If you're reading this, let us be the first to say congratulations on your new kitten! Now that you've taken the first steps into lifelong feline companionship, here are some things to think about to support your new kitten in living a healthy, happy life that's best suited for your lifestyle.
Litter Box Training
Kittens are creatures of habit. As such the first step in housetraining is to find out if your kitten was trained in their previous home. If your kitten was previously trained make sure to use the same type of litter at first, you can gradually change to another litter if necessary.
If your kitten was not trained in its previous home, it is usually best to start with an unscented clay or clumping litter in a clean, dry litter box. Plastic, open-top litter boxes are the most practical for most kittens, they should have sides low enough for your kitten to easily climb in and out. Many kittens prefer open boxes as they can get in and out from any side without feeling trapped and aren’t dark like hooded boxes. Litter boxes should be cleaned at least once daily and litter should be replaced regularly to maintain the same height in the box.
A good way to ensure your kitten begins to use the litter box right away is to keep him within sight at all times, a collar with a bell may be helpful, and when he stops playing and begins sniffing around you can gently pick him up and take him to his litter box. Whenever you are unable to watch your kitten restrict them to a small room with a litter box and water dish for at least the first two weeks or until they are using their litter box regularly.
Most kittens will prefer to use the litter to anything else as long as they have been exposed to it before, otherwise, kittens may choose to dig in soft areas like laundry, sheets, and houseplant soil. When your kitten is using the litter box reliably other surfaces shouldn’t be such a temptation, however, due to odors and dampness of soil, you may need to continue to protect any houseplants from your kitten.
Make sure to reward your kitten with praise or a small amount of food every time they sniff, scratch or eliminate in the litter box. You should never punish your kitten for accidents as it can cause them to become fearful of you, instead thoroughly clean the area and place plastic over it as that will change the texture of the surface, then place a litter box nearby the area this litter box can slowly be moved to a more desirable area for you after the kitten is using it frequently.
Even with the best training, accidents happen. Be prepared with a good enzymatic cleaner such as “Nature’s Miracle”.
Crate training comes in handy when your kitten needs to travel in a crate or be in one at the groomers. Being crate trained also makes hospitalization less stressful for them. The crate may become a retreat where your kitten can go in stressful or unfamiliar situations. The best crates have two exit points as sometimes one is more accessible than the other. Crates with a removable top will also allow your veterinarian to conduct exams while allowing the cat to remain in the bottom of their crate which can help to reduce anxiety and make visits less stressful.
You should create a cozy nest in your kitten’s crate using plush bedding and blankets with your cat's scent on them. You may also consider using Feliway, a pheromone spray, inside your crate to help calm your kitten. Covering your kitten’s crate with a towel or blanket can help reduce visual stimuli which can frighten your kitten.
Once you have your kittens’ crate nice and cozy try moving your kittens’ meals into the crate and place special treats or toys into your crate gently and gradually to help them to associate their crate with good things. Make sure to keep your crate out and incorporate it into your regular furniture so your kitten can continue to use it as their safe space to nap and get treats.
Preventing Intestinal parasites
Upon acquiring a new kitten, fecal testing is highly recommended. Intestinal parasites can be transmitted by their mother or picked up from the environment and other animals. Many parasites are zoonotic meaning they can be transmitted to people. Parasites can become hazardous to our health, particularly in children and immune-suppressed individuals. While some parasites may be visible to the naked eye at certain life stages, it is impossible to determine if your kitten has intestinal parasites based on looking at their poop and a microscopic exam is necessary.
Your kitten can have intestinal parasites without having diarrhea or a very large belly. Not all dewormers kill all parasites and some need to be given multiple doses at different intervals to kill the whole life cycle of the parasite.
Vaccinations for Kittens
It is recommended that kittens receive a series of vaccines usually starting around 6 weeks of age. The reason they need a series is that (assuming they are nursed) they have immunity acquired from their mothers that wears off over time. We are unable to tell the rate that their immunity against certain diseases wears off exactly because it is different for individual kittens. The vaccines are given 3-4 weeks apart until 15-16 weeks of age.
The series covers feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline panleukopenia, feline calicivirus, and feline leukemia. They will also need a rabies vaccine, which is required by law. After your kitten’s feline leukemia one-year vaccine booster becomes a lifestyle-based vaccination, please discuss with your veterinarian about your kittens’ risks.
Nutrition is important for many reasons from proper bone development to supporting learning. With so many types of diets available these days, and different needs for individual cats, finding the right diet can be overwhelming. We recommend high-quality Kitten food such as Royal Canin Kitten formula or Hill’s (Science Diet) Kitten formula. Kitten food should be fed until the kitten reaches bone growth maturity. Speak with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of wet vs. dry food for your kitten.
Pet insurance/ pet care financing
Although very important, we all know medical care can become a financial constraint. Kittenhood is an ideal time to consider pet insurance because “pre-existing conditions” are not as prevalent. In the hopes that a difficult decision due to limited finances can be prevented, pet insurance is recommended. A couple of companies we recommend are “Trupanion” and “Embrace”. Trupanion offers a 30-day free trial if you sign up within 24 hours of your exam. We recommend you contact the companies directly to discuss with them the best plan for your pet.
If pet insurance is not of interest to you and a medical emergency arises that proves to be more than your bank account will allow, Care Credit is a financing option that may be available. Care Credit will allow you to charge up to a certain amount based on your credit if your credit allows. Interest rates may occur.
Part of helping your kitten become well-adjusted is to socialize them well. It is important to create positive experiences when introducing new people, animals, objects, noises, etc. Try to introduce a variety of things. Think of all sorts of people- tall, short, different ethnicities, people in wheelchairs, in hats or uniforms etc. Think of different noises- babies crying, airplanes, vacuums, farm animals, gunfire, etc.
Kittenhood is a great time to getting your kitten used to being handled all over too. It is important to get your kitten used to have their paws, ears, and mouths looked at. These habits will also make things such as their exams, nail trims, and at-home dental care less stressful for them and easier for you. If you have a fearful or shy kitten, we welcome you to make visits for handling and treats with us to encourage positive experiences at their veterinary clinic.
Many behavioral issues that are seen in kittens are due to their natural desire to play and explore. When your kitten isn’t in a place that satisfies all of their environmental needs, they can become destructive or feisty. In order to avoid chewing and scratching problems with your kitten make sure to give your kitten lots of different things to explore and play with. Some of the best ways to stimulate exploration and play for your kitten is purchasing a ‘cat tree’ where they can climb, perch and scratch as well as offering various different toys like cardboard boxes, ping-pong balls, or dangling and bouncing toys. It is also a good idea to get a scratching post to give your kitten an appropriate place to scratch.
Due to your kitten’s natural instinct to hunt sometimes, they begin to view you as the prey and while this behavior can be cute while they are still kittens, it becomes dangerous if left uncontrolled into adulthood. To keep your kitten from exhibiting this behavior make sure to maintain your control at playtime and ignore or interrupt any play that is initiated by your kitten.
The best way to play with your kitten is tossing or dangling toys for them to chase and catch which directs the play away from you. Make sure to avoid all physical punishment with your kitten as it can cause your kitten to fear or become aggressive towards you. Instead, a blast of air from a compressed air can or a squirt from a water gun can be used to discourage unwanted behavior.
A microchip is a form of permanent identification that is the size of a rice kernel and placed under the skin. If your pet was to get lost or taken and end up at a veterinary clinic or shelter, the chip would be scanned. The company who made the chip would be contacted and then they would contact you to reunite you with your pet. If we implant your kitten’s microchip, it comes with a lifetime registration with Home Again national pet recovery database.
Flea/tick prevention: Here in Central Oregon, flea and tick prevention is most important during our spring, summer and fall seasons. Fleas not only create very itchy bites but also can transmit disease and tapeworms. Ticks may create a local infection at the site they choose to bite, and they carry several diseases. The diseases your cat may contract can be hard to detect without extensive testing. We offer a few different options to keep fleas and ticks away. You may choose either a topical (i.e., Bravecto), or collar (Seresto) for flea and tick prevention. If you need additional help in deciding which option would be best for your kitten, we are happy to discuss it with you.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos. Mosquitos inject a little larva when they bite your kitten and the larva travel through the bloodstream until they settle in the heart and grow to adult heartworms. Heartworm disease is deadly if not caught and treated. We recommend your kitten is tested if they have come from a pandemic area (for example, the deep south or Florida) once immediately after taking your kitten home and then again, a year after the first test.
FeLV/FIV Testing: Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) are retroviruses that decrease your kitten’s immune system’s ability to fight infections. These diseases are not transmittable to humans or dogs but can be transmitted to other cats by contact with saliva, urine or blood. Kittens can also become infected with the virus from nursing if the mother cat is infected. These diseases have no physical symptoms, rather they make your kitten more susceptible to developing other health problems over the course of their lives. Diagnosing FIV and FeLV is done by testing a blood sample which we recommend doing at their initial veterinary visit before starting vaccinations.
Oral health is very important to your pet’s overall health; dental disease can create disease in internal organs such as the heart and kidneys. There are many things that you can do at home to prevent dental disease such as brushing (using a cat-approved product such as “CET enzymatic toothpaste”), dental chews, mouthwashes, topical gels, and dental diets. Kittenhood is an ideal time to introduce preventative care and begin brushing their teeth. Doing preventative care at home can help prevent or postpone the need for a veterinary dental cleaning. Let’s keep those pearly whites pearly and healthy!
Spay and Neuter: Spaying or neutering is important to prevent unwanted pregnancies, infected uterus (pyometra), breast cancer, inflammation or infection of the prostate, and sometimes unwanted behaviors. We recommend your kitten be spayed or neutered around 5-6 months.
Anal glands are 2 small scent glands just inside your kitten’s anus. The substance inside these glands is used for marking, but they don’t have very much purpose for our domesticated friends. The glands should empty when your kitten has bowel movements. Sometimes anal glands can become an issue if they are not emptying naturally as they should, and they can become infected or rupture. Some cats need their anal glands expressed manually by a professional on a regular basis. Anal gland removal is an elective surgery and can often be done at the time of spay or neuter.