How to Care for a Kitten

Kittens can be expensive and a lot of work. Here’s what you need to know about taking care of your new pet.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken
  • Plutus Award winner

  • 12+ years writing about insurance and personal finance

Emily is a widely recognized expert on personal finance and has authored several personal finance books. She’s a frequent guest on national and regional media.

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Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated January 5, 2024

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Though adorable and sweet, kittens can also be time-consuming and expensive. In the excitement of bringing your new pet home, the most important thing to do is ensure your pet’s healthy development. Your kitten will need love and care from you, as well as specific food, equipment, and medical attention.

Before you adopt a kitten, check out this step-by-step guide to proper kitten care.

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How to care for a new kitten

It’s vital to prepare for the basic aspects of kitten care in addition to enjoying their adorable hijinks. Kittens require special care as they become accustomed to living with you.

Here are the basic care needs your little friend requires at every stage of kittenhood.

Schedule a vet visit right away

Whether you found your kitten at a shelter, breeder, or in your backyard, the first thing you should do is set up the kitten’s first vet visit within the first few days of having the kitten. It’s helpful to consult with a veterinarian about proper care so you can give your kitten the best possible start.

The veterinary staff can provide essential kitten care information that will help you meet your kitten’s nutritional needs and create a safe environment. During the veterinary visit, the veterinarian can do a physical exam to identify any potential warning signs or health issues with your kitten.

Your veterinarian may also suggest you purchase a pet insurance policy. Now is a good time to do so, because coverage is cheaper for kittens without pre-existing conditions than for older cats.

05 weeks

How you care for a kitten younger than 5 weeks old will partially depend on whether it’s still living with and feeding from its mother.

If the kitten’s mother and newborn kittens are together, you’ll need to focus on the following nutrition and care needs:

  • Feed the mother cat high-protein food (kitten food is a good option) three times a day.

  • Provide a shallow dish of water (a deep dish is a drowning hazard for the little ones).

  • Monitor the kittens’ weights.

  • Handle the kittens daily to help them socialize.

  • Wash your hands between touching each cat to prevent the spread of diseases.[1]

If you’re caring for an orphaned kitten, you should consult with a veterinarian or cat fostering expert. Caring for a kitten younger than 5 weeks old requires a great deal of attention, proper nutrition (including kitten milk replacer), and round-the-clock feeding to maintain a tiny kitten’s overall health. Meeting a young kitten’s needs may be too much for a new cat owner.

You can find helpful information to care for newborn kittens from the National Kitten Coalition.

611 weeks

Most people adopt kittens between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Generally, kittens at this age have weaned from drinking their mother’s milk to eating solid food.[2]

It’s a good idea to set up a daily routine for your kitten at this age. Getting your pet accustomed to a regular schedule for feeding, playtime, and sleeping will help it fit into your family’s daily life, especially if you have young children.

Now is also a good time to introduce behavioral changes, like litter box training and teaching the kitty to use scratching posts (instead of your furniture). The addition of behavior modification and the right amount of stimulation can keep your curious kitten engaged, interested, and learning.

36 months old

Spaying or neutering your kitten will help prevent unwanted animals. Vets generally recommend sterilization before 4 or 5 months of age. In addition to preventing your kitten from adding to the unwanted cat population, spaying and neutering can also prevent problem behaviors like aggression and spraying.

This age is also a perfect time to set up some basic training so your cat knows what kind of good behavior you expect. Using reward-based training to teach your older kitten the rules can help you meet your cat’s needs for years to come.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Spaying or Neutering?

Does Pet Insurance Cover Spaying or Neutering?

How to feed your kitten

Unless you’ve adopted an orphaned kitten, you most likely have brought home a kitten no younger than 6 to 8 weeks old. At that age, it’s likely already weaned from its mother’s milk and is eating solid food.[3] The good news is that you don’t have to bottle feed weaned kittens — but feeding your kitten still requires more effort than feeding an adult cat.

Healthy kittens generally gain approximately one pound per month, and their protein and dietary needs exceed the requirements for adult cats. Generally, a 4-week-old kitten weighs one pound, an 8-week-old weighs two pounds, and so on, until the cat reaches about 5 months of age (and five pounds). Your vet will let you know when to switch to an adult diet.

Here are the types of feeding methods you may need to use for your kitten.

Bottle feeding

If your kitten hasn’t weaned off of its mother’s milk, you’ll need to bottle feed it with special kitten formula. Depending on the kitten’s age, you may need to feed it every few hours. Newbie kitten owners should get guidance from their veterinarian or a cat foster organization to make sure they properly care for an orphaned or bottle-fed kitten.

Meal feeding

Kittens younger than 4 months old need several meals per day — generally every six to eight hours. Giving your kitten portioned wet food on a set schedule can help you understand its eating habits and be aware of how much it’s eating. If you can’t feed your cat on a schedule, timed food bowls can ensure mealtime occurs even if you aren’t there.

Free feeding

If your kitten can handle dry food, free feeding is the most convenient way to feed your cat. This involves leaving dry food out at all times so it’s readily available for the cat.

Many kittens self-regulate and only eat what they need, but free feeding can lead to overeating and excessive weight gain for some cats — or even decreased appetites. In multi-cat households, free feeding can also lead to a dominant cat eating the food meant for other cats.

Neutering or spaying your kitten

Kittens reach puberty at about 5 months of age, which is why most veterinarians recommend spaying or neutering kittens by around 4 months. Sterilizing your kitten can help prevent unwanted behavior, like aggression, spraying, and caterwauling in the middle of the night. It can also prevent testicular and uterine cancer.

In addition, unneutered female cats can have up to three litters per year, which can lead to upward of 20 kittens in a year from a single mother cat. The ASPCA estimates the average cost of spaying or neutering a kitten at $150, which is far less than the cost of caring for so many kittens annually.[4]

A wellness pet insurance plan will generally help cover the cost of neutering or spaying your kitten, as well as the cost of aftercare.

How much does having a kitten cost?

Kittens can cost more to care for you than you might expect. Make sure you prepare for the initial costs of adopting a kitten and the ongoing annual costs of caring for your furry friend.

Here are the average costs you can expect.

Initial costs

New cat owners will spend approximately $455 in one-time costs when adopting a cat, according to the ASPCA. Find a breakdown of these average costs below.

Initial CostsAverage Amount Spent
Spay/neuter$150
Initial veterinary costs$175
Gear (including collar, litter box, scratching pole, cat carrier, and grooming tools)$110
Microchipping$20
Average cost may vary based on individual profile.

These costs don’t include the price you may pay to adopt a kitten from either a shelter or a breeder. Generally, shelter costs can range from around $50 to $175, although many shelters have already spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped adoptable kittens. That means adopting from a shelter could reduce your overall costs.

The cost of adopting from a breeder can vary a great deal, with costs ranging as high as $750 or more. Breeders typically won’t neuter or spay, microchip, or vaccinate the kittens before you take them home.

Annual costs

Beyond your initial costs for adopting a kitten, make sure you can also afford the ongoing costs of cat ownership. Cats commonly live to be 15 years or older, so it’s important that new kitten owners understand the annual costs they’ll face for the next couple of decades.

The ASPCA reports that cat owners generally spend more than $1,100 per year to care for their felines. Here’s how those costs break down.

Annual CostAverage Amount Spent
Food$225
Routine veterinary costs and preventive medication (heartworm, flea/tick prevention)$300
Pet health insurance$348
Kitty litter$150
Toys, treats, and grooming supplies$86
Average cost may vary based on individual profile.
How Much Is a Vet Visit for a Cat? (2024)

How Much Is a Vet Visit for a Cat? (2024)

Pet insurance for your kitten

Buying pet insurance for your kitten is a good way to protect its health for years to come. The earlier you buy a pet insurance policy for your kitten, the more likely it is that your policy will cover the illnesses your cat may experience in the future.

That’s because traditional pet insurance companies don’t cover pre-existing conditions. So if your kitten needs care for an illness before you’ve purchased a policy, your insurance probably won’t cover the costs of veterinary care for that same illness if it recurs later.

How pet insurance works

Like other types of insurance, pet insurance companies charge policyholders a premium in exchange for payment of covered veterinary costs. Your pet insurance policy will have a deductible you need to pay before coverage kicks in for your pet. Most policies will require you to pay the veterinarian up front and submit a claim for reimbursement.

You’ll also likely face a waiting period before your pet insurance takes effect.

What pet insurance covers

Here are the three main levels of coverage for pet insurance:

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/00dd026525/paw.svg

    Accident only

    This kind of coverage pays for veterinary care after a one-time traumatic event, such as breaking a bone or ingesting a foreign object.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/cf28042561/shot.svg

    Accident and illness

    If you have this type of policy, your insurance covers accidents like those listed above, as well as illnesses such as urinary tract infections, intestinal parasites, or even feline leukemia.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/ed7e75ea26/cat.svg

    Wellness

    Typically an add-on, this plan can help cover the costs of routine preventive care, such as kitten vaccinations.[5]

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Cost of pet insurance

Cats are generally less expensive to insure than dogs. The cost of pet insurance depends in part on your pet’s age. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy insurance for your young kitten before it becomes an adult and potentially develops pre-existing conditions.

Your kitten’s breed, the cost of veterinary care in your area, and the level of coverage you choose can all affect your premium rates.

In 2022, the average cost of an accident and illness plan for a cat was about $32 per month, while accident-only insurance costs just over $10 per month.[6]

How to care for a kitten FAQs

If you’re thinking about adopting a kitten, it’s important to understand the care requirements. Here’s some helpful information to answer some of the most common kitten care questions you might have about your new pet.

  • How do you care for a stray kitten?

    Stray kittens don’t have a home but may be comfortable with people. Feral kittens, however, will avoid contact with humans. Caring for a stray kitten is much easier than a feral one. Make sure you schedule an appointment with your vet for a full checkup, vaccinations, and information about proper care and a proper feeding schedule.

    If you’ve adopted a stray kitten, you’ll need to start by giving it a safe space or “kitten home” inside your home, such as a cardboard box lined with towels. If the kitten isn’t with its mother, you may need to provide it with a heating disk or heating pad to help it maintain body heat.

    Depending on the kitten’s age, you may need to bottle feed it or provide it with wet food until it can chew dry kitten food on its own.

  • Should you make your home kitten-proof?

    Yes. Just like human babies and young children, tiny kittens can accidentally hurt themselves. Start the kitten-proofing by barricading any part of the home that could be hazardous to your kitten, such as dangerous cleaning chemicals.

    You also should plan on tidying up any loose or dangling strings, cords, cables, or rubber bands since your curious friend will likely want to play with them.

    Additionally, make sure toilets and garbage cans have closed lids and that baby gates keep the kittens away from stairs they can’t yet handle.

  • How do you care for a feral kitten?

    If you’ve decided to adopt a feral kitten, it’ll take time before it’s comfortable living indoors. To keep from overwhelming the animal, start by confining the kitten in a small space like a bathroom or kennel with dry food, water, and a litter box.

    Try to reduce loud noises that could startle the kitten. Offer the cat wet food to help it become more comfortable with you. You can allow the kitten to explore your home as it becomes more accustomed to the new surroundings.

    Cat behavior experts don’t recommend trying to tame a feral kitten older than 4 months old unless you’ve been trained to foster and socialize cats. Feral kittens younger than 4 months are easier to tame and care for.

  • How can you save money on pet insurance?

    Save money on pet insurance by enrolling your pet while it’s still young because it’s less likely to have a pre-existing condition that could increase premiums. In addition, make sure you comparison shop to find the right coverage at the right price for your pet. Finally, see if you can save money by bundling your pet insurance with your auto, home, or renters insurance.

Sources

  1. Kitten Lady. "How To Care For A Nursing Mama & Her Babies."
  2. Purina. "Understanding When to Wean Kittens."
  3. PetMD. "Feeding Kittens 101: What to Feed, How Much, and How Often."
  4. ASPCA. "Cutting Pet Care Costs."
  5. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts about pet insurance."
  6. North American Pet Health Insurance Association. "Section #3: Average Premiums."
Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson.

Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Kiplinger's, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online.

She is the author of several books, including The 5 Years Before You Retire, End Financial Stress Now, and the brand new book Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management, written with Joe Saul-Sehy.

Emily lives in Milwaukee with her family.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

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