I have recently acquired a kitten; he is nearly two months old. His name is Hannibal, because my husband and I were betting that he would have to be a warrior in order to stand firm against his much bigger brothers (Archimedes is 19.5 pounds and Magellan is 14 pounds).
I have never really had to introduce new cats to each other before; previously I had a single cat, and after he died I got a pair of litter-mates when they were tiny. Furthermore, having not had a kitten in about 9 years, I guess I had forgotten what bringing a baby into our home would entail. Over the last three weeks, I have learned just what acquiring a “free” kitten includes.
A kitten comes with a monetary cost. Immediately upon his arrival, it was necessary for us to purchase another litter box, as vets recommend having one for each cat and an extra. We also discovered we had to buy a “potty training” box: a used 9″ x 13″ cake pan, as his little legs would not enable him to scale the walls of the full-sized boxes. We bought a bag of kitten food and a new food bowl (so he would not be afraid of the scent of the bigger cats). We also took him, within a day of bringing him home, to the vet for his first check-up and to get his shots. The next week we had to bring him to the vet’s because he had a respiratory infection that is common to cats who are born on farms. Free kittens will cost you quite a bit of dough up front.
A kitten disrupts the flow of the home into which it is introduced. Each comes with its own temperament, and, therefore, its own rules, by which all household members must play. When we brought Hannibal in, we had all the fears and hopes of any new pet parent: would he be healthy, would he create tension, would he get along with our other cats, would he love us? The first few days were rough, to put it mildly. Tiny little five-week-old Hannibal was terrified, hostile, and fiery. He spit and hissed and bit and scratched everyone; he hid between the door and the wall; he ran from anyone approaching him.
But my husband and I were head-over-heels in love. It’s exhausting keeping watch and standing guard, so Hannibal often fell asleep while sitting up. After he ate, he let me hold him and sing to him and would snuggle in and fall asleep. He often got so caught up in his playing that he would fall asleep in the middle of it. In essence, he was an angel when he was asleep. How could anyone not fall in love with a sleeping ball of fluff? Even more endearing was his tendency to nuzzle in when his guard was down. He showed that, although he was afraid, he could learn to trust us; it was the first sign he was accepting his new family.
A kitten costs peace of mind. The constant worries pile up; it is especially true for new mommies. “Why is the baby sneezing so much?” “Where is the baby?” “Did the baby use the litter box yet?” “Did Archimedes just hurt the baby?” “What if the baby uses his claws and scratches out Magellan’s eye?” “If the baby sleeps with us, you’re not going to roll on him, right?” “When are the baby’s next shots?” “Did the baby just hurt himself jumping off the couch?” “What if the baby falls down the stairs?” “How do we get the baby to stop chewing on cords?” “The baby isn’t climbing up my curtains, is he?!” Well, ok, that last thought isn’t so much a worry as a threat, expressed in the form of a question. If you get a kitten, be prepared to replace curtains, move furniture around, cover the couch in blankets, and, essentially, baby-proof your home.
A kitten costs time. It takes time to potty-train a baby. It takes time to feed him in a separate room, watching to make sure that he eats and doesn’t get distracted by other cats’ paws under the door. It takes time to teach him his name and to teach him not to scratch the furniture and to teach him not to bite his brothers’ tails unless he wants them to fight back. I also had to specifically carve out alone time to spend with my other boys (both the other two cats and my husband) and ensure that my time was not consumed with the new kitten. I often had to seek out the other cats, who hid upstairs and downstairs (where Hannibal was, for a time, unable to go — he has since learned to maneuver stairs and is an unstoppable force). I had to reassure them that, although I was spending so much time with the baby, it didn’t mean I loved them any less.
A kitten costs all your peaceful, quiet afternoons. Kittens love to play — to scratch, bite, pounce, and bound away. They particularly love to ambush whoever accidentally moves in their vicinity. It is how they learn and it is their instinct. They are the masters of guerrilla warfare. If you bring a kitten home, be ready for nonstop attack mode. Unfortunately, not everyone in this house enjoys playing. In fact, no one does. We have learned diversion techniques (tossing toys across the room). We have bought mechanical toys to distract his attention for several minutes at a time. We have cruelly but without regret drawn the other cats into the “game” through the use of feather wands and food (which, notably, they did not appreciate in the least). Fortunately, over the past few weeks, all three cats are starting to become much more accustomed to each other and are spending some time together voluntarily. The older ones might even be starting to like the baby, despite his never-ending energy and their complete lack of desire to play with him…or with each other.
A kitten will prevent you from doing many things that need to get done during the day. As previously stated, they enjoy playing, and it doesn’t matter with whom: with people, with other cats, with their own tails. They tire themselves out through play, and thus (like all babies) tend to sleep afterwards. You will get nothing done when a kitten is sleeping on you, because you are terrified of disturbing it, waking it, and being forced to fend off the needle-sharp claws and teeth with which it will retaliate. So you will just lay quietly and let it sleep.
Finally, a kitten will cost you sleep. Kittens are basically nocturnal. They sleep a lot during the day and are far more active at night. Your new kitten will keep you awake by bringing toys with bells into the bed for playtime. It will bite your toes if you happen to shift them slightly. It will scratch you as it climbs you like a mountaineer on Everest. It will knead you and chew your hair. It will wake you up several times a night (though, perhaps not intentionally). It will purr loudly and make you love it. It may even put you to sleep by doing it.
Enjoy your new kitten, but know that it is not, technically, “free.” That is the best part.
Peace and love.