There is nothing quite like owning a kitten. Over the past 20 years their numbers have increased dramatically in American households as millions have discovered the special bond that forms between a cat and an owner.
Prior to bringing your kitten home it is very important to “kitten proof” your house. The axiom, “Curiosity kills the cat” unfortunately can ring true. Cats, and especially kittens, are professional snoops. Electrical cords, cords on blinds and house plants are all tempting things for kittens to chew on and should be elevated out of their reach as much as possible.
All medications should be placed well out of their reach. Products, such as aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol), may be very safe for humans, but deadly for cats. Just as with children, all household cleaners and any other potential poisons should be in a safe location.
We strongly recommend having your veterinarian perform a thorough physical examination on your new kitten within 48 hours, if not before bringing it home. This will allow your veterinarian to determine the overall health of your kitten and initiate any needed treatments. Kittens are usually seen for the first time at 8-9 weeks of age. They are tested for feline leukemia with a blood test and are usually started on a FVRCCP vaccine series. FVR is for feline viral rhinotracheitis, one C is for calicivirus, the other C for Chlamydia and P is for panleukopenia. This vaccine is repeated at 3-4 week intervals until your kitten is 14-16 weeks old. If you plan on letting your kitten outside or if they will be exposed to other cats that go outside, they should be vaccinated for feline leukemia. A rabies vaccine is given typically at the last kitten examination/vaccine visit at 14-16 weeks of age. Your veterinarian and his or her staff can explain these diseases to you in more detail. A fecal examination should be performed at each kitten visit to test for intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms. Other intestinal parasites, which may or may not be detected on a fecal exam, include tapeworms, coccidia and giardia. Deworming should be performed even if a fecal exam is negative for parasites due to the risk to your kitten, as well as the potential human health hazard some of these parasites pose. It is now our opinion that all cats should be started on Heartgard for feline heartworm prevention. Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes, which can easily come indoors and bite a cat. Many are not aware of the risk that heartworm disease poses to cats. This is probably due to the fact that we have not had a safe preventive until about 5 years ago and it has notoriously been a difficult disease to diagnose.
Your kitten should be started on a premium kitten food. You should avoid the less expensive, lower quality kitten diets typically found in grocery stores. There is much debate as to feeding dry or canned and many cat owners try to strike a balance between the two for variety. However, mounting evidence has shown that canned cat food is better for the long-term health of your cat’s urinary tract. Regardless, it is important to avoid feeding your kitten too much, so as to avoid starting a weight problem early in their lives. Your veterinarian and their staff can help you determine the appropriate amount to feed your kitten.
Your kitten’s litter box should be kept in a convenient, yet private location and not in close proximity to their food bowl. You should frequently show your kitten where their litter box is by placing them inside it and allowing them to start digging around. It usually becomes a natural response for them to start appropriately going to the bathroom in their litter box with very few, if any, mistakes. Clay litter should be used for the first 6 months of their lives, but clumping litter may be used after that time if more convenient for the owner and acceptable to the kitten.
Many people choose to let their kittens outdoors, but I strongly encourage cat owners to try their best to keep them inside. Most cats are perfectly content to stay indoors and it is simply the safest place for them. Unfortunately, we have seen all too many cats wounded by other cats, as well as dogs and wild animals, often with tragic outcomes. Cars pose an additional risk to cats with the cats always on the losing end. Therefore, do your best to keep your kitten indoors!
You should provide your kitten with a good selection of toys that are too large to be swallowed and difficult to destroy. You should avoid any toys with string or thread, as these may be swallowed and cause potentially life threatening damage to their intestines. Some simple, but very entertaining toys are ping-pong balls and toilet paper rolls.
It is important to start caring for your kitten’s claws at a young age. Your veterinarian can show you how to trim their nails and a scratching post should be introduced for them to ideally use in place of your furniture and curtains. You should avoid aggressive play with your kitten, such as biting or scratching, which may become habitual with time. You should not spank or swat your kitten in these situations. This may stop the behavior momentarily, but not build the positive bond that you want to have with your cat and cause a negative association with your hands. Also, some kittens will prefer negative attention as opposed to no attention at all. This is why we recommend getting up, removing yourself from the situation and ignoring the behavior. With time most kittens will realize that they will get no attention at all and that aggressive behavior is unacceptable.
The first year of your kitten’s life is the most important. Providing preventive health care, good nutrition, a safe environment and plenty of love will ensure that they remain an important part of your life for years to come.