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When Does a Kitten Become a Cat? How to Care for Your Growing Cat

People are powerless to resist those little balls of mewing fluff: We’re smitten with kittens! Even at this young age, kittens act with determination, chasing after and pouncing on anything that grabs their attention, but they’re still only kittens.

Here are some of the most common questions kitten owners ask about their growing cats, paired with information and advice to help your feline flourish.

dark gray kitten walking over to pet owner in bed, about to pounce and play dark gray kitten walking over to pet owner in bed, about to pounce and play

When a kitten becomes a cat: How long does the kitten stage last?

Kittens get to be kittens for only about a year, then they transition into young adults until around 6 years of age and reach full maturity around 7-10 years old. But every cat is a unique individual, and often determining how old your cat is can be challenging (for example, you may not know your adopted cat’s exact birthday). These age ranges are a good general guideline for cat development:

  • The kitten stage lasts from birth until about 1 year of age.
  • The young adult phase is next and carries through year 6.
  • The senior stage generally occurs between 7 and 10 years of age.
  • The super senior stage starts at about age 11 — again, this can differ from cat to cat, and is also affected by their overall health and wellness (health history, past injuries, etc.).

Your vet can also help pinpoint your cat’s developmental stage and let you know when to look out for changes as they mature.

gray kitten in arms of vet looking direct gray kitten in arms of vet looking direct

When (and how often) should my kitten see the vet

After bringing your kitten home, they should see the vet every three to four weeks through the first four months of their life. These visits are important for evaluating your kitten’s health and well-being and establish a baseline for their medical history. Having thorough records will help you and your vet make the best care decisions at every stage of your cat’s life.

What shots does my kitten need?

Vaccines are critical for immunizing your kitten against a number of infectious diseases. In general, core vaccines protect against infections associated with severe or fatal illness, infections that are highly contagious and zoonotic diseases (something that can spread from felines to humans). Additional non-core vaccinations may be recommended for individual cats with unique needs and in specific geographical locations.

At your kitten’s first appointment, your veterinarian will explain each vaccine’s purpose and when they should be administered. Cats typically receive their vaccines annually. Depending on your pet and their particular health situation, your veterinarian may decide that booster shots could be necessary.

Core vaccines include:

  • Feline distemper (panleukopenia)
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus 1)
  • Calicivirus
  • Rabies

Non-core vaccines include:

  • Feline leukemia vaccine (FeLV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Bordetella

When should I spay or neuter my kitten?

While opinions differ on the best time to get a cat fixed, two common options are 5 to 6 months (standard) and after the first heat, around 8 to 12 months. Waiting to get your kitten fixed is fine as long as you keep a close watch — cats reach sexual maturity as young as 6 months, so it’s important to keep them from mating and making more kittens while they’re still technically kittens themselves.

black kitten playing on ground with orange ball black kitten playing on ground with orange ball

How should I play with my kitten?

Healthy playtime with your kitten is important for building their people skills. Simple roughhousing will only teach them that hands and feet are targets for claws and teeth, so it’s important to direct aggressive behavior toward toys and other objects that encourage their instinctual skills. Provide acceptable outlets for all that energy and you’ll have a well-socialized kitten (and later, a well-socialized cat).

What special nutrition do kittens need?

A healthy and happy life starts with high-quality foods formulated to meet the nutritional needs of growing kittens. Choosing from among the many brands and varieties can be difficult, so look for foods formulated to support a healthy immune system, help build strong muscles and support overall growth and development.

kitten growing up fast becoming a cat from eating it's dry or wet cat food kitten growing up fast becoming a cat from eating it's dry or wet cat food

When should I switch from kitten to cat food?

Because hunters-in-training need high-energy fuel, kitten food contains more calories and nutrients than adult food. Plan on switching to an adult formula around 12 months of age but don’t change foods abruptly or it could cause digestive issues. The best approach is to make the transition gradually and blend increasing amounts of adult food with kitten food over the course of six days until you reach 100% adult formula.

cat pawing at white wall ready to play cat pawing at white wall ready to play

How do I trim kitten nails?

When a tiny puff of kitten clings to you with those miniature claws, it’s the cutest burr ever. Even so, claws are painful whether they’re cat- or kitten-sized, but you can learn how to trim cat nails and live to talk about it.

The first and biggest step is getting your kitten used to having their paws handled. Every day, touch each paw and individual claw while providing positive reinforcement (words or treats) while holding (but not using) a trimmer. Eventually, you’ll be able to repeat the routine while clipping too.

When do kittens need to take dewormer medication?

It’s possible for mother cats to pass intestinal parasites to kittens in the womb or even when nursing. At your first appointments, your veterinarian will recommend a fecal screening even if there’s no visual evidence of parasites in your kitten’s stool. If any common parasites are found, general deworming medication will clear things up.

While at the vet, ask about heartworm prevention and flea/tick treatments. Be sure to use only the medications they suggest and follow instructions on when it's safe to begin administering them to your kitten.

cat sitting patiently outside bedroom door looking up at pet owner cat sitting patiently outside bedroom door looking up at pet owner

How can I tell if my kitten is a grown-up cat?

Kittens can seem like fuzzy energetic firecrackers that explode with little to no warning. As they reach adulthood, they tend to mellow out and settle into their distinct personality. If your kitten retains undesirable behaviors into its young adult and adult years, talk to your vet about training methods they may respond to.

Older cats do generally sleep more than kittens, but be mindful of your cat becoming sedentary. It could indicate a health issue or be a sign that you need to prompt more play and socialization — your cat needs enrichment in every stage of life! Give them attention, give them time and give them lots of love.

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and self-reliant, but within every adult feline is the supercharged, curious kitten that started them on their path through life. With knowledge and patience, you’ll be able to provide your furball with all they need to be happy, healthy and safe — from those first kitten tumbles to that confident cathood strut.

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