These are brief guidelines on the care of your kitten. We hope that this will assist you for the first few months. Specific questions or different approaches may exist. Please feel free to discuss these with us.
Most kittens will need to be fed 2-3 times a day. This will vary based of the age, size, breed and appetite of your kitten. The volume of food at each feeding will also vary with each kitten. The best indicator of a satisfactory amount of food is normal, healthy growth. We recommend leaving the food down for 15-20 minutes and then taking the food away until the next meal. This way you are training your cat when to eat and it is not training you how to feed it. After several days with this approach your kitten will catch on. We do not recommend ad-lib feeding. In general, we advise staying with a major national brand food. Avoid off-brand or regional foods. You will want to see on the label that the food meets the nutritional requirements of a kitten and that this was verified by feeding trials conducted by the AAFCO. We recommend starting off with kitten food and gradually changing over to adult food at about 1 year of age. A healthy kitten on a good diet does not need any supplements.
There are two ways to housebreak a kitten. You can either use a litterbox or let your cat go outside (or a combination of both). Most kittens adapt to a litterbox very quickly. Litterbox training is rarely a problem in kittens. If necessary, you can confine your kitten to a room with the litterbox to train them faster.
Roundworms are a common intestinal parasite of cats. It is recommended that we treat all kittens for roundworms. There are numerous other intestinal parasites that kittens can get. Treatments for these are varied. Therefore, we will recommend checking several fecal samples during kittenhood. Some of these parasites can affect people (roundworms and others). Good personal hygiene is the best prevention.
There are many vaccines available for kittens. The following are considered the core vaccines.
Rabies – This first vaccine is given at or after 12 weeks of age. Thereafter, the vaccine is administered yearly. It is a NY State law that all cat and kittens be vaccinated against rabies. These recommendations may change based on current public health issues, legal requirements and types of vaccine available.
Distemper/Upper Respiratory – (combination vaccine, 3 in 1, etc…) These are the common “kitten shots”. Kittens may start these vaccines as early as 6 weeks of age and receive boosters every 3-4 weeks. Kittens require a minimum of 2 vaccines after 8 weeks of age. Ideally, the last vaccine is given at approximately 16 weeks of age. Once they have finished the kitten series a booster is given after 1 year and then every 3 years.
Feline Leukemia – This vaccine is currently only recommend for cats that will be indoor/outdoor. Prior to vaccinating, we will test your cat to make sure that they are leukemia negative. Kittens need to be at least 9 weeks of age to receive the initial vaccine and then a booster is given 3-4 weeks later. After that the vaccine is given once a year.
There are additional vaccines that are not considered core vaccines and we are not currently recommending them. Please feel free to discuss any vaccine questions that you have with us.
We do not recommend exposing your kitten to unfamiliar cats or areas that unfamiliar cats have been until they have finished their kitten vaccines. Remember, their immune system is not yet strong enough to fight off severe infections.
BITING AND SCRATCHING
All kittens bite and scratch as they play. This is a natural thing for them to do. If you watch two kittens play together you will understand this. We jokingly ask all kitten owners to show us their “battle scars” because they all have them. You must, however, distinguish between play biting and aggressive biting. The former is natural and your kitten should outgrow it, while the latter needs to be addressed immediately. Kittens have very sharp little teeth that do hurt if they bite you. As their adult teeth come in (4-7 months of age) it will be less painful. Their claws can also become very sharp. You can either trim them yourself or we can trim them for you.
Everyone likes to give kittens a bath. We don’t recommend it. Remember that they are immature and do not need to be stressed any more than necessary. Most cats will keep clean by grooming themselves. When they get themselves dirty, a spot sponge bath is the best thing. If necessary, you can give your cat a regular bath at about 5-6 months of age.
We have a once a month spot on treatment that you can apply to your cat that is effective against fleas and ticks. If necessary, you may also need to treat your house and yard as well as any other pets in the house. Please ask our advice on this. There is also an oral medication called Capstar that will kill fleas quickly and last for 24 hours. This can be used on a daily basis if you are still seeing live fleas on your cat or in the interim while we are waiting for the topical to take affect (24 hours after application). For very young kittens, a flea comb is a very effective way to manually remove fleas.
Ticks can transmit diseases many diseases. If necessary, we can show you how to remove ticks. It is less common for cats to have ticks due to their grooming habits. If ticks are a problem for your cat, we will recommend using a once a month topical treatment.
Unless you have a specific interest in breeding your cat, we recommend spaying or neutering them. This should be done when they are approximately 6 months of age. It is an “old wives tale” to let the have at least one heat or litter prior to spaying them. It is done as both a means of curtailing the pet overpopulation and for specific health reasons. Female cats that are not spayed inevitably become pregnant if they go outside. Those that remain indoors will attract very persistent male cats to your house. Intact females are prone to disease of the reproductive tract, the most notable being pyometra (an infected uterus). This is a serious, life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery to be corrected. Another important consideration is that intact females have an increased risk of developing mammary gland tumors. In general, mammary gland tumors are very aggressive in cats and carry a very poor prognosis. Spaying at 6 month of age, prior to their first heat, decreases the risk of mammary gland tumors by 91%. Spaying before 1 year results in an 86% reduction in risk and before 2 years lead to an 11% reduction.
In male cats, neutering them has both behavioral as well as physical benefits. It will decrease their willingness to fight, roaming tendencies, urine spraying and it will prevent them from developing “tom cat odor”. Many male cats tend to wander off to find “romance” and end up getting hurt instead hit by cars, cat fights, dog fights etc.).
This is a purely personal decision for you to make. We recommend that cats be kept strictly indoors. Many of the problems that we see sick or injured cats for originate outside. Keeping them inside will keep them safer and it will save you heartache, headaches and money.
There is a new interest in heartworm disease in cats. This is an emerging area that will generate more information in years to come. Please ask us about heartworm preventative for your cat.