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How to choose a kitten?

American short hair kitten advice
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With tens of fluffy, sweet, chirpy little kittens surrounding you, it can seem almost impossible to make a decision. But choosing a kitten doesn’t have to be hard - here are some simple tips to help you make the right choice!

By Alice Lang

All kittens are cute. Literally. Every. Single. One!

But eventually, they grow into full-size, adult cats in different shapes and sizes with varied personalities and temperaments to boot. In fact, kittens change a lot and can seem completely different by the time they’ve left their kittenhood behind.

So how do you know which kitten is right for you? While it’s impossible to predict exactly what a kitten will end up like when they’re older, there are a few things you can do before choosing a kitten to ensure they’re a great match for you. Let’s go!

Choosing a kitten: adopt or shop?

When choosing a kitten, you first need to figure out whether you want to adopt a kitten from your local shelter or buy one from a reputable breeder. This is totally down to you, although we would urge you to at least consider adopting a kitty from a shelter.

“The UK is experiencing a cat crisis and our adoption centres are often full. Consider adopting a cat or kitten before buying a kitten from a breeder - you’ll find that the affection of a rehomed pet that needed a second chance is all the more rewarding,” explain the RSPCA.

“If you adopt a kitten from us you can be sure that they're ready to go to a new home and are happy and healthy.”

If you do choose to go ahead and buy from a breeder, make sure they’re well-known and reputable and that all their animals are well looked-after.

Choosing a kitten: top tips

“What should I look for when choosing a kitten?” is asked by almost every newbie feline owner. To help you out, we’ve picked out the most important considerations for choosing a kitten - you’ll be welcoming your new little furbaby before you know it!

Consider their age

“Kittens need to be totally weaned from their mothers when you adopt one. This helps them to develop their socialization skills. If you take a kitten straight from its mother, you will have problems,” advises Elizabeth James, author of Caring for Kittens.

“If you hear about a cat who has just given birth, you can claim a kitten and visit, but do not take it until its ready.”

When kittens are taken away from their mother too early, they may end up with behavioural issues and be more distressed in their new home. They learn a lot from their parent in their first few weeks of life, so it’s vital they see this period through.

You should be adopting a kitten who is at least 9 weeks old. If the breeder says you can take them any younger, we’d urge you to stay away as this is irresponsible. Ideally, a 12-14 week old kitten is ideal, allowing for optimum social development. We know you want your kitty, but it’s better in the long-term to wait that little bit extra.

Consider their gender

Male cats usually end up bigger than female cats, so that’s something to note. Also, if you don’t get your cat neutered, you may experience some spraying and fighting from a male cats and pregnancies and vocalization from female cats.

However, it’s always best to get your kitty neutered, so this really does just come down to preference. If you’ve already got a cat in the house, it’s best to choose a cat of the opposite sex to avoid any clashes.

Watch them closely

When choosing a kitten, whether that’s from a shelter or breeder, spend some time merely watching them before you approach them. Who’s playing? Who’s hiding away? Who looks a little vicious? You’ll be able to pick up some personality traits pretty quickly, especially in a litter.

If you’re a young family or couple, you might want to pick the most playful kitty of the bunch. If you’re helping an elderly parent choose a kitten, maybe a more timid/quiet kitty could be a good choice. There’s no right or wrong answer here - it’s all down to what would suit you best.

Let them take the lead

After observing them for a little while, it’s time to come into contact with those bundles of joy! However, we’d urge you not to rush over and pick up your favourite. Lay low and see which kitten approaches you. The ones who come forward are likely to be enthusiastic, playful and well-socialized, making a wonderful pet.

What about the shy, timid kitten who doesn’t approach you? We’re not saying they’re off limits - all kittens deserve a good home, after all! However, they may need more time at the shelter around their siblings to improve their social skills. If they’re particularly shy, skitty or fierce, it’s probably best to stay away for the meantime.

Ask to meet the parents

If you choose to get your kittens from a breeder or from someone in the local area whose cat fell pregnant, consider asking to meet the parents. Kittens pick up traits from both sides, so interacting with the parents may help you to predict what they may grow into.

It may only be possible to meet the mother, which is fine. However, if they make an excuse as to why you can’t meet the mother cat, it’s a red flag - stay away.

Enquire about their health

According to the RSPCA, you should ask the rescue shelter staff or breeder the following questions when choosing a kitten:

  • Is the litter healthy? Have the kittens been health checked by a vet and treated for anything. If so, you should be given details.
  • Is the mother healthy? Find out if she’s been vaccinated and wormed as if she hasn’t her kittens may be more likely encounter health problems.
  • How many litters has she had? Be wary of breeders who have bred a lot from one cat. It could indicate irresponsible breeding and mean the kittens aren’t well looked-after.
  • Have the kittens been wormed? A lot of kittens are born with worms so they should be wormed (with veterinary advice).
  • Are they vaccinated? Kittens normally have their first vaccinations at eight or nine weeks. The vet will have provided documentation of this.
  • Any known disease risks? Cats can suffer hereditary diseases, these can be more common in purebreds. A vet may be able to screen them to find out how likely they are to be affected.
  • Are they microchipped? Microchipping is very important. If the breeder hasn’t microchipped the kitten you can arrange this yourself.
  • Where have they been kept? It is good to keep kittens in a busy environment like a kitchen as this will boost their confidence.
  • Have the kittens met many people? Kittens need to meet lots of different people to help them feel safe around people when they are adults.

Check their health

On top of asking health questions, you can actually take a good look yourself. Healthy kittens should have soft, shiny fur with no balding spots and their skin shouldn’t have any scabs or black dirt (this indicates fleas).

They shouldn’t be too skinny nor overweight and inside their ear should be clean and calm. Head shaking or a dirty look inside the ears may indicate ear mites. Dirty back-ends aren’t a good sign - this may indicate they’re suffering with diarrhoea caused by an underlying problem.

Avoid kittens who appear unwell. Again, we’re not saying these kitties don’t deserve their forever home. It’s just best for them to recover where they are before adding the stress of settling into a new home.

By following all these tips, choosing a kitten will feel much easier. We’re warning you, though - you might find that a kitten ends up choosing you!