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Choosing a Kitten

Learn whether choosing a kitten is right for your family.

Choosing a Kitten

If you're getting a kitten, try to choose one you can see with her mother and siblings. If you can, meet the father, too, although this is often not possible. Every kitten differs somewhat from his parents and siblings, but many personality and behavioral traits are inherited, and kittens learn a lot from their mothers. If the mother is calm and friendly with people, chances are her kittens will be, too. If mama cat is shy or un-friendly, her kittens might not be very social, either.

How a kitten is handled also has a profound effect on his development and attitude. A kitten who is handled gently and frequently by different people from his first few days onward and who is exposed to other gentle animals will be more social throughout his life than kittens who are ignored or mistreated during their first few weeks. If he has been exposed to the sights, sounds, and smells of a normal household during this period, he'll be better adjusted and more confident than a kitten raised away from people.


Ever wonder how kittens within a litter can be very different in color, coat length, body style, even personality? A female cat on the loose often mates with several males when she's in heat, so it's possible for kittens within a litter to have different daddies.

Early handling doesn't negate a kitten's need to be with her mother and siblings, of course. Living in a feline family teaches a kitten to control and behave herself. She finds out that if she bites or scratches, the others retaliate or shun her. She learns that she can't always have what she wants. Kittens who are removed from their mom and siblings too early often fail to learn these lessons. Observe the kittens interacting with one another. A kitten should be confident and playful, but not a bully.

A healthy kitten …

  • Is coordinated and shows no obvious physical problems.
  • Is solid and well proportioned.
  • Is not excessively thin for her breed.
  • Is not pot-bellied (which might indicate roundworms).
  • Has soft, glossy fur.
  • Is free of fleas.
  • Has no red, itchy, or bald spots.
  • Has a clean rectal area with no sign of tapeworm or diarrhea.
  • Has bright, clear eyes.
  • Has pink gums and healthy-smelling breath.
  • Breathes normally with no sneezing, coughing, or wheezing and has no nasal discharge.
  • Has clear eyes, fully open and free of tearing and discharge.
  • Has clean ears, free of odor, inflammation, dirty-looking buildup, or discharge.
  • Should be curious and willing to approach you or at least to be held and cuddled if he's more reserved.
  • Should show interest in a string or toy dragged or tossed on the floor.
  • Is happy and playful—unless she's asleep!

A lethargic kitten might be ill, and a kitten who hides or reacts with hostility when you try to touch him will be a difficult pet. Ask the litter owner about the kittens, and be cautious if she can't tell you about each individual. That might mean the kittens haven't been handled much.

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