Raising foster kittens has prepared new dad Ian Somerhalder for fatherhood.

The former Vampire Diaries star secretly welcomed daughter Bodhi Soleli Reed Somerhalder with wife Nikki Reed last month (Jul17) and he explains he was well prepared for his first child because he has been taking care of animals for several years.

"To get up in the middle of the night to bottle feed eight kittens that would die without you, it gives you a sense of what it's like to care for something that depends on you for its survival," he tells People magazine in an interview published on the same day (10Aug17) the couple's baby news hit headlines. "It's a very special thing. It's a great beginner's course."

"I've learned to smile through cleaning endless amounts of poop and pee," he adds. "(It's taught me) love and patience."

Ian accepts that raising an animal is nothing like taking care of a baby, but he insists that fostering the kittens has had a profound affect on him.

"(There are) endless reasons that compassion for an animal can literally change the course of your life," he says.

And for the actor, those life lessons began when he was very young and his cat Tiger was hit by a car.

Somerhalder's parents spent "every dollar they had" to nurse the pet back to health and it kicked off a lifelong passion for their son.

"It was the first time I learned about healing, and my parents' first time trying to explain how things change in the body," he explains. "I got this amazing anatomy lesson."