Wellness Care for Your New Kitten
Kittens require multiple vaccination boosters as they grow. During this time, the immunity they receive from their mothers is starting to decline and their own immunity is still "getting up to speed.” As a result, the first few months are a time when the kitten is particularly vulnerable to disease. We will discuss your kitten's vaccination plan with you to help ensure they are fully protected. Most kitten vaccination plans include:
- Feline Distemper Combination Vaccine
This vaccine helps protect against rhinovirus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus. It is usually given in a series of three boosters.
- Feline Leukemia Vaccine
Feline leukemia virus is a fatal viral disease to which kittens are particularly susceptible. This vaccine may be administered to any kitten starting at 12 weeks of age, but is most often recommended if your kitten will be going outdoors, sharing a home with an outdoor cat, attending kitten kindergarten, or staying at a boarding facility. It is given in a series of two boosters.
- Rabies Vaccine
This vaccine is required by law to be administered to all pets. Kittens receive their first vaccine at 4 months of age then yearly thereafter.
What's so special about the vaccines at Friendship Hospital for Animals?
We administer the non-adjuvanted form of the feline leukemia vaccine as well as the Purevax recombinant rabies vaccine. These vaccines are less inflammatory than their adjuvanted counterparts. Reducing the inflammation associated with these vaccines helps reduce the risk of rare but serious vaccine-associated tumors.
Almost all kittens are infected with intestinal parasites before they are born and while they are nursing. They can become re-infected as they explore the world around them and sniff or ingest their own feces or the feces of other animals. These parasites can cause vomiting, diarrhea, malnutrition and weight loss. They can be passed to humans and other animals. They can affect the digestive system as well as the eyes and nervous system.
At Friendship Hospital for Animals, we encourage routine fecal examinations for all pets to diagnose intestinal parasites. Even if your kitten's fecal examination is negative for parasites, we will deworm him/her at each kitten visit to ensure that he/she (as well as your family) is fully protected. We may also recommend periodic deworming for cats who go outdoors. To prevent re-infection, make sure that feces are cleaned up regularly and that all family members employ good hand-washing techniques.
Flea and Tick Control
Fleas and ticks can carry many diseases, and we are seeing a rise in their numbers in Colorado. Outdoor cats are at particular risk if they explore prairie dog colonies where the animals' fleas carry Plague.
Depending on your kitten's lifestyle, we may recommend a flea and tick preventative to protect him/her against these pesky creatures!
Ovariohysterectomy and Neuter Surgery
Your kitten can be spayed or neutered as young as 8 weeks of age. If you obtained your kitten through a humane society, they may have already been spayed or neutered prior to coming home with you. At Friendship Hospital for Animals, we generally recommend performing this surgery at 4-6 months of age-- after the initial series of vaccinations but before the kitten has reached puberty.
Advantages of spaying and neutering include:
- Reduced roaming behavior in both sexes
- Reduced territorial and dominance aggression in males
- Reduced urine spraying in males
- Elimination of constant female heat cycles and their associated undesirable behaviors
- Elimination of the risk of life-threatening infections or cancer of the uterus, ovaries, or testicles
- Reduction in the risk of breast cancer in females
- Your cat will not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem
Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Testing
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a fatal retrovirus that is spread between cats during prolonged, close contact. It is called the "friendly cat disease" because it is spread by mutual grooming, sharing food bowls or litter boxes, or from mother to kitten. Kittens are most prone to this disease prior to a year of age and vaccination is not 100% protective. There is no known cure.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is similar to human HIV. It is also a fatal disease; called the "fighting cat disease" because it is spread mostly via bite wounds. Cats may contract this disease at any age. There is no effective vaccination for this disease and no cure.
All cats should be tested for FeLV/FIV before entering a new home, before adding a new cat to the household, and whenever they are ill. Cats who venture outdoors should be tested at least once a year. Cats who are solely indoors should have two negative tests spaced six months apart to ensure that they are truly negative.
Indoor or Outdoor?
We urge you to keep your kitten indoors only AT LEAST for the first year of life, if not permanently. Indoor cats live an average of twelve years, whereas outdoor cats only live an average of five years. Furthermore, indoor cats:
- Are not exposed to fatal viral infections such as FeLV and FIV.
- Do not fight with other outdoor cats leading to painful and expensive cat bite abscesses.
- Are not at risk of injury or death from dogs, predators, cars, or non-cat-loving people.
That being said, your indoor cat does need mental and physical exercise to keep them emotionally and physically healthy. Some cat-safe options include:
- Enrich your kitten's indoor environment. Create areas for perching, looking out the window, scratching, and climbing. Consider adding a birdbath or feeder near your window to give your cat something to watch. Also, make sure that your kitten is getting plenty of interaction from you!
- Harness train your kitten! Start with short periods of time in a harness with a lot of treats and praise. Attach the leash and let your kitten meander around the house with it dragging behind him/her (short periods of time with direct supervision). Eventually you can pick up the leash and use treats and praise to teach your kitten to follow you on the harness and leash.
- Create a screened-in "cat haven" on your porch where your cat can access the great outdoors safely. Consider adding climbing structures, scratching areas, and resting perches. Make sure they can get back into the house to avoid the elements!
- Check out Ohio State University's Indoor Cat Initiative for more great tips.
The Home Again microchip is a small electronic chip the size of a grain of rice that is permanently injected (similar to a vaccine) under the skin between the shoulder blades. All shelters and most veterinary clinics have scanners that are able to detect these microchips. Each microchip has a unique identification number that is registered with the Home Again database and linked to your information.
Some important considerations about microchips:
* Microchips are not homing devices. The microchip carries an ID number only. You must make sure that the database has your current information to make sure you can be reached in the event your kitten becomes lost.
* Microchips are not a substitute for collar and identification tags. If your kitten were to be found by a neighbor, it is not apparent that your kitten has a microchip. Collars with current identification tags in addition to a microchip give your kitten the best chance of returning home should he/she become lost. We are happy to implant your kitten with a microchip at any time. No special anesthesia or equipment is needed; however, it is often most convenient (and comfortable for your kitten) to implant the microchip at the time of the ovariohysterectomy or neuter surgery.
Keeping Your Kitten Healthy at Home
The number one reason pets are anesthetized in the United States is for a dental procedure. Cats with dental disease can experience painful cavity-like lesions called "feline odontoclastic root lesions" that destroy the teeth. The only treatment for this disease once it has taken hold is surgical extraction of the affected teeth. You can help avoid this potentially costly procedure with just minutes a day of home dental care. Dedication to home dental care will ensure that your kitten's teeth stay healthy and gleaming white into his/her golden years!
- Tooth brushing
This is the number one way to help keep your kitten's teeth and gums healthy. Plaque starts building up immediately after a meal and turns to hard, calcified tartar within 48 hours. This tartar creates an infection that weakens the gums, teeth, and jawbone. If it is allowed to progress, it can spread disease to the heart, liver, and kidneys. By brushing your kitten's teeth daily, you can prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar and the progression of dental disease.
We can send you home with a tooth care kit that includes feline toothpaste and a finger brush. Regular human toothpaste should not be used since kittens don't know how to "spit" and it can cause stomach upset.
To start your kitten on a toothbrushing routine, begin by allowing him/her to taste the toothpaste. Most kittens enjoy it, as it is chicken flavored! Then place a small amount on your finger and massage it onto the kitten's teeth and gums. The finger brush can then be gently used to massage the gums and teeth. Make sure that the experience is a positive one for your kitten. He/she should receive a lot of praise and treats before, during, and afterwards.
These are specialized dental treats in yummy chicken or fish flavor! They mechanically remove plaque and can be used as a supplement to brushing. They should be used under supervision to avoid choking or swallowing of large pieces.
- Oxy-Fresh rinse
This enzymatic rinse helps to inhibit bacteria that aids in plaque formation. It can be added to your pet's drinking water (1 capful per quart of water) and is safe for use in cats as well as dogs. The water should be changed at least every other day to ensure the enzyme remains active.
- Hills Prescription t/d (tartar diet)
This is a specially formulated prescription diet whose large kibble size and fiber structure allows it to act as an "edible toothbrush.” While it should not be used as a sole diet until kittens are at least a year of age, it can be utilized as treats (as in our exam rooms!) for growing kittens.
Your kitten has 26 baby teeth, which will be replaced with 31 adult teeth by 6-7 months of age. You may not find his/her baby teeth when they are lost, as they are often swallowed.
A high quality kitten food is one of the keys to good health as your kitten grows. Kittens have special caloric, vitamin, and mineral requirements that should be addressed with a food made just for them. We recommend feeding a kitten diet from the Science Diet, Eukanuba, or Iams line. Kitten food should be fed for at least the first year of life. At that time, a high quality adult food can be gradually introduced.
Allow at least 7-10 days to transition your kitten from one food to the other to avoid stomach upset.
Now is the time to start getting your kitten used to having his/her nails trimmed! A kitten's paws are very sensitive to touch. Getting him/her comfortable with having his/her paws handled early is important. Begin by massaging your kitten's feet and toes while reinforcing him/her with a lot of treats and praise. Gradually start trimming the nails one paw at a time. Go slow and reward your kitten for his/her bravery! You may need to keep a "nail trim journal" to remember which nails you have trimmed until your kitten is used to having nails on all four feet trimmed.
To trim your kitten's nails gently hold the toe in your hand and press gently to expose the claw. Trim off the hooked point of the nail avoiding the pink "quick" which contains a nerve and blood vessel. The rear nails usually need less trimmed off than the front nails. Don't forget the dewclaw (thumb nail)! Use a nail trimmer designed especially for pets as human nail trimmers can crush the nail prior to cutting it.
Your kitten's grooming needs will depend on the breed and type of hair. Some cats are fastidious groomers who will keep their coat in top shape. Others place less emphasis on their grooming, and benefit from some regular gentle brushing. Use a soft cat brush and lots of petting, treats, and praise to make brushing a positive experience! Most families find starting to brush their kitten early helps contribute to a strong emotional bond.
Emergencies: When to Worry, What to Do
We wish a long and healthy life for your new kitten but know that concerns can arise at any hour of the day or night. If you have any concerns about your kitten's health, don't hesitate to call us at any time. After hours, please call the wonderful doctors at Veterinary Emergency Hospital at (970) 484-8080. Some things that require immediate emergency attention include:
- Seizure, fainting, or collapse
- Eye injury, redness, or pain, no matter how mild
- Vomiting or diarrhea, blood or foreign objects in the stool or vomit, unproductive attempts to vomit
- Allergic reactions including swelling of the face, weakness, difficulty breathing or hives
- Any suspected poisoning or swallowing of foreign objects (antifreeze, rodent/snail bait, human medication, clothing/toys, etc)
- Snake or spider bite
- Heat or cold stress- even if your cat seems to be recovered (the internal story may be different)
- Any open and/or bleeding laceration or wound, especially animal bites
- Trauma, such as being hit by a car, even if your cat seems fine externally
- Any respiratory problem: coughing, trouble breathing, open-mouth breathing, or near drowning
- Straining to urinate or defecate
- Any change in routine or behavior that you feel is concerning... if it's an emergency to you, it's an emergency to us!
Behavior Tips: Raising the Perfect Kitten
The first few months of life are CRUCIAL in forming a kitten's personality. It is during this time that they learn how to interact with adults, children, other cats, dogs, and the environment around them. During their formative months, kittens will approach a new stimulus with curiosity. If they have a positive experience associated with it they will respond with acceptance. Later in life, if presented with a stimulus for the first time, they may respond with fear or even aggression.
Therefore, socialization is key for your kitten's emotional and behavioral well-being! Exposing him/her to as many aspects of his/her "new world" is vitally important during the first few months of life. Make sure the experiences with those aspects are positive. Read below for more information on showing your kitten the world!
All-Over Kitten Massage
Now is the time to get your kitten used to being handled, petted and examined. You are the first line of defense should your kitten ever become injured or ill. A kitten that is used to having his/her body handled will make it easier to detect and address problems before they get out of hand! In addition, early handling will get your kitten used to preventative health care tasks such as nail trimming, grooming, or teeth brushing.
All members of your household, especially children, should massage and handle your kitten every day. Plan the massage for a time when he/she is sleepy (after playing is best rather than just after waking). Make sure there are plenty of treats on hand.
Massage all areas of your kitten's body. Look in the ears, lift up the lips, and massage the gums (getting ready for teeth brushing later!). Open the mouth as if you were going to give a pill. You may even consider giving a small "pill" of canned food or some other treat. Massage each paw, extending and retracting the claws. Place the kitten on his/her back and rub the tummy. Lift the tail. Every square inch of your kitten should be petted, massaged, and examined as often as possible during these first few months so that he/she will learn to love and trust human contact.
Learn what all those puppies have been bragging about! Kitten kindergarten is starting to be offered at shelters and training institutes with greater frequency. Kitten kindergarten is a great way to expose your kitten to a wide variety of other kittens, people, and environments. It's also a great way to spend time with behavior experts on a weekly basis to address any behavior troubles that may arise.
Although the exposure to other kittens and people in kindergarten is invaluable, your kitten will be exposed to contagious diseases including upper respiratory infections and intestinal parasites. In addition, your kitten will encounter kittens who may be outdoor kittens or who may have been exposed to FeLV or FIV. Please talk to us if you are considering enrolling your kitten in kindergarten so that we can ensure he/she is adequately protected.
The Car and the Carrier
Most cats despise these two items. Who can blame them when the only time they come out is for trips to the veterinarian to get "poked and prodded?” Start your kitten out on the right foot by associating positive experiences with the car, the crate, and (most importantly) the veterinarian! Start by having your kitten's carrier in an accessible place with the door open. Praise your kitten and offer him/her special toys and treats for exploring the carrier. After a while you can begin closing the door of the carrier for 1-2 minutes at a time. Again-- praise, praise, praise! Gradually you can progress to carrying your kitten around the house, placing him/her in the car, driving around the block, and finally driving to Friendship Hospital for Animals. Bring your kitten in to the hospital to say "hello!” Our client care providers would be happy to give your kitten some love and treats before you head back home.
New kittens can be a wonderful addition-- or an unwelcome houseguest-- to a home with other pets. It's important to introduce your pets to their new housemate in the proper way to avoid any fighting or long-term behavior problems. Introductions should be VERY gradual. Any episodes of fear or aggression require a step back to the previous comfort level. Cats do not have the same social structure as dogs and do not generally "work things out". Any aggression or conflict, if allowed to continue, can become a long-term habit. Some pets are more social than others so it is important to approach any introduction with a realistic and patient frame of mind.
First, make sure that your existing pets are fully vaccinated and healthy before adding another pet. Your new kitten should be confined to a small KITTENPROOF (see below) room for several days at first with his/her own food, litter box, bed, and toys. Allow the pets to smell each other under the door. Rub a towel on each pet and place it under the other pet's food bowls or near a favorite toy so that they can associate good things with the other's scent. You can also try switching sleeping blankets between pets.
Next, switch the pets. Your new kitten can explore the house and smells of your other pets without having fear-inducing interactions. Allow your other pets to explore the kitten's room (confined) during this time.
Finally, you can start to have some controlled interactions between your pets. Baby gates dividing the kitten's room from the rest of the house can allow visual interaction between your pets while creating a physical barrier. Dogs should be kept on a “sit-stay” on their leash when interacting with the new kitten. Make sure that your pets are not left unsupervised for the first few months that they live together and you are sure how they will interact. Ensure that each pet has his/her own space to which he/she can retreat if he/she feels threatened.
Do not punish aggressive or fearful behavior as it may cause it to escalate. Rather, try distracting fighting pets with a squirt bottle or loud noise and then separating them and starting over. NEVER try to physically separate fighting pets!
Kitten-Proofing Your Home
There's nobody that can explore every nook and cranny of your home like a new kitten! To ensure that your kitten will be safe in your home visit the childproofing section of your hardware store. Some important considerations include:
- Cover electrical outlets and cover "chewable" electrical cords with PCV piping
- Tie up blind cords and other loose, dangling items. Remove door stopper tips
- Remove houseplants that may encourage digging, eliminating, or chewing
- Remove tablecloths that can be pulled off, dragging their contents behind them
- Elevate or eliminate cleaning products, medicines (especially Tylenol and other pain relievers), and household products such as antifreeze or rat poison.
- Keep food out of reach of climbing kittens in a cabinet or closed container. Items that can be toxic even in small amounts include onions and garlic, raisins/grapes, chocolate, and products sweetened with xylitol-- like sugar-free gum, candies, and baked products.
- Remove string (including string toys, yarn, and loose fibers of rugs, blankets and carpet) that can be ingested and create an intestinal blockage.
There are a wide variety of toys available for cats at local pet stores. Make sure that you choose toys that don't have pieces or parts that can be chewed off and ingested. String toys should be used carefully and only under supervision to prevent ingestion and intestinal blockage. Other 'around the house' toys include balls of foil or paper, paper bags, or small stuffed animals.
Laser pointers should be used carefully-- cats who chase them obsessively will often not think twice about running into walls or off staircases, and may also start chasing "headlight trails" from passing cars! Also remember that hands, feet, and other body parts should never be used as toys! (See "Nippy Kittens" below).
A good way to avoid bored kittens is to have a toy box where a perpetually rotating stock of "new" toys can arrive every few days. If you have all of your kitten's toys out at once you may notice that he/she becomes desensitized to them and searches for entertainment elsewhere.
Learning and Behavior Considerations for Kittens
Kittens are constantly learning from the moment they are born. At any given moment, there are a thousand things he/she can do wrong and one he/she can do right. Rather than making your kitten guess, or continually punishing him/her for wrong behavior, show him/her and reinforce him/her for the right behavior.
The most important rule of raising any kitten is that "YOU CAN'T PUNISH WHAT YOU DON'T SEE HAPPEN.” Cats have very little short-term associative memory. They don't remember that they made the mess on the floor and as a result, you're angry. All they learn is that when there is a mess on the floor to stay away from you! They don't decrease the unwanted behavior; they just learn to do it when you're not watching. They may learn to resent or fear you in the process. Likewise, physically punishing your kitten by spanking them, flicking them, making them bite their gums (when nipping), or "rubbing their nose" in their wrongdoings will only lead to fearful and possibly aggressive behavior.
If you don't see your kitten commit the behavior, you can't correct it. If you observe an inappropriate act, remember: DISTRACT, REDIRECT, and PRAISE! Distract by making a loud noise (coins in an empty soda can or a loud hand clap). It's best if the noise doesn't appear to come directly from you; the soda can is the most effective for this reason. When you have your kitten’s attention, come to the rescue and redirect him/her to the appropriate behavior! If he/she is scratching, take him/her to the appropriate scratching spot. If he/she is inappropriately eliminating, take him/her to the litter box. If he/she is chewing or nipping, give him/her something appropriate to chew on. Once he/she learns the appropriate behavior, praise him/her for being such a wonderful and smart kitten! Each time you reinforce the correct behavior you help to erase the "appeal" of the incorrect one.
The most important thing to remember is to be patient! Remember that raising a kitten is like raising a toddler. You will have good and bad days, lessons that stick and issues that persist. With patience, realistic expectations and consistent and positive messages, you will have a well-behaved member of your family in no time.
The Litter Box
Kittens are normally very well litter-trained by the time they arrive in a new home. However, a few tips will help to make sure that they stay on track:
- Use the "N plus 1" rule. You should have at least one litter box per cat in your household, plus one. If you have one kitten and a multiple level home, consider having boxes on each level to avoid the "I have to go-- where was that box?" panic.
- Boxes should be scooped once daily and more often if you have multiple cats using the same box. Boxes should be fully cleaned with mild soap and water once weekly.
- Boxes should be positioned in an area that is easily accessible to your kitten but safe from intruders, loud noises (washing machine, furnace, etc), and other distractions.
- Litter should be unscented, plain or clumping clay, and 2-3" deep. Some people recommend against using scoopable litter until a year of age for fear kittens may eat the litter leading to blockages.
- Cats bury their waste after using the box so plastic litter box liners often feel "unnatural" to them. Most cats do not enjoy covered litter boxes, as they cannot see their surroundings. They may feel that they will be "ambushed" by someone as they are exiting the box.
If you find your kitten having accidents in the house, clean the area with an enzymatic cleaner (we like Nature's Miracle). If the same spot is being used repeatedly, consider moving the litter box near that area and covering the spot with aluminum foil or an upside down carpet runner. You can use a black light to look for hidden spots you may have missed.
If you catch your kitten eliminating in an inappropriate location, don't yell or punish them! This may make him/her fearful of you or the act of elimination and lead him/her to seek even more hidden locations for his/her waste. Place him/her next to the litter box. Do not place your kitten directly in the box as that may be considered punishment. Offer praise when he/she enters and uses the litter box. Consider decreasing your kitten's roaming area so he/she is always in close proximity to the litter box.
Scratching is a normal, healthy behavior in all cats. It helps them to stretch, remove the dead outer covering of their nails, express happiness, and leave scent markers in their territory. The key is not to prevent your kitten from scratching, but to make sure they are scratching in appropriate places.
When your kitten first comes home, have an assortment of scratching toys in the immediate vicinity of their "home base" area where they sleep and play. Use a variety of textures (carpet, rope/sisal, wood, corrugated cardboard) and shapes (tall and upright, flat, slanted). Try to determine if your kitten is a "raker" or a "picker" with their claws. Make sure all structures are sturdy and big enough to support your kitten in full "stretch" mode.
If you notice your kitten scratching an inappropriate object, distract and redirect him/her onto an appropriate area. Make the inappropriate area unattractive by applying double-sided sticky tape, upside-down carpet runner, or aluminum foil to it. Place an appropriate scratching item nearby and encourage your kitten to use it with praise and treats.
In the first few months of life, kittens learn something called bite inhibition. If you watch a litter of kittens playing, you will see rough and tumble play that often involves seemingly vicious biting and scratching--until someone gets hurt. As soon as someone yips out in pain, everyone takes a step back and learns, "I shouldn't bite so hard next time!"
You will use this same philosophy to address nipping in your kitten. You will then take it a step further by teaching him/her that ANY skin/tooth contact is not OK with human beings. Any time your kitten's teeth touch your skin, respond by letting out a high-pitched squeak, as if you were a grievously wounded littermate. Your kitten will likely let go and react with surprise. At the moment you have his/her attention, offer PRAISE for being a good kitten. Immediately give him/her an appropriate toy or treat to chew on instead.
If the nipping is consistently noted with play, help your kitten understand that play will stop immediately if nipping continues. If he/she loses your attention when nipping, he/she will think twice about it in the future.
An important addition to this strategy is that kittens must have consistent messages when it comes to nipping. Hands, feet, and other body parts (even if covered by gloves, socks, or blankets) are NEVER allowed to be toys. It is too confusing for your kitten to understand that your hands are OK to wrestle with, but your two-year-old child's are not! Also, do not physically punish the mouthiness as it may lead to fear and an increase in the behavior.
We at Friendship Hospital for Animals are excited and privileged to be entrusted with the veterinary care of your special new family member. We know that emotional and behavioral well-being is just as important in a strong human-animal bond as physical health. If you have any concerns or questions about your kitten's health or behavior please don't hesitate to contact us. We're here for you!
1103 Oak Park Dr. Suite 103
Fort Collins, CO 80525