Cat and Kitten Health

Housing
Roaming cats are prime candidates for fights with other animals, traffic accidents, and communicable diseases from other cats. Their life span can be expected to be considerably shorter as a result. Many cats are strictly indoor pets and are perfectly content, as long as they have access to a clean litter box and fresh water at all times. If your cat must go outside, make sure you know where it is at all times, that the kitten is old enough to manage on its own, that it is identified in some fashion (microchip ID or breakaway collar and tag), current on vaccinations, and not outdoors in extremely cold, hot, or inclement weather. If you don’t want your kitten in certain areas of the house, start training it immediately to avoid those areas. When choosing where your kitten will sleep, keep in mind that cats are nocturnal animals and will be active at night. Placing soft bedding materials in secluded corners will help your kitten to feel at home.

Litter training
A kitten will housebreak itself. Provide it with a clean litter box and make sure the kitten knows where it is located. Edges of boxes should not be too deep for a kitten to navigate and the box should be kept scrupulously clean. A good rule of thumb is that there should be one more litter boxes in the house than the number of cats residing there, and the boxes should be kept in different locations affording some privacy. Choice of litter (eg, clay, sand, recyclable paper) is up to the kitten owner, although some cats appear to have substrate preferences. Many veterinarians recommend staying away from litters with deodorant and baking soda additives as they can irritate your cat’s respiratory tract. If your kitten (or cat) isn’t using the litter box reliably, it could be because of dirty litter, illness, litter preference, or psychological stress.

Meals
Feed a new kitten a high quality diet designed for kittens. Your veterinarian is your best source for information regarding an appropriate diet for your kitten or adult cat. Dry foods are usually most economical and have the advantage of providing a rough surface that will help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on your kitten’s teeth, but canned foods can be fed/supplemented if desired. Amount fed will depend on the diet, as well as the age, size, and activity level of your kitten or cat. Using stainless steel bowls is recommended because plastic and ceramic bowls can scratch, leaving crevices for bacteria to hide. The latter types of bowls (and resultant resident bacteria) have been associated with feline “acne” and skin irritation.

Health examinations and vaccinations
Have your cat examined by a veterinarian to ensure that it has no major health problems. Your kitten will need a series of vaccinations for respiratory disease. Vaccinations are usually given at 3 week intervals from approximately 6 to 15 weeks of age. Blood testing for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus is recommended and the first of 2 feline leukemia vaccines can be given at approximately 12 weeks of age (booster is usually 3 weeks later). At 15-16 weeks old, the kitten can receive its rabies vaccination.. Kittens should be checked for intestinal parasites (2 stool samples 3 weeks apart), fleas, and ear mites and appropriate medications given for these problems. Your veterinarian may also recommend a preventative for heartworm disease, which is more commonly associated with dogs, but can also affect cats. These are general guidelines. Remember, your cat is an individual and need for specific vaccinations, timing of boosters, and risk factors for disease are best assessed by your veterinarian.

Grooming
Cats do a good job of grooming themselves, but regular brushing to prevent matting of hair is important. Cats rarely need a bath, but one can be given if necessary. Cats object to bathing in slippery tubs, so give your kitten something to cling to, such as a wood platform or a wire screen. Use a shampoo designed for cats and kittens, as some dog shampoos may be irritating. Place cotton balls in the kitten’s ears to keep out water and use an ophthalmic ointment (obtain one that is safe for kittens from your veterinarian) in its eyes to prevent burning from shampoo. Towel dry the kitten completely and gently comb out any mats. Kittens’ teeth should be carefully brushed on a regular basis. Your veterinarian can provide you with an appropriate toothbrush, dentifrice, and instruction on how to perform this task so that your kitten learns to accept this as part of its daily care.

Toys
Toys should be strong enough to withstand chewing, not have bells or squeakers that could be torn off and swallowed, and large enough so that the entire toy cannot be swallowed. String, thread, balls of yarn, and ribbons are deadly toys that can be swallowed and become lodged in the digestive tract; do not allow your kitten to play with these items.

Spaying/neutering
Please spay or neuter your kitten. Letting children see the miracle of birth is not a good reason to breed your pet. Spaying and neutering decrease incidence of some tumors and reproductive infections, both of which require more serious (and costly) surgical procedures. A male cat must be neutered if it will be a housepet because the strong urine odor of unneutered males will make your cat an unacceptable housemate. Discuss with your veterinarian the most appropriate time to spay or neuter your kitten.

Declawing
It is part of your kitten’s nature to sharpen its claws so you will need to provide it with a carpeted board or pole to use as a scratching post (unless you want the kitten to use your furniture). Many owners decide to declaw their cats because they believe it makes them more acceptable housepets (easier on the furniture and the kids). For indoor cats, many veterinarians recommend declawing only the front feet, so that if the cat does get outside it has some mechanism of defense. For cats that are outside on a regular basis, it may be possible (and better) to avoid declawing by keeping nails trimmed or using “nail caps.” Whether to declaw is an individual and personal decision that is best discussed with your veterinarian.