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( Originally Published 1936 )
A kitten is a charming thing, but whether the kitten you take into your home turns into a charming cat depends largely on you. A kitten is a baby, and the better its care, its food, and its training, the more likely it is to turn into the healthy, happy, well-mannered animal you want your pet to be. It is true that one sometimes meets homeless cats who, with probably no bringingup at all, are very attractive, but if you invest in a kitten it is best to take no chances.
Though kittens ought not to be weaned till they are eight weeks old, and do best if left with their mothers three or four weeks more, some dealers, anxious to make money, offer pitifully young kittens for sale. So unless you get yours from someone whose word you can trust, examine it very closely for signs of its age. A kitten cuts its milk teeth at about two weeks, and during the period from four to seven months it sheds these and cuts its second teeth. Be sure that the kitten you buy has its first teeth fully developed and can eat solids without trouble, that it is active and sturdy on its legs, and that its eyes are clear.
For delivery of a kitten a rather small carrier is best, and a leather one is preferable to those of wicker, especially in cool weather. As some kittens are timid in a strange place, and any kitten is hurt by too much excitement, it is wise to keep the new arrival quiet at first. Pet it and make it feel at home, but do not play with it much, and if there are other animals do not introduce them till the kitten has become accustomed to its surroundings. If one is six inches long and has been whisked from one's mother's side into the Great Unknown, it is very alarming, on top of all this, to have a huge dog loom up before one. Dogs and cats can make fine playmates, but as their social arbiter you need considerable tact.
Children must be taught how to handle a kitten, for a child, no matter how much it loves kittens, naturally does not understand that they can be injured by squeezing. Kittens and cats should not be lifted without a hand placed under the body to support it. Dangling them by the back of the neck with the legs kicking may injure the intestines, may even cause hernia. They should not be lifted by a leg, and certainly not by the tail, for the tail is a prolongation of the spine, and very sensitive. And do not blame a kitten if it scratches or bites when it is hurt. Its claws and teeth are the only defense it has.
Begin at once to train your kitten in the use of the sanitary pan. This should be of earthenware or some rustless and easily scoured metal, never of wood, and with sides not too high for the kitten's legs. Sand or torn paper is the best for filling. Sawdust is good, except that it clings to the fur and is carried through the house. The only objection to paper is that a cat sometimes will get the idea that it is all right to use paper wherever it finds some lying on the floor. Coarse sand is the natural thing, and if you have a place in which to store it a good plan is to buy a barrelful from a builder. Change the filling twice a day, for a neat cat will not use it when it is not clean.
Show your kitten the pan at the very first, before it has time to get bad habits. Most kittens are instinctively clean, so you will probably not have much trouble. But remember that a journey often upsets these small creatures for a time. If the kitten errs, the best way to punish it is to strike a folded newspaper on the floor beside it. This is alarming enough to a little animal but will not injure it, as a whipping might. When a kitten repeatedly fails to go to its pan it may be that there is some internal trouble, some pain or stoppage or some lack of control that needs a veterinary to put it right.
One generally wants to feed a newly arrived kitten, thinking that it must be hungry after its journey, but it is best to wait four or five hours. Wait till it is relaxed and purring. In purchasing a kitten one must find out what it has been fed, and if a change is desirable it should be made gradually. Kittens that have been eating milk and cereal exclusively may have some trouble digesting meat at first, but a properly fed kitten has had a little scraped beef from the sixth week.
A nine-week-old kitten requires four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a nightcap. Breakfast and dinner should consist partly of meat. Buy good round steak, and cut it up very fine. Chopped beef from the butcher's generally has too much fat in it and may not be quite fresh, so it is best to prepare it yourself. As the kitten grows it will enjoy having a long strip of raw beef that it can gnaw, and this is good for its teeth. Other meats that kittens may have are cooked lamb kidney, tripe, and rabbit. When they have dainty appetites they can be tempted with chicken and chicken jelly, but one must be careful that this is free from even the smallest fragment of bone. Their meat should be broiled or stewed, not fried.
Fine wheat cereal, well cooked in a double boiler and mixed with milk, is an excellent food for young kittens. Brown bread toasted and broken up in milk is good. Vegetables should be avoided till the baby is three months old, when it may have a little spinach, asparagus, boiled onions, or string beans mixed with its meat. Boiled cod and other fish that is not too rich may be allowed now.
The noon meal and the nightcap should consist chiefly of milk. If it is fresh cow's milk, boil it. An egg beaten up in milk makes a nourishing meal. Some authorities advise evaporated milk mixed with water, two parts of water to one of milk for young kittens, and equal parts of the two later on. At four months the nightcap may be discontinued. Never leave milk or food standing after your pet has stopped eating, for it soon gets stale, and besides, it is not good for a cat to go back and nibble between meals. If it does not eat its ration at once, that shows either that it is not well or that you have given it too much.
The quantity of food needed differs with different kittens. Some are greedy, and some have to be coaxed, so you must watch and judge for yourself how much to give. But it may be said generally that a very young kitten's stomach is the size of a hickory nut, that at three months it is the size of a walnut, and that a full-grown male's stomach is as large as an average orange, a full-grown female's as large as a small orange. And they should never have more at one time than the stomach can comfortably hold.
All kittens need help in building their bony structure, else they may get the rickets, and a rickety kitten never makes a fine cat. Mix limewater with the milk, two teaspoonfuls of limewater to a cup of milk, and also give calcium with the food. A fourth of a teaspoonful of calcium lactate every day is about the right amount, and this should be given till the seventh month, when the second teeth are cut. When a kitten is cutting these teeth it is often, like teething human babies, rather fretful, and does not want to eat.
Give the kitten its own bed and train it to sleep there, and as some kittens will chew wool, a dangerous habit, never use woolen blankets. And for the protection of your furniture have a log, with the bark on, ready for the stranger on its arrival, and teach it to exercise its claws exclusively on this.