How to care for a barn kitten

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Spring is right around the corner and we’re only weeks away from welcoming the first litters of barn kittens into existence.

At first they’ll go unnoticed, quietly tucked away between bales of hay stacked in the barn. Then they’ll grow stronger, surviving the cold by snuggling their siblings and mom. And before long, they’ll begin to emerge from their hidden refuge.

Once they are weaned, which usually happens around eight weeks old, many will need forever homes. Barn kittens need to be adopted just as much as shelter cats — maybe even more. However, they come with some additional maintenance.

Bringing your kitten home

While you may be excited to introduce your new addition to the rest of the family, it’s best to make slow introductions. It gives your kitten time to adjust to its new environment and learn the rules. It a also protects your other pets from contracting any ailments your kitten may have.

The best way to acclimate your kitten is to introduce it to one room where its food, water, litter box and bed are set out. This way it can feel safe and you can begin to earn its trust and establish a feeding schedule.

Once your kitten seems comfortable around you, introduce it to the rest of the house by letting it roam for about an hour. You can continue increasing the length of time it’s allowed to roam until it’s comfortable having the run of the house all the time. However, you need to be sure to lay down clear ground rules and behavior expectations from day one, so it learns good habits.

Feeding

Don’t be surprised if your kitten doesn’t have much of an appetite right after you bring it home. It’s pretty common during the first few days, but it’s important to keep an eye on the situation.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If your kitten doesn’t eat within 12 hours, offer canned food. You can transition to dry food by mixing the two once it develops a healthy appetite. Smaller kittens, especially, have trouble chewing dry food.
  • Throw out uneaten wet food within a few hours.
  • Provide a plentiful supply of dry food all day.
  • Wash and refill the water bowl daily.
  • Provide foods listed as “nutritionally complete” and avoid giving your kitten milk, table scraps or bones.
  • If your kitten doesn’t eat within the first 24 hours, contact your veterinarian.

Litter training

Most kittens can be litter trained pretty easily because they want to be able to bury their waste. However, bad habits are also easy to develop and a lot harder to break. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to promote good behavior.

Location. You want to pick a private area, away from a lot of traffic. This is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to isolate your kitten in one room for a few days after brining it home. It gives them the time they need to learn to use their litter box.

It’s also important to make sure the litter box is placed away from loud noises, tight spaces and your kitten’s food and water.

Litter. It’s best to use a plain, unscented “clumping litter and stick with the same brand once your kitten is used to using it.

Cleanliness. Kittens don’t like using soiled litter boxes. You need to make sure you scoop the box out daily and empty it and wash it out at least once a month.

Low sides. Make sure the littler box you’ve selected is shallow enough for your kitten to get in and out of without trouble. And never use a covered box. They make cats and kittens feel trapped.

Health and medical care

The major benefit of adopting a kitten from a shelter rather than a farm is health. Rescue kittens coming from humane societies, animal protective leagues and other organizations are usually vaccinated, free of parasites and spayed or neutered. There are no such guarantees with barn kittens.

You need to have your kitten inspected by a veterinarian even before bringing it home to save yourself from greater problems down the road. This will give you a good idea of where your kitten is at health-wise.

Veterinary check list

Vaccinations. Get your kitten’s first round of shots done at its first vet appointment if you can. Otherwise, make sure to schedule them as soon as possible and don’t expose your kitten to any other pets until it has received them.

For a full list of vaccines and their benefits, visit Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

External parasites. Make sure your kitten is checked and treated for fleas, ticks and any other external parasites. It’s much better to prevent them from entering your home than treating your entire house and your kitten for them later.

Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. FeLV and FIV are contagious, viral diseases that can damage the immune system and cause cancer in cats. It’s best to talk to your vet and get your kitten tested as soon as possible. According to the Animal Humane Society, both diseases are rare and only 2.5 percent of the cat population within the United States would test positive for FeLV or FIV. Although most cats die within three years of being diagnosed, some can live normal lives with the disease.

Upper respiratory infections. URIs are infections of the sinus and nasal passages, which are very common in kittens. Although they are relatively easy to treat and clear up, they are highly contagious. They also have an incubation period of one to two weeks. Even if you bring your new kitten home and it appears healthy, it’s a good idea to keep it separated from your other pets to avoid spreading URIs.

Spay and neutering. It’s a good idea to spay or neuter your kitten to prevent unwanted litters of kittens down the road, as well as, to increase cleanliness and improve temperament. Males can be, especially, aggressive and messy if they aren’t neutered as soon as they are old enough.

Project pet

It’s true, barn kittens may be project pets in the beginning. They come with a lot more responsibility than buying a bag of cat food and bringing them home. However, if you take the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition for yourself, your kitten and any other pets, it’s worth the hassle.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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