Congratulations on your new kitten! Owning a cat can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it quite a bit of responsibility. We hope this document will give you the information needed to make some good decisions regarding your kitten.
First, let us say that we are grateful that you have chosen us to help you with your kitten’s health care. If you have questions concerning any subject related to your kitten’s health, please feel free to call our hospital. Either one of the technicians or one of the doctors will be happy to help you.
Introducing a New Kitten to its New Environment
Cats are naturally inclined to investigate new surroundings, so your new cat’s area of exploration should be limited initially to help her feel safe. After confining the cat to one room for the first few days, you should slowly allow access to other areas of the home.
Introducing a New Kitten to Other Cats in the Household
Most kittens receive a hostile reception from other household pets, especially from another cat. The other cat usually sees no need for a kitten in the household, and these feelings are reinforced if she perceives that special favoritism is being shown the kitten. The existing cat must not feel she needs to compete for food or for attention.
The new kitten should have her own food and food bowl and should not be permitted to eat from the other cat’s bowl. Although it is natural to spend time holding and cuddling the kitten, the existing cat will quickly sense that it is being neglected. The new kitten needs lots of love and attention, but the existing cat should not be slighted. In fact, the transition will be smoother if the existing cat is given more attention than normal.
The introduction period will usually last one to two weeks and will have one of three possible outcomes.
1. The resident cat will remain hostile to the kitten. Fighting may occur occasionally, especially if both try to eat out of the same bowl at the same time. This is an unlikely occurrence if competition for food and affection are minimized during the first few weeks.
2. The resident cat will only tolerate the kitten. Hostility will cease, but the resident cat will act as if the kitten is not present, especially if the resident cat is independent, has been an only cat for several years, or if marked competition occurred during the first few weeks. This relationship is likely to be permanent.
3. Bonding will occur between the resident cat and the kitten. They will play together, groom each other, and sleep near each other. This is more likely to occur if competition is minimized and if the resident cat has been lonely for companionship.
The socialization period for cats is between 2 and 12 weeks of age. During that time, the kitten is very impressionable to social influences. If she has good experiences with men, women, children, dogs, other cats, etc., she is likely to accept them throughout life. If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, she may become apprehensive or adverse to them. Therefore, during the period of socialization, we encourage you to expose your cat to as many types of social events and influences as possible.
Good Play Guide
Stimulating play is important during the first week. Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in kittens and have an important role in proper muscular development. If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to use family members for these activities. The best toys are light weight and movable.
Kittens should always be supervised when playing with string or ribbons to avoid swallowing them. Any other toy that is small enough to be swallowed should also be avoided. The following are some ways to influence your kitten’s play and prevent her from becoming destructive.
- Kitten-proof the environment or restrict the kitten from particular areas of the home.
- Provide cat furniture such as cat trees, climbing perches and scratching posts.
- Provide kitten safe toys and rotate them regularly to keep them new and exciting.
- Separate the kitten from resident adult cats if there is any aggression and gradually introduce them.
- Consider adopting a second kitten as a playmate.
- Reward good behaviors and ignore or interrupt undesirable behaviors.
- Seek veterinary advice if you have any concerns or questions about your kitten’s behavior.
Avoid training your kitten to be a ‘terrorist’. Teasing a small kitten with your fingers or toes may seem like fun, but this will quickly change as the pet grows older and the bites become harder. Play interaction with your cat should involve tossing or dangling toys for her to chase and catch. While some of these little guys can become quite bloodthirsty and relentless, their behavior can be controlled if you take an early stand.
There are many diseases that are fatal to cats. Fortunately, we can prevent many of these by using very effective vaccines. To be effective, these vaccines must be given as a series of injections. Ideally, they are given at about 6-8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, but this schedule may vary somewhat depending on several factors.
The routine vaccination schedule will protect your kitten from four diseases: distemper, two respiratory viruses, and rabies. The first three are included in a combination vaccine that is given at 6-8, 12, and 16 weeks old. Rabies vaccine is given at 16 weeks of age. Leukemia vaccine is necessary if your cat does or will go outside or if you have another cat that goes in and out since this deadly disease is transmitted by contact with other cats, especially when fighting occurs. A vaccine is also available for protection against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP); this vaccine is not necessary for all cats and is recommended in select situations.
We provide special pricing for kitten vaccinations.
Intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Kittens can become infected with parasites almost as soon as they are born. For example, the most important source of roundworm infection in kittens is the mother’s milk. The microscopic examination of a stool sample will usually help us to determine the presence of intestinal parasites. We recommend this exam for all kittens. If we cannot get a stool sample, please bring one at your earliest convenience. Periodic deworming throughout the cat’s life may be recommended for cats that go outdoors.
Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasite of cats. Kittens become infected with them when they swallow fleas; the eggs of the tapeworm live inside the flea. When the cat chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, the flea may be swallowed. Cats infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their stool. The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice. Tapeworm segments do not pass every day or in every stool sample; therefore, inspection of several consecutive bowel movements may be needed to find them.
Feeding a Kitten
Diet is extremely important in the growing months of a cat’s life, and there are two important criteria that should be met in selecting food for your kitten. We recommend a NAME-BRAND FOOD made by a national cat food company (not a generic or local brand), and a form of food MADE FOR KITTENS.
This should be fed until your kitten is about 12 months of age. We recommend that you only buy food which has the AAFCO certification. Usually, you can find this information very easily on the label. AAFCO is an organization that oversees the entire pet food industry. It does not endorse any particular food, but it will certify that the food has met the minimum requirements for nutrition. Most of the commercial pet foods will have the AAFCO label. Generic brands often do not have it.
Feeding a dry, canned, or semi-moist form of cat food is acceptable. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Dry food is definitely the least expensive. It can be left in the cat’s bowl at all times. If given the choice, the average cat will eat a mouthful of food about 12-20 times per day. The good brands of dry food are just as nutritious as the other forms.
Table foods are not recommended. Because they are generally very tasty, cats will often begin to hold out for these and not eat their well-balanced cat food. If you choose to give your kitten table food, be sure that at least 90% of its diet is good quality commercial kitten food.
The Litter Box
The number one behavioral problem of cats is urinating out of the litter box (inappropriate urination). There are several things that cause this frustrating problem, but some of those are related to the litter box. The following comments are included to prevent problems later because cats are particular about their litter boxes, the litter, and the location.
Choose a litter box that is large enough for your cat to fit in comfortably so she can turn around freely. An 18 X 14-inch box with 4-inch sides is appropriate for most adult cats. Kittens may need a box with shorter sides so they can get in and out easily.
We do not recommend a box with a top (hood). Although hooded litter boxes are more private and better contain the litter, they also trap odors inside. Because cats are so fastidious, these odors often cause them to seek other places to urinate. Many cats exhibiting inappropriate urination will return to their litter boxes when the lid is removed.
There are three types of litter: clay, clumpable, and organic.
Clay Litter: Clay litter absorbs 75-100% of its weight in moisture. This is good but not adequate to keep urine from being absorbed throughout a widespread area of litter. Solid matter and wet litter should be removed 1-2 times per day, but the entire litter box should be changed weekly. Clay litter is also quite dusty. Cats with allergies can have increased problems when breathing the litter dust.
Clumpable Litter: Clumping litter is also called scoopable litter. It absorbs urine and swells to about 15 times its original volume. Therefore, you need only to remove the litter clumps. The entire box should still be changed every week or two to prevent bacteria buildup. Clumping litter can be a problem especially with long-haired cats as it tends to get stuck up in the fur on their feet and cause irritation. Clumping litter tends to control urine and stool odors better than clay litter.
Organic Litter: Organic litters are made of alfalfa, newspaper, peanut hulls, corn cobs, or recycled, biodegradable materials. They appeal to many cats, but they are also not received well by others.
Some litters contain scented or odor-controlling additives. Some cats tolerate them, but others find them objectionable. To minimize the chances of inappropriate urination, it is better to avoid scented litters.
Fecal matter and wet litter need to be removed once daily for each cat that uses the litter box. If you already have cats at home, provide an additional box for each new cat. Even with clumping litter, a monthly scrubbing of the litter box removes odors that may collect in the box itself. Use warm, soapy water and avoid scented disinfectants.
The location of the litter box is important. It should be on an easily cleaned surface as some cats don’t always aim well. Litter is also scratched out or tracked out of the litter box frequently. It is very important that the litter box be placed in a quiet, non-threatening location. Cats need their privacy and will avoid a litter box that is in a high traffic area or a location accessible to dogs.
Fleas do not stay on your kitten; occasionally, they will jump off and seek another host. Therefore, it is important to kill fleas on your new kitten before they can become established in your house. Many of the flea control products that are safe on adult cats are not safe for kittens less than 4 months of age. Be sure that any flea product you use is labeled safe for kittens.
Kittens have very sharp toenails. They can be trimmed with your regular fingernail clippers or with nail trimmers made for dogs and cats. If you take too much off the nail, you will get into the quick; bleeding and pain will occur. If this happens, neither you nor your cat will want to do this again. Therefore, a few points are helpful:
- If your cat has clear or white nails, you can see the pink of the quick through the nail. Avoid the pink area, and you should be out of the quick.
- If your cat has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick so only cut 1/32″ (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the cat begins to get sensitive. The sensitivity will usually occur before you are into the blood vessel. With black nails, it is likely that you will get too close on at least one nail.
- If your cat has some clear and some black nails, use the average clear nail as a guide for cutting the black ones.
- When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick.
- You should always have styptic powder available. This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, but it will be labeled for use in trimming nails.
Ear mites are tiny insect-like parasites that live in the ear canal of cats (and dogs). The most common sign of ear mite infection is scratching of the ears. Sometimes the ears will appear dirty because of a black material in the ear canal; this material is sometimes shaken out. We can find the mites by taking a small amount of the black material from the ear canal and examining it with a microscope. Ear mites are common in litters of kittens if their mother has ear mites.
Spaying Female Cats
Spaying is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries. Therefore, heat periods no longer occur. In many cases, despite of your best effort, the female will become pregnant; spaying prevents unplanned litters of kittens.
Spaying offers several advantages. The female’s heat periods result in about 2-3 weeks of obnoxious behavior. This can be quite annoying if your cat is kept indoors. Male cats are attracted from blocks away and, in fact, seem to come out of the woodwork. They seem to go over, around, and through many doors. Your cat will have a heat period about every 2-3 weeks until she is bred.
It has been proven that as the female dog gets older, there is a significant incidence of breast cancer and uterine infections if she has not been spayed. Spaying before she has any heat periods will virtually eliminate the chances of either. There is mounting evidence to believe that this is also true of cats. If you do not plan to breed your cat, we strongly recommend that she be spayed before her first heat period. This can be done any time after she is 5 months old.
Neutering Male Cats
Neutering is the surgical removal of both testicles. It offers several important advantages. Male cats go through a significant personality change when they mature. They become very possessive of their territory and mark it with their urine to ward off other cats. The tom cat’s urine develops a very strong odor that will be almost impossible to remove from your house.
They also try to constantly enlarge their territory which means one fight after another. Fighting results in severe infections and abscesses and often engenders rage in your neighbors. We strongly urge you to have your cat neutered at about 6 to 9 months of age. If he should begin to spray his urine before that time, he should be neutered immediately. The longer he sprays or fights, the less likely neutering is to stop it.
Keeping Kitty Safe
Here are 18 quick tips to help protect your cat from everyday hazards:
- Know your cat. If she’s acting strange, err on the side of caution: take her to the vet.
- Antifreeze is sweet but deadly. If your car leaks, get it fixed, and keep antifreeze far out of reach. Even one teaspoonful is fatal.
- Do not underestimate your cat – she can fall out of a window! Install protective screens or storm windows to let your cat safely enjoy the view.
- If your cat tends to chew cords, keep her in a cord free room when unsupervised. Also, spray cords with safe spicy or bitter-tasting products. In addition, never leave an iron – hot or cold – sitting on an ironing board. The cord may look like a toy to your cat, and she could pull the iron down and hurt herself.
- If you use clumping litter, groom your cat frequently to remove any particles that may accumulate and interfere with elimination.
- Consider using clay litter for kittens. If they accidentally ingests some litter particles; clay is nontoxic in small quantities.
- Only use cat specific flea preventatives in vet-approved dosages to avoid triggering a dangerous reaction in your cat or kitten.
- Keep all yarn, thread, string and needles in a secure cabinet. Yarn or string can be caught on a cat’s barbed tongue and be swallowed. Tinsel or similar holiday decorations can also be tempting toys and are dangerous if swallowed.
- Certain human food and medications are extremely harmful to cats. Do not leave chocolate, onions or medication on counters. Use only medications approved for cats. Ibuprophen, Acetaminophen and aspirin can be deadly.
- Keep your cat’s identification tag or microchip information current in case your cat wanders away.
- Train your cat to stay away from the stove at all times – even if not in use – by squirting it with a spray bottle when it gets too close.
- Do not leave a cat or kitten unsupervised with a child under age 7. Kids under the age of 7 have poor impulse control and can accidentally or intentionally hurt the cat (and get injured themselves!)
- Cats will make a plaything out of any item, so keep blind cords out of your cats reach to avoid strangulation.
- Keep the clothes dryer and dishwasher shut when not in use. Always check your cat’s whereabouts before closing drawers, closets and doors to avoid locking your cat in and check your garage door before closing it to avoid injuring any cats perched there.
- Many plants are poisonous to cats including common holiday plants like poinsettias and lilies. For a list of toxic and non-toxic plants visit www.aspca.org and click on Animal Poison Control Center or call your vet if you think your cat has been chewing a plant that may be toxic.
- When adding a cat or kitten into your household, clear her health by your vet prior to bringing her home so you do not expose your other cat (s) to possible illness.
- Invest in covered wastebaskets and garbage cans for your home to prevent cats from finding dangerous items like chicken bones or dental floss.
- Always use a carrier when transporting your cat. Even if she enjoys car rides, she may get underfoot or escape if startled.