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How to Care for an 8- to 12-Week-Old Kitten

Just added an 8- to 12-week-old kitten to your family? See some things to know about your kitten’s vet appointments, what to feed a kitten — and more!

Two orange and white tabby kittens.
Get lots of great kitten information at this online conference. Photography ©Andrew_Deer | Getty Images.

Not much is cuter than an 8- to 12-week-old kitten. From those tiny paws to her playful personality, there’s just so much to love. If you are the lucky new pet parent of a young kitten, here’s what you can expect of her first few weeks in your home.

What to expect at your kitten’s first vet appointment

A playful kitten.
What should you expect from your kitty’s first vet appointment? Photography ©kipuxa | Getty Images.

Take your new kitten to the veterinarian for a thorough checkup, which includes:

  1. A review of your kitten’s history. Your vet will likely want to know where you found your new pet (such as a breeder or a rescue organization) and any other previous medical care she may have received, such as vaccinations or spay/neuter surgery.
  2. A thorough exam of the kitten’s mouth, ears and eyes, followed by an exam of the kitten’s body, gently feeling the abdomen, lymph nodes, joints and skin. Observations of the kitten’s movements.
  3. Collection of a stool sample, which you may have been asked to bring to the appointment. The vet may also take a blood sample.
  4. Recommendation for spay or neuter surgery if the kitten has not already been spayed or neutered. These procedures help prevent future behavior and medical problems.

Vaccinations for your kitten

Your vet may recommend that she receive several vaccinations. Typical vaccines administered at this age include rabies and one known as FVRCP, which is for a trio of upper respiratory diseases: feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus and feline panleukopenia. Your veterinarian also may suggest additional vaccines depending on your kitten’s history and the number of pets in your household.

More tips for your kitten’s first vet appointment

Ask as many questions as you want about your kitten’s care and what to expect as she grows. Your vet and the staff at the office are there to help! Pay attention if your kitten’s behavior changes. “Knowing what’s normal for cats in general and an individual cat is important,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, executive director of the CATalyst Council and American Association of Feline Practitioners past president. “That way, when the cat exhibits behavior that’s different from ‘normal,’ the owner can respond appropriately.”

How to play with a kitten

Just what is normal for your 8- to 12-week-old new pet? Each kitten has her own personality, but most kittens have many behavioral traits in common. First and foremost, they love to play! Play helps them learn about the world around them and become socialized with people and other pets. Your kitten will begin to show natural instinctual behaviors when she plays, such as stalking and pouncing on toys (or other kittens!).

During playtime, nurture good behaviors to last your kitten’s lifetime. Never encourage your kitten to play fight with your hand or other body parts. You do not want your kitten to think it’s OK to bite and scratch. Help her satisfy those instincts by introducing safe toys with no loose parts she could chew off and ingest or choke on.

How to help your kitten sleep well

After playtime, your kitten will likely participate in one of her other favorite pastimes: sleeping! “Eight- to 12-week- old kittens can sleep 20 hours a day, but it depends on their activities,” says Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant ( and author of Naughty No More! “Highly energetic kittens may sleep longer.”

To help your kitten establish sleep patterns, play with her an hour or so before bedtime. This helps use up her energy to sleep through the night but still gives her time to “come down” from the revved up energy of playtime.

Take note of any changes

Like Dr. Brunt, Marilyn reminds kitten parents to take note of changes in their pets’ behavior. “Kittens are naturally active and playful,” she says. “It is a concern if they are lethargic and don’t seem to be interested in their environment and/or stop eating.”

How and what to feed your kitten

You will likely receive recommendations for a complete and balanced kitten food from your veterinarian or the breeder or rescue group from which you adopted your new pet. There are many dry and canned foods made specifically for the nutritional needs of young kittens.

Because your kitten is growing rapidly but still has a tiny tummy, she’ll need small, frequent meals. Create a mealtime routine that allows her to eat frequently throughout the day. When feeding canned food, discard any leftovers that have been in her dish for longer than 20 minutes. And leave clean, fresh water available at all times.

Regular grooming with your cat

Though kittens begin self-grooming around 3 to 4 weeks of age, they may not have their routine down completely. Introduce regular grooming sessions to accustom your kitten to a lifetime of brushing, combing, nail trimming and other grooming tasks.

Make this process easier and more fun for your kitten by gradually introducing the grooming tools and allowing her to explore them before you gently use them on her. Let her sniff and bat the brush or comb, and praise her when she allows you to brush her coat or trim her nails.

Make sessions as relaxed and fun as possible, so she associates the time with positive outcomes. You can even give her a small treat when she lets you clip her nails, so she looks forward to the nail trimmer coming out. The idea is to make grooming a regular part of your kitten’s life when she is young so that the routine is normal for her in the years to come.

Owning a kitten is one of the most entertaining and rewarding parts of pet ownership. By paying attention to your kitten’s care needs, you can enjoy these weeks of playfulness and tiny paws.

Introducing the litter box to your kitten

A top concern of many new kitten parents involves the litter box. Luckily, this behavior is instinctual, and most cats pick it up on their own, but some might need a little help.

“Although most kittens are litter box savvy when they are adopted, some may need a little encouragement or a refresher course,” says certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger. “These little ones should be gently placed in litter boxes after eating, and always praised and reinforced when they are successful.”

Ensure successful litter box behavior by:

  1. Providing several boxes in areas that the kitten can easily find
  2. Keeping the boxes clean
  3. Preventing other pets from harassing your kitten when she uses the box

Thumbnail: Photography ©Andrew_Deer | Getty Images.

About the author

A lifelong cat owner, Stacy N. Hackett writes frequently about cats, cat breeds and a range of pet-related topics. The inspiration for her writing comes from her cats, Jack and Katie, and her Cocker Spaniel/Labrador Retriever mix, Maggie.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

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About the Author

Stacy Hackett
Stacy Hackett

A lifelong cat owner, Stacy N. Hackett writes frequently about cats, cat breeds and a range of pet-related topics. The inspiration for her writing comes from her cats, Jack and Katie, and her Cocker Spaniel/Labrador Retriever mix, Maggie.

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