How to care for your new furry friend

Kittens are the epitome of cute — warm, fuzzy and utterly adorable — but like any other youngster, they have specific needs. Kitten care basics for the average pet owner will begin when the kitten is approximately 8 to 12 weeks old. Humane societies, animal rescues and breeders will not usually release kittens younger than 8 weeks to a new home.

Newborn kittens. If the mother cat is not there to care for the newborn during the first seven to eight weeks, you will need to step in. Newborn kittens must be kept warm and have help with feeding. Consult a trusted veterinarian for the proper way to provide nutrition. A mother cat will groom her babies, stimulating excretion, but if she is not there, you will need to do this. Again, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the correct way.

Kitten supplies. You will need to have a cat carrier to bring the kitten home from the shelter or breeder. In addition, the kitten will need a collar and identification tags, even she is going to be an indoor kitty. At home, kitten care basics include a litter box, litter, food and water bowls, as well as food and water. Dont forget toys and a scratching post.

Litter box tips. A kitten at age 8 weeks or older will already understand the concept of using a litter box. However, a low-sided litter box may make stepping in and out easier for a kitten. Most cats will adapt to any litter, whether it be clay or clumping. If your kitten has recently been declawed or had any other surgery, avoid clay and clumping litter during recovery time. Opt for a paper litter, which is available at most pet stores.

Kitten nutrition. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, kittens need about three times the calories that an adult cat needs. Kitten formulated food will provide this level of nutrition and should be maintained until the kitten is about 1 year old. Your veterinarian can recommend a trusted brand. Kittens can be fed dry or canned food; however, canned food cannot be left out throughout the day or it will spoil and kitty can become sick. Cats of all ages need to have fresh water available 24 hours a day. Some kittens will prefer drinking from a dish with low sides.

Playtime. Like babies and toddlers, kitten playtime is not only about fun. Play with your kitten several times a day to help stimulate coordination and provide an outlet for energy. Offer appropriate toys, not fingers, as finger-play may encourage nipping. Scratching posts offer a kitten a place to scratch without damaging furniture. Kitten-proof your home like you would for a toddler. Tie up dangling window blind cords, which can be tempting to young kitties. Be sure to put away any chemicals or cleaners that could potentially harm any pet.