Having a kitten is hard work and more difficult the younger the kitten is.
Orphaned kittens under 5 weeks of age need around-the-clock care. 8-12 weeks is the average adoption age for a kitten, and at this age they require more attention, training, and feeding than older kittens and cats.
Pre-weaned kittens are easier to raise when they are cared for by a mother cat. Kittens of any age do better when adopted in pairs than into a single-cat household.
There are so many factors that go into whether having a kitten is hard work, and every situation is different. In this article, I’ll discuss the care kittens need at various points through their lives, why adult cats are less work than kittens, and help you to decide whether a kitten or cat is suited to your lifestyle.
Kittens Require Time and Effort
Kittens are cute little fur balls, and they’re terrific pets. However, cats in general aren’t the hands-off pets that some people think they are.
The belief that cats are independent and don’t require time or effort contributes to poor care and behavioral problems.
For example, someone may irresponsibly let their cat outside unsupervised, leading to a shortened lifespan. Or they may never play with their kitten, and then become confused when the cat scratches furniture, attacks their feet, or sprays.
To have a good relationship with your kitten and ensure they’re living happily and well-cared for, you must be ready to put in the work.
Here are some things that kittens need that require work:
- Veterinarian appointments
I’ll go into more detail about the effort involved in these things below, depending upon your kitten’s age. In general, though, younger kittens are harder work while older cats are easier to care for.
The exceptions to this, of course, are elderly cats and those with health problems.
The Amount of Work Depends on their Age
Kittens typically wean at around 5 weeks of age. Before this time, they need to be with their mother and siblings if at all possible.
Orphaned kittens require around-the-clock care and cannot do anything themselves, including using the bathroom. Raising orphaned kittens means you don’t get to sleep through the night, as they need care every few hours.
I won’t talk in detail about raising orphan kittens here, as it’s a complex topic that I don’t have personal experience with. Instead, I’ll point you to this resource if you’d like to learn more and maybe even foster kittens yourself.
I have so much respect for anyone who can raise bottle baby kittens, but it definitely isn’t for everyone.
Ideally, mama cat is doing this work for her babies. This is one reason that, if you’re looking to adopt a kitten, you don’t do so too early.
2-4 Month Old Kittens Need
At 2-4 months, kittens are adoptable and ready to find their forever homes. At this age especially, kittens do much better when adopted in pairs.
This way, they can learn from one another and have a buddy to spend their lives with. Despite popular belief, cats are very social animals and benefit from having other cats around.
Once in your home, a kitten will require plenty of care including:
At this age, kittens are eating kitten food around the clock. They’re growing fast and incredibly active, and they need the nutrients to keep them going.
All cats need to play, but at this age kittens are more active than adult cats. They will need many 10-15 minute play sessions throughout the day, totaling no less than 30-45 minutes.
I certainly wouldn’t refer to this as work—but it is time-consuming and a part of
Most cats will want to interact with you throughout the day by way of pets, cuddles, or even just hanging out in the same room.
This is especially important for young kittens so that they learn how to interact appropriately with people.
Grooming a young kitten is easy, but important so that they get used to being brushed and having their nails trimmed. The sooner you can get into a routine with these things, the better.
Long-haired kittens, in particular, need their fur brushed every day to avoid tangles and painful mats. Short haired kittens should be brushed 1-2 times a week.
Nail trims are necessary to ensure your kitten’s nails don’t grow too long and dig into their paw pads, or snag and break causing your kitten pain.
Lastly, your kitten may need their rear end rinsed if they pee or poop themselves. Accidents happen!
This is one of my least favorite aspects of cat care, but it has to be done! If you get a kitten, you will have to clean up their hair and their litter box.
One kitten needs two litter boxes, while two kittens need three.
These must be scooped every day, and should be scrubbed with soapy water and refilled as needed if they become smelly or you notice the sides or bottom of the box is dirty.
You also might have to vacuum more often to clean your kitten’s fur from your floor and furniture.
If your kitten is not yet litter trained, they may have accidents that will need to be picked up as well.
Many people overlook training their kitten, but in my opinion this is a huge mistake. It leads to a lot of the common behavioral problems we see in cats.
Your kitten needs to be trained any house boundaries you have, such as not jumping on countertops or scratching their scratching post instead of the sofa.
They may also require litter box training, socialization, tolerance to grooming, and how to interact with the other pets and people in your home.
This is one of the most time-consuming elements of adopting a kitten this young. While many grown cats are at least partially trained, kittens know few of the rules when it comes to living with people.
4+ Month Old Kittens Need
At 4+ months old, kittens are a little bit more independent than they were when they were younger. However, they still need more care than most grown cats.
If you’re thinking of adopting a kitten, remember that kittens do best when adopted in pairs. Cats are social animals that benefit from having a feline friend.
Here’s the break-down when it comes to kittens at 4+ months:
At 4+ months old, kittens are eating entirely on their own and on a schedule, rather than around the clock. Most cats eat 2-3 meals daily.
Kittens at this age are still super rambunctious and energetic. They need plenty of play, and won’t settle to a more “adult” energy level for at least a couple of years. Make sure your kitten gets at least 30-45 minutes of play a day, broken into 10-15 minute sessions. Add extra sessions as needed.
Kittens at this age are typically better at interacting with people, depending on their upbringing. They know more of the rules than younger kittens and are past the teething stage.
However, your kitten will still want to spend plenty of time with you, and you should ensure you have the time to make this happen!
This is much the same as 2-4 month old kittens. Get your kitten used to having their fur brushed and their nails trimmed.
At this age, your kitten is likely litter box trained and knows how to use the box without accidentally peeing on their tail or something similar.
You may notice, especially with long-haired cats, that they get feces stuck in their fur. If this happens, gently untangle it and wipe your kitten’s bottom.
Clean-up stays about the same throughout your cat’s lifespan. They need their litter boxes scooped daily and you’ll likely find yourself vacuuming more often than you did if you had a pet-free home previously.
Training never stops, but it is more involved when kittens are young. At this age, you may need to train your kitten to follow the rules of the house, use their scratching post and litter box consistently, tolerate grooming, and interact nicely with other people and animals in the home.
At this age, your kitten has hopefully received most of their vaccinations and has been spayed or neutered.
If they haven’t, I recommend doing so as soon as possible so that your kitten can grow up healthy and happy.
From there, you can speak to your veterinarian about their continued care. Likely, they’ll want to complete a check-up once yearly.
Adult Cats are Less Work than Kittens
Did all of the above seem like a lot? Are you unsure if you have the time, patience, or energy level to care for a kitten?
Many homes simply aren’t suited for kittens, and are better for adult cats. This includes busy families or single people who work full-time outside of the home.
Adult cats still require work, but you can more easily find one who’s been trained to live in a home and follow basic rules. They may be used to staying at home while their owner works an eight-hour shift, and less likely to cause trouble while you’re gone.
Adopting a trained, adult cat cuts down on much of the work spent training them.
Grown cats still need to be groomed, played with, cleaned-up after, and paid attention to.
It may also be that cats are not good pets for you. That’s okay, too!
Regardless, I hope this article has helped you make the right decision for your lifestyle.
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio