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  • Kristin L., CVT

The Ultimate Guide to Kitten Care: Everything You Need to Know

Adopting a new kitten can seem intimidating. Depending on where you got your kitten, there can be lots to take care of initially. If the kitten comes from a shelter, they often take care of many things, which is great! However, if you adopted a kitten found outside or from someone else and you don’t know much about it, there are some things to address. After a good health check-up at the vet, you can begin living a fun and playful life!



Kitten's First Vet Visit

The first thing to do is take your kitten to the veterinarian. The doctor will perform a thorough physical exam from head to toe to look for illness and help you determine how old your kitten may be.


Routine Testing For Kittens

Stool Sample

It is important that you bring a fresh stool sample to the appointment. It is very common for kittens to have intestinal parasites no matter where they come from. The veterinary staff will examine the stool microscopically to look for eggs to identify what parasites your new kitten may have.


Feline Leukemia and FIV

Your veterinarian can run a quick blood test to see if your new kitten may have these diseases. They can be born with these diseases, and although it isn’t a death sentence, it is still good to know whether your cat is infected. It is contagious to other cats, so it is essential if you have other cats or intend to adopt more in the future. These diseases can affect the kitten’s immune system as well.


Vaccines

Vaccines can start as early as 6-8 weeks of age and are boostered every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. A kitten will require several vaccines, and their lifestyle will also affect which vaccines you choose. If your cat is going to go outside, there are additional vaccines needed for their protection.


FVRCP (Feline distemper)

This vaccine protects your kitten from several respiratory viruses and other deadly viruses. This is recommended for all cats.


Feline leukemia

This vaccine is recommended for all kittens but is primarily important for cats that intend to go outside. Cats can get feline leukemia from other infected cats. Talk to your veterinarian about your kitten’s exposure risk.


Rabies

Every cat is required to get a rabies vaccination. Rabies is 100% deadly and is contagious to humans. It is imperative. Indoor and outdoor cats should all keep up to date on their rabies vaccine throughout their life.


Spay and neuter

It is extremely important to get your cat spayed or neutered. If you choose not to, there will be health consequences in the future.


Females can develop pyometra, where their uterus becomes infected and requires emergency surgery to save their life. They also exhibit somewhat erratic and obnoxious behaviors when they come into heat. Unwanted litters can also result from leaving your kitten intact. Spaying them before their first heat cycle significantly decreases their chance of developing mammary cancer. It is recommended to spay females before they reach 6 months of age.


Males can become more aggressive and territorial. Their urine will have a powerful odor, and they may even spray in the house to mark their territory. They can contribute to unwanted litters as well. Usually, between 4-6 months is the best time to spay and neuter your kitten.


Taking Care of Your Kitten At Home

Feeding Your Kitten

It is essential to feed your cat a complete and balanced kitten-specific diet. Make sure the food you choose is intended for kittens. Stick with reputable name brands that support their diets with research. Ask your veterinarian about what brands they recommend.


Follow the feeding guide on the bag. It has good guidelines that help determine how much to feed your kitten. Try to develop a feeding schedule that works for you both. Often it is best to feed your kitten 2-3 times throughout the day. You can transition to adult food when your kitten reaches 9 months to 1 year.


Claw Care

You may be thinking about declawing, or you are worried about how to deal with a kitten’s claws. Declawing is ethically controversial and not medically necessary for cats, so most clinics no longer offer this surgery. It is important to understand that scratching is normal behavior and can be managed safely. Some alternatives to declawing include scratching posts, regular nail trims, and possible nail caps.


Scratching posts/pads

These provide your kitten with many different styles of scratchers. They come in all different textures and styles. They can be vertical and horizontal. You can buy a variety of scratchers to determine what your cat prefers. It is best to place the scratchers near the undesirable places they want to scratch. They often like to scratch and stretch after they wake up, so putting one near a sleeping area is also a good idea. Reward the cats when they use the scratching post with treats. Catnip can be used to entice them to the site to scratch as well.


Regular nail trims

Now is the time to get your kitten used to their feet and nails messed with! Trimming their nails regularly will help prevent them from damaging things or harming others. It will also prevent their claws from catching on materials.


Temporary synthetic nail caps

You can purchase caps from pet stores that are glued over your cat’s nails to help prevent injury or damage.


Litter boxes

It is best to have a litter box for each cat in the house, plus one additional. Keep the boxes in quiet calm places. Clean them regularly to prevent litter box issues. Cats can be finicky about their litter boxes, so it is best to stay consistent when you find what they like. Have a dog too? We have some tips on how to keep your pup out of the litter box.


Kitten Enrichment

Kittens will need lots of toys to provide them with mental stimulation. You may find that your kitten has very high energy and wants to get into things they shouldn’t. Toys may help minimize the destructive behaviors of a hyper kitten. Be sure to monitor your kitten constantly when playing so they do not ingest any parts of the toys. If a toy becomes damaged, it is time to throw it away. If a cat eats something that cannot pass through their digestive system, it can be life-threatening and require emergency surgery to save them. Keep a close eye on your cats to ensure they do not want to eat their toys or other household items.


Carrier Desensitization


Black kitten in cat carrier

Teaching your kitten to like their carrier is possible and will help both the kitten and you in the future. Using positive reinforcement to teach your kitten to love their carrier will reduce stress for car rides and vet visits. In addition, it will make it easier for you to get your cat in the carrier and reduce stress for both of you.


Step 1:

Desensitize the cat to the carrier. Leave the carrier around the house and place it near your cat’s comfortable areas. You can remove the carrier’s top and make it comfortable by placing bedding and toys in it. Let the cat investigate the carrier on their own; eventually, they will become accustomed to the carrier being around.


Step 2:

Positive reinforcement with treats and food. Use highly desirable treats and food to feed them near the carrier. Gradually move the food closer and closer to the carrier and eventually feed them inside the carrier. In time, they will associate the carrier with their favorite treats.


Step 3:

Place the carrier top back on when the cat is not around. Continue feeding them in the carrier and offering valuable treats.


Step 4:

Replace the door back on the carrier. Let your cat eat in the carrier comfortably with the door propped open. Be careful not to let the door swing open and shut, as this may scare your cat. You can begin closing the door when they are eating and are comfortable. If they become distressed, open the door.


Step 5:

Once they are comfortable with the door closed, you can close it and pick up the carrier for a short time.


The key is to keep the carrier open and around at all times and to give treats while inside. Then, take each step slowly and gradually to get them used to it. This will ultimately make your lives easier for future travel or vet visits.


Kittens can be a lot of work at first, but they are definitely worth it! Be patient, and don’t hesitate to ask our team if you have any questions.


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