giving hard dental chews, bones or chew toys as baby teeth are more delicate and may break if they chew hard objects.

Damage to your kitten's baby tooth is painful and may cause a tooth root infection, which can permanently harm adult teeth below the gum line. If your kitten does break a tooth, your veterinarian may recommend removal of the damaged tooth to avoid further complications.

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Access To Dangerous Household Items

There are many household items that are known to be dangerous to cats.

Lily flowers, commonly found in gardens, flower arrangements and indoor plants, are highly toxic to cats. The consumption of any part of the plant, including the leaves, stem, flowers, pollen or even the water from a vase can result in fatal kidney failure.

As a general rule you should never give human medication to your pets. Paracetamol poses an especially serious threat to cats. Unlike humans, cats do not have an enzyme involved in the breakdown of paracetamol on the body. Because of this only very small doses of paracetamol may cause irreversible liver damage or death.

Although our fiesty felines love to frolic with string, wool and ribbons it is important that this play is supervised. If your kitten ingests a piece of string it may catch on a piece of intestine or around the base of the tongue causing a the gut to 'concertina' up on itself, resulting in a life threatening bowel obstruction. Symptoms of an obstruction include retching, vomiting, drooling, lethargy and loss of appetite. Be especially careful with your sewing kit as cats have been known to swallow needle and string all in one go.

It is best to limit the amount of human food you feed your kitten to help keep their diet balanced and prevent obesity in later life. In particular avoid feeding human foods which are known to be toxic to cats including:

  • Grapes
  • Sultanas and Raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Artificial sweeteners (xylitol)

If you believe that your kitten may have had contact with any of the items above, please contact your veterinarian immediately as they may require emergency treatment.

Litter Tray Mishaps

When it comes to litter trays, the recommendation per cat in the household is to provide one litter, plus one extra. Make sure that the litter trays are positioned in areas where your kitten is unlikely to be disturbed while they 'do their business'. Dogs, children and washing machines on spin cycle can all put your kitten off using the litter tray. Cats are creatures of habit when it comes to toileting, so be wary of suddenly moving their litter box, or they may soil in the area where the box used to be.

Cats are generally extremely fastidious about their toileting habits and sudden changes can cause great offence! It is important that the litter box is kept as clean as possible. We recommend removing solid waste daily and replacing the litter every one to two weeks. Your kitten may have a preference for one litter type over another, you could try offering them a 'menu' of different litter options in different trays to determine their favourite.

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Passing On Pet Insurance

There is no doubt that having a new pet is expensive so it is not uncommon for pet owners to prioritise immediate costs such as vaccinations, food and toys. Planning for future events such as illness or accidents may not seem as relevant with your new bundle of joy when everything is going well.

That said, kittens have a tendency of getting into mischief and pet insurance can be a fantastic way to ease the financial stress of an expensive, unexpected illness or injury. Signing your kitten up for pet insurance from a young age can help avoid insurance loop-holes such as pre-existing conditions.

In Australia we are not used to how expensive medical costs can be due to medicare and an excellent public health system. Unfortunately, there is no medicare for pets so the cost of medical treatments can run into the thousands very quickly. The veterinary industry has changed a lot in the last few decades and if your pet is suffering an illness or injury, there are a range of veterinary specialist available that your pet can be referred to from your regular veterinarian to ensure absolute gold standard medical care. These include cardiologists, orthopaedic surgeons, oncologists, dermatologists and 24 hour care facilities just to name a few. With increased standards of care that often align with those seen in human medicine, comes an increase in cost.

One alternative approach to pet insurance that some owners prefer is to set up a pet savings account and arrange for a small amount to be put aside from each pay cheque to cover any unexpected vet expenses.

Switching Foods For Fussy Eaters

New kittens have a lot to adjust to and diet is often just one of those changes. We all want to do what is best for our fur-baby and it can be difficult to know what to do when your new kitten will not eat the dry food that you have chosen for them.

Firstly, ensure that you are feeding a Premium Brand Dry Food as they are backed by decades of nutritional research and development to meet all your kitten's needs. The ingredients in Premium Brand Dry Foods such as Hill's Science Diet, Royal Canin and Advance are superior in quality to supermarket brands and are therefore often more palatable. If your kitten is not enjoying their current food, then swapping to a Premium Brand Kitten diet may help to make their dry food more enticing.

Secondly, try adding some warm water or mixing in some Kitten Wet Food to make the dry food more enticing. Stop giving treats in between meals times that your kitten will fill up on.

Changing your kitten's food every time that they refuse to eat it and supplementing with something else, only rewards fussy behaviour. Just like children eating their vegetables, it is important for pets to eat a complete and balanced diet. Given the choice, most children would opt to eat Fast Food, but that does not mean that is what is best for them. Just the same, what a fussy kitten chooses to eat is not always complete and balanced. If you are trying different food options to get your kitten to eat, then your cat has you trained, not the other way round!

Not Following Feeding Guides

Knowing how much to feed of a particular food can be tricky; the ideal feeding amount will vary from formula to formula and depends on your kitten's age and weight. To work out how much to feed your kitten, consult the feeding guidelines on the food packaging and use this as a starting point, adjusting the amount up or down depending on your kitten's needs.

As every kitten diet is different it is best to follow the feeding guide for the food that you are feeding. As your kitten grows and their energy requirements increase, the amount you are feeding your kitten will increase, so ensure that you continue to check the feeding guide and feed as recommended.

If you are feeding the recommended amount and your kitten is a healthy weight, begging for food does not necessarily mean that they are hungry or you are not feeding enough. Some cats are food motivated and if begging for food gets a response, meaning that they receive food, they are more likely to repeat the behaviour, whether they are hungry or not. If your kitten is begging for food, you are best to ignore them and feed them at set mealtimes instead of responding to begging behaviour.

Not Cleaning Up Toileting Accidents Properly

Using the correct products to remove cat urine is incredibly important in preventing the problem from recurring. The smell of cat urine can trigger a cat to spray or urinate repeatedly in a particular area. After blotting up the bulk of the liquid with dry paper towel, apply a enzyme based cleaner specifically formulated for cat urine. These sprays contain enzymes not present in normal cleaning sprays that break up the uric acid crystals responsible for the pungent cat urine smell. Avoid products that simply deodorize or cover up the smell as this can make the problem worse.