What to know when buying a kitten

Kittens are cute, (and they know it) but they shouldn’t be judged on that alone. Whether you decide to rescue or buy, getting a kitten is a big, but also exciting commitment and there are lots of things to think about before you get one.

There are lots of healthy, loving kittens and cats available at rescue centres like Battersea right across the country. We would always encourage you to rehome a kitten or cat from a rescue centre. At a rescue centre you know you are getting a cat that has been selected because it will match your family and lifestyle, and is healthy and ready for family life. This isn’t necessarily the case if you buy online and it’s impossible to guarantee that animals advertised in online listings or on social media are from a safe, reputable source.

However, if you're set on buying a kitten, you should do your research and find a reputable breeder where the cats and kittens are properly cared for and looked after. Although you can’t currently visit the breeder in person, you should ask them to show you where the kittens are bred and cared for with videos, photos and on video calls if possible. Don’t be afraid to ask, as good breeders will be happy to show you.

If you’re at home during the coronavirus lockdown now might feel like a good time to welcome a new kitten into your household. With potentially more time to spend settling a new pet this might well be the case for you and your family. However, it’s also important to remember that as lockdown eases, and we go back to different levels of normal life, you will need to be able to keep giving that kitten the same amount of care and attention along with everything else it needs. We would strongly recommend choosing to go to a rescue at this time, as they will definitely be following Government approved guidelines to rehome animals whilst complying with social distancing and keeping everyone as safe as possible

Here’s our list of the top 10 things to consider and check before getting a kitten.

1. Make sure now is the right time to get a new pet

Cats are great company around the house and a fantastic addition to our lives, but it is important to make sure you have the time and resources to care for them properly now, and in the future. Pet ownership is a huge commitment and one that may last for more than a decade. As lockdown measures ease and we begin to return to elements of our usual routines and lifestyles, it’s important to make sure that you will still have the time and resources to care for an animal. Kittens especially will need different levels of care and attention as they grow, so if that might not fit in with your life in 3 months’ time then it’s important to think long and hard about your decision.

It is also important to understand how social distancing measures will impact both being able to physically get a kitten and meet its needs during the first few months of its life. It will be difficult to maintain social distancing while collecting a kitten from a home environment, and you should not be going to collect a kitten at present. Breeders should be delivering animals, as rescue centres are doing. Rescue centres like Battersea have put Government approved special measures in place to keep all interactions as safe as possible.

Kittens also require routine medical treatments. Most veterinary surgeries are only carrying out emergency work at the moment, although they will still provide advice over the phone. You will also need to provide your kitten with things like litter trays, scratching posts, and toys to keep them healthy, happy and stimulated. These things should be bought in advance of your kitten’s arrival and may take longer to be delivered than usual.

2. Be sure a kitten is the right pet for you

Remember, your new kitten won’t be little forever. Taking on a young cat is a huge responsibility (very young kittens need feeding four times a day) and they’re likely to be with you for an average of 16 years, maybe even longer. There are lots of cats in need of homes, so consider if an older cat would suit you best – they’re usually a little more relaxed and well-mannered than kittens, and may be happiest snoozing on the sofa rather than playing for hours.

3. When was the kitten born?

A kitten shouldn’t leave its mother until it is at least eight weeks old. However, some breeders will try and sell much younger kittens, so it’s very important that you stay aware of this and check their age as best you can. Ask for details - if you are speaking to a reputable breeder they will know when and where the kitten was born and will be happy to tell you.

Kittens develop and change in appearance week on week, so a good way to check how old they are is by comparing them to photographs of others that are the same age.

4. Is the kitten with its mother and siblings?

If you are buying a kitten, make sure you ask to see the mother with her kittens. Usually this would be during an initial visit to the breeder’s home, but during lockdown we suggest asking for photographs or a video call. Kittens learn an immense amount from being around their mother and siblings, which will positively influence them in the future and help them develop natural cat behaviours.

By socialising and playing, they’ll learn how to interact with other cats and humans, which will lessen the chances of them biting and scratching.

If mum is present, it’s more likely that the kitten was born in the home and limits the risk that they came from a kitten farm or were illegally imported.

Kittens learn an immense amount from being around their mother and siblings

5. Where was the kitten born?

If your kitten is going to be a family pet, you ideally want one that’s been raised in a home environment.

A kitten that has been exposed to the normal goings-on of a home (hoovering, visitors, children, television) is going to be better adapted and less likely to get stressed or panicked in this environment.Responsible breeders and rehoming centres should ensure that they’ve been exposed to these conditions during their sensitive learning period of 2-7/8 weeks old. Battersea foster carers have been getting creative with fancy dress to pose as “visitors” for their kittens during lockdown!

Kittens raised outdoors, in pens or in a single room may struggle to adapt to a home environment.

This is particularly important at the moment, as households are naturally busier, so kittens who haven’t had as much social interaction as possible might find the new busy environment distressing. All kittens and cats regardless of age and temperament need spaces where they can get away from people when they need to.

6. Does the kitten appear healthy, happy and approachable?

Before you agree to take the kitten, you should ask if the kitten is nervous or has any health issues. Keep an eye out for anything mentioned and any potential problems when you visit to collect your new pet. Kittens should have received worming and flea treatment, in addition to their first vaccination at 9 weeks of age, so you should ask if they have received these treatments and if so, request a copy of the records be sent to you in advance of collection. During lockdown, veterinary surgeries are operating on an emergency only basis which means many kittens from breeders will not be able to receive their vaccinations or other necessary treatments until practices can reopen, which may not be for a considerable amount of time. This has a few different implications, so you should call your local vet to discuss this before you take the kitten.

If a kitten appears very fearful or stressed in videos, or when you see them, this could be an indication that it hasn’t been properly socialised and will find it harder to adapt to a home environment, especially one with other animals or children.

7. Does the mother appear healthy, friendly and happy to interact with you?

Whether the mother is happy and friendly could be an indication of how she has been cared for by her owner. This will have a significant impact on the kitten.

Has the mother been vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas, as this could impact the health of her kittens

Ask to see videos of her is possible, and check if she has been vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas, as this could impact the health of her kittens.

Has she undergone any corrective surgery or does she have any hereditary diseases that could have potentially been passed to her offspring? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

8. What food is the kitten eating?

It’s important to make sure that the kitten is on solid food before you take it home. This means it has been weaned from its mother and can survive without her milk. You should start the kitten off on the same food it is used to and can change it gradually over time.

9. What litter is the kitten using?

The kitten should be trained to use a litter tray by the time you take it home.

The kitten should be trained to use a litter tray by the time you take it home

It’s worth using the same type of litter they are currently using, to minimise stress and help it recognise where to go to the toilet. If you want to swap to a different type, this should be gradually phased in over time.

10. Is the kitten in a clean environment?

Kittens do tend to be a little messy but you should check the general cleanliness of the area, including bedding, litter trays, and food and water bowls.

A cleaner environment will lessen the chance of the kitten becoming sick and demonstrate that the owners are mindful of their welfare.

The kitten checklist

We would always encourage people to rescue a cat, but for those who have decided to buy a kitten, we would strongly recommend using the in-depth Kitten Checklist. It's been designed to help buyers ask the right questions to help them choose a kitten whose breeder has taken care to ensure their animals have the best chance of a happy, healthy life.

If you see a kitten and are concerned for its welfare, we understand the temptation to take it home, however each sale made will likely only encourage the breeder or seller to get more animals in to sell them for profit - perpetrating a vicious cycle.

If you suspect cruelty of any kind, we’d urge you to contact the RSPCA so the authorities can take proper action.

Cat or Kitten?

Read our Kitten Season advice to check whether an adult cat or kitten will suit your needs better