How to Select a Kitten

Temperament and health are two important considerations when adding a new family member.

Perhaps youve decided that your household has room for another furry presence; perhaps a beloved cat recently died and you miss the gentle sound of paws flitting across the floor. Its time to adopt a cat or kitten.

But how can you tell whether the adorable fuzz-ball at the shelter or in your friends garage will make a good long-term companion? There are certain clues to look for, according to experts. If both the mother and father are friendly, you have a better chance of getting a friendly kitten. However, if you cant meet the parents, you can observe how the kitten reacts to you. If you cant hold it or touch its ears or hold its paws, its probably going to be a problem, says Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, director of Cornell Universitys Animal Behavior Clinic.

Its a good sign if a kitten will let you pick him up, turn him on his back and scratch him under the chin. This is likely to be a cat that will enjoy physical attention. Conversely, a cat that takes an aggressive posture, hissing and growling, is probably not an ideal candidate for human companionship.

Be sure to check whether the kitten is alert. Is he interested in whats around him? Does he come to you and follow your motion?

A Healthy Kitten
A kittens first veterinary examination might include tests for ear mites, intestinal parasites, feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. But there are some signs of an unhealthy kitten that even an untrained person can see.


Ideally, you want an animal that looks like hes been grooming himself, whose coat is clean, who has no telltale signs of diarrhea and whose eyes are clear and bright. A discharge from the nose or eyes is a sign of upper respiratory disease, as are sneezing and coughing. In addition, a swollen belly may indicate intestinal parasites or feline infectious peritonitis. And obviously, look for fleas. Avoid emaciated kittens. The tendency is to let your heart go out to those little guys, and theyre no less deserving of homes than are the healthy cats. But these can be signs of serious disease, warns James Richards, DVM, director of Cornells Feline Health Center.

Dont bring home a kitten thats too young. A shelter will advise you of the right time to bring home the kitten youve chosen. If its a neighbors cat, make sure that the animal is weaned. If a kitten is younger than eight weeks old, he may still need his mothers milk. Although commercial products are available that mimic mothers milk for cats, its much easier to take in a slightly older kitten and begin to feed a standard diet for kittens.

Signs of Stress
If this is a new addition to a household that already has other cats, you should be aware that medical bills – for vaccinations, neutering, standard veterinary exams – may be more than just the costs for the new cat. If any of your residents cats is stressed by the new arrival, it may succumb to stress-related illnesses or behavioral problems such as fighting or eliminating outside the litter box.

As cute as kittens may be, you should go into the adoption process with open eyes. As Dr. Houpt stresses, You dont want to impulse-buy something youre going to keep for 15 or more years.