How to Take Care of a Kitten
It can be a very exciting time bringing a new kitten into the family. Preventative care is essential to ensure your kitten lives a long healthy life. There are a number of things that we can do at Warwick Animal Hospital to make your experience great, while providing your pet with the proper care.
In most cases, you will be visiting us several times during your kitten's first few months so we would like you to feel comfortable asking questions - just remember, that's why we're here! You'll soon learn there is a lot for us to talk about during your kitten visits. This summary of our routine Kitten Wellness Program is designed to give an overview of some of the more important topics during your kitten's first year.
Newborn kittens (0-4 weeks)
Kittens are considered "newborn kittens" from 0-4 weeks of age. During this time, newborn kittens are developing motor skills and coordination and learning how to regulate body temperature. Some warning signs to look for with newborn kittens include:
- Not accepting food, especially for younger kittens who have been abandoned by or separated from their mothers
- Motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties
- Lethargy, diarrhea or vomiting
The mother cat should be feeding kittens during the first 4 weeks of life, or you should use a special commercial milk-replacer formula every 2-4 hours if the kitten has been separated from its mother. Around 4 weeks, milk replacer formula should be offered in a shallow dish to encourage weaning. You can also add a moist, easily chewable diet to the warm milk-replacer 4-6 times a day.
5-8 Week Old Kittens
This next phase of development is when your kitten will focus on learning proper behavior and relating with his or her environment - socialization! Specifically your kitten will be working on learning to use a litter box and what is appropriate play. Enrichment is extremely important at this age. Cats who live in an underenriched environment are more likely to exhibit behavior problems.
By 5-8 weeks of age, your kitten should be able to chew its own food. There are many different types of kitten food available, and we would like to discuss these dietary options with you at your next veterinary appointment. Your kitten should be fed 3-4 times daily. Typically we recommend canned food because it will mimic the natural diet both in consistency and formulation. However, a good diet may also consist of a combination of canned and dry cat foods. You should schedule the first veterinary appointment for vaccinations around 6-8 weeks.
Specific things to work on with your kitten at this stage include:
- Litter box training
- Frequent petting and cuddling
- Toy introduction
- Exploration with boxes, paper bags, etc.
- Rewarding good behavior with treats
- Time outs for bad behavior
- Redirection from biting or scratching
- Introduction to new people and animals in a controlled environment
- Weekly combing and grooming and handling
Be mindful of any fearful behaviors or signs of aggression and play-biting! Please bring this to our attention at your appointment so we can address them while still impressionable.
After 6 months of age, kittens should be fed 2-3 times per day. They should be using the litter box appropriately for elimination. Happy healthy kittens should be bouncy, playful and curious. Kittens reach adolescence and should be spayed or neutered before 6-8 months of age.
Typically, we recommend beginning your kitten's vaccination program between 6 and 8 weeks of age, with boosters every 3 to 4 weeks apart until he or she is 16 weeks of age. In most cases, we vaccinate for the following diseases:
- Panleukopenia Virus
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis
- Feline Leukemia
In addition, we recommend testing all kittens for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus on their first visit.
You will find detailed descriptions of these diseases in your Kitten Care Kit which you will receive at your first visit (if you don't receive your Kitten Care Kit, please ask for one).
Kittens can pick up intestinal parasites from their environment. But what many new pet owners don't realize is that kittens can also get roundworms and hookworms from their mother before birth. For this reason - and because humans can potentially develop serious problems if exposed to immature forms of roundworm or hookworms - we routinely recommend deworming all kittens several times between the ages of 6 and 12 weeks.
Heartworm disease in cats in an emerging problem that is frequently overlooked. There is not a reliable test for cats, so monthly prophylactic medication of cats for heartworms is recommended. There are topical and oral monthly preventives.
FeLV / FIV Testing
Both Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus are similar to HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in people. Neither FeLV nor FIV can infect humans and HIV cannot infect cats. Both viruses can be transmitted from mother cats to kittens. While neither disease is curable, both can be manageable with early detection. Therefore, we recommend all kittens be tested for both viruses at their first visit. All kittens who may spend even a small amount of time outdoors should be vaccinated for Feline Leukemia. The initial series requires two injections, 3 weeks apart followed by yearly boosters for life. There is also a vaccination currently available for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and cats spending time outdoors should be strongly considered for this vaccine.
The most common external parasites we encounter are fleas, ticks, and ear mites. We have a variety of parasite control products available which are effective and safe depending on your kitten's age. Revolution and Frontline are also two excellent products used to treat fleas and ticks on kittens and adult cats. Flea control is a very complicated process so please feel free to ask any questions you have about the variety of flea control options available. There are also a number of treatment options for ear mites.
Spaying / Neutering
It is very important to bring your kitten in for one of these common and safe surgical procedures to help lengthen and improve the overall quality of your pet's life. Most kittens will reach sexual maturity between 6 and 8 months, and spaying/neutering before then is preferred.
For females, spaying eliminates or greatly minimizes problems with:
- unwanted pregnancy, which helps prevent pet overpopulation;
- attraction of male cats during "heat" cycles;
- potentially life-threatening uterine infections
- breast cancer
For males, neutering eliminates or greatly minimizes problems with:
- aggression and dominance;
- roaming, which helps prevent pet overpopulation;
- territorial marking with urine.
We hope we've covered all the major topics here but we know new kitten owners - just like new parents - still face new questions almost every day for awhile. Please feel free to contact us at any time.