Are you the proud pet parent of a new kitten? Congratulations! Life is about to be a whole lot more fun. The first full day with your new pet is an exciting time. It’s normal to feel a little nervous, but don’t worry—you got this! These tips for how to survive the first 24 hours with your kitten will get you off to a great start.
Preparing a kitten room
The secret to a smooth first day is to do some prep work ahead of time. First, set up a “starter room” to serve as your kitten’s home base for the first few days. Bathrooms and laundry rooms make great kitten rooms because they’re relatively small and have easy-to-clean floors.
Here’s a quick list of how to set up a kitten room:
- Remove or tape down electric cords
- Move house plants out of reach (and remember, kittens can climb)
- Remove or secure breakable items
- Ensure windows and doors close and latch completely
- Cover up any potential holes
- Set up the litterbox in one corner, and food and water bowls in another part of the room
Then, stock the room with kitten stuff. A soft bed and safe scratching post or pad will help. Pick out a couple of interactive toys to teach them to play. And add some “play-alone” toys like fluffy balls, crinkle/crackle balls, and catnip mice to provide fun and distraction when you’re not in the room.
Bringing your kitten home
The first step in your first 24 hours together is getting home! Before you go to pick up your kitten, prepare a comfy carrier for them. If you’re adopting a kitten from a shelter, they’ll likely have cardboard cat carriers on hand. You can take along a soft blanket and some treats to put in the carrier to make your kitten more comfortable.
In the car, place the carrier in a secure spot on the floor behind the passenger seat, or strap it in with a seatbelt. Just be sure it’s steady, and don’t open the carrier in the car.
Once you get home, set the carrier down in the kitten room. Open the door and give your kitten plenty of time to come out on their own. It’s okay if they’re nervous—after all, this is a brand new place, and they just had a stressful ride in the car! Just sit patiently nearby, talk in a soothing tone, and don’t rush it. You have your whole lives together.
Kitten’s first few hours at home
Your kitten might hide when you first open the carrier door. This is perfectly normal behavior. Give them time to get their bearings, and let them explore a little bit at a time. Maybe they’ll be running circles around the room right away, or it might take them a few hours to even venture outside of the carrier.
Plan to keep your kitten in their special room for at least the first 24 hours, and up to two weeks. This can be a great way to let them gradually get used to the smells and sounds of their new house. It’s especially important if you already have pets in the house. Do not introduce your kitten to other pets in the family for at least the first 24 hours. You can let your pets smell each other’s bedding after a few hours so they get used to each other’s scents, and eventually plan on a gradual introduction.
Visiting the litterbox for the first time
The good news is, kittens tend to pick up on litter training very quickly. But you should plan to show them where to go the first few times. Start right away: once your kitten comes out of their carrier, place them gently in the litter tray. If they go potty right away, terrific! You can praise them and give them a treat. If they don’t go right away, plan to redirect them to the box every half hour or so.
Once your kitten goes potty in the litterbox, don’t scoop right away. Instead, leave their first “offerings” (poop and pee) to act as a marker. Your kitten has a great sense of smell and an instinct for good hygiene—they just need to learn where to go. After the first day, you’ll want to clean their litterbox once or twice daily.
If your kitten goes to the bathroom outside of the litterbox, don’t scold them—they don’t understand, and it can cause negative associations with potty time. Instead, simply redirect them to the litterbox periodically. Cats love to be clean, so chances are they’ll figure it out fast.
Playtime and handling the rest of the day
Of course, it’s tempting to hold and cuddle your new kitten all day long! However, it’s best to let them get to know you gradually. After all, you’re a giant new creature in their life, and they’ve never been in your house before.
At first, simply spend time near your kitten. When their body language shows that they’re comfortable and curious, then you can pick them up. Alternate handling with playtime, and take breaks to let them explore on their own.
If you have young kids in the family, teach them to be calm around the kitten, and only pet or hold them while seated. Kids over age four can hold kittens while seated. Younger kids should be taught to pet them gently. Again, let your kitten make the first move, and watch for signs of stress.
The first night
I know, I know: you want your kitten to sleep with you. The truth is, kittens are full of energy, and they don’t always understand the whole “sleep at night” thing. If the kitten room happens to be your bedroom, then you just may end up with a kitten curled against you in the night.
But don’t feel bad about leaving them in their room to go sleep in yours. I promise, they’ll be okay until morning. Just leave them with a soft bed and blanket, turn off the light, and close the door. If you want, you can set an alarm to wake up and check on them halfway through the night.
In the morning, visit your kitten in their room. They may have made some messes for you to clean up. Refresh their food and water bowls, scoop the litterbox, and spend some time socializing.
Congratulations! You made it through your first day with a kitten. You’re well on your way to a lifetime of fun with your new friend.