Having a kitten as a pet can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it is your responsibility to ensure the kitten remains healthy and has a happy life. Obtaining a kitten from a caring rescue organisation or a well-known experienced breeder is a good start. However, homebred kittens can also be very well socialised.
We hope you will find these notes helpful and informative. If, however, you have any questions concerning any subject related to your kitten’s health, please do not hesitate to speak to either a vet or nurse at Hall Place Veterinary Centre.
At the start of their lives all animals have a uniquely sensitive developmental period. During this time they encounter the world for the first time and learn to accept what is normal.
In kittens the sensitive period is between 2 and 7 weeks. Anything a kitten experiences during this time will become part of its natural order of things. After that age, unfamiliar objects and experiences can provoke a fearful response.
It is very important that the breeder introduces the kittens to lots of good experiences and noises as early as possible. Learning to interact normally with adults, children and other animals and accepting normal household noises (habituation) is essential.
Most people obtain their kitten between 7 and 9 weeks of age. This means that the sensitive developmental period has already occurred, it is therefore important that you obtain your kitten from an appropriate responsible breeder.
It is always a good idea to ask the breeder or previous owner what food the kitten is used to. Moving into a new home, with new people can be a daunting and stressful experience for a young cat and by keeping a few simple things constant will help make the transition easier. Kittens aged 8-12 weeks need 4 meals daily, at 3-6 months need 3 meals and over 6 months need 2 meals daily.
There are a number of foods available:
Kitten food should be given until 9-12 months and is specially formulated for a growing young cat.
Adult food provides energy and nutritional support for an active, average weight cat in peak condition.
Senior diets are complete, balanced and highly palatable for the older cat to help maintain healthy body mass.
Cats should not be given milk, as a significant proportion of felines are Lactulose intolerant which can cause diarrhoea.
Wet foods are perfectly acceptable as long as they are a complete diet. Dry foods have a number of advantages over pouched/canned foods. They are a complete food and can be left available throughout the day and do not become smelly or deteriorate. As cats are natural adlib feeders they prefer having food available all the time. Some owners prefer to keep specific feeding times for their pets, this sets a routine: the cat gets used to feeding times and the owner can monitor the cat’s health and how much food is eaten.
Crunchy biscuits increase the production of saliva in the mouth, this in turn reduces the build up of plaque and because they are hard they also help to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
If dry food is your choice always remember that fresh, clean water should always be available.
Cats unlike dogs take to toilet training very easily. They are clean animals and prefer to bury their toilet either in soil in the garden or in a litter tray.
The litter tray should be positioned away from the kitten’s feeding area and where possible it should be cleaned immediately after use. To encourage its use the kitten should be placed in the tray after meals. If it is reluctant to use the tray it could become:
a) not clean enough – empty it more often
b) not big enough – they should be able to turn around freely
c) cleaned out with a chemical that is too strong smelling
d) too near the feed or water bowls
e) the kitten does not like the texture of litter you have chosen – change it.
When the time comes to allow your kitten outside, gradually move the tray nearer to the door, which he/she will eventually be using. Finally move the tray outside and take the tray away completely.
Before your kitten comes to live with you, decide what place he/she is going to have in your household. Lay down some ground rules and stick to them.
It’s up to you to decide how your kitten behaves in the house, but once you have made a rule, stick to it otherwise you will confuse it.
Most kittens will choose a secluded area to sleep: an area offering minimal disturbance and plenty of warmth. As your cat will probably be sleeping here for the next 15 – 20 years it is worth taking time to consider which areas you find acceptable.
Baskets/boxes are suitable or anything that your kitten finds comfortable and secure. Fleecy, washable bedding is advisable, even an old jumper would do!
Kittens love to play: this stimulates their natural hunting instincts. A ping-pong ball or a piece of string can provide hours of entertainment. Initially playtime should be supervised, as well as keeping the kitten safe this increases human contact.
Remember it is not a good idea to offer your hands or feet as play items, this may seem fun initially, however in six months’ time a kitten hanging from your fingers or toes will not be so much fun!
Cats like to scratch to keep their claws sharp and in good condition. It is a good idea to invest in a scratching post, which may stop your furniture and carpets being used. Some posts are now available with toys attached which may make them more attractive to your kitten.
It is a good idea to get your kitten used to being handled. Getting them used to having their mouth opened and their feet played with and associating this with fun, will make it much easier when your kitten needs to be medicated or examined by your vet/nurse.
Vaccination is recommended to protect your kitten/cat from a number of unpleasant and sometimes fatal diseases.
Kittens require a primary vaccination course of two injections: the first at 9 weeks old and the second at 12 weeks old. An annual booster is necessary thereafter keeping the cat’s immune system working against the following disease:
Feline enteritis (Panleucopaenia)
Feline Calici virus and herpes
Our clients receive a vaccination reminder each year. At the time of vaccination your cat will receive a full health check and this will give you the opportunity to discuss any concerns/worries that you may have regarding your pet.
Thankfully we now no longer see the large numbers of cats suffering from or even dying from these diseases that we used to. This is largely because of the very effective vaccines we use. However, these diseases still exist and cases are reported in the UK frequently, so it is important to avoid complacency and to keep our animals immune to avoid any outbreak or epidemic.
It is worth noting that most catteries require a full vaccination history before boarding your cat.
Kittens can become infected with parasites before they are born or later through their mother’s milk. Modern deworming preparations are safe and effective and we recommend their use in kittens at two-week intervals, from weaning until 12 weeks, then monthly until 6 months, then every 3 – 6 months depending on the environment of the animals. It is important that the medication is repeated since it is usually only the adult worms that are killed. Within 3 – 4 weeks, the larval stages will have matured and will need to be treated.
Round Worms pose a small, but definite risk to immunologically susceptible children; therefore it is good practice to regularly administer deworming preparations to your cat throughout its life. Today combined preparations, eradicating both roundworms and tapeworms as well as other pathogenic worms are available which can be administered as tablets, liquids, or granules which can be mixed in the food.
Kittens become infected with tapeworms when they swallow fleas, which carry tapeworm eggs. When the puppy chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, the flea may be swallowed. The flea is digested within the kitten’s intestine; the tapeworm hatches and then anchors itself to the intestinal lining. Therefore, exposure to fleas may result in a new infection; this can occur in as little as two weeks.
Kittens infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their faeces. The segments are white in colour and look like grains of rice. They are about 3 mm (1/8 in) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the faeces. They may also stick to the hair under the tail. If that occurs, they will dry out, shrink to about half their size, and become golden in colour.
We recommend that all adult cats be wormed at least twice a year and more frequently if in contact with children.
A good flea prevention regime will also help with worm control.
These are found in modern heated households, where they breed very quickly in the warm conditions. These fast-moving brown fleas can be seen by the naked eye and are intensely irritating, often causing an allergic skin reaction where bites have occurred.
Fleas can be passed back and forth between dogs and cats in a household and, although they won’t live on humans, they can give irritating bites! Signs include black specks that look like dirt in the fur and frequent rhythmic scratching.
Treatment: There are many effective preparations that can prevent your kitten from catching fleas and deal with them quickly if he/she does. It is very important to treat the home environment, too, and sprays are available. Wash bedding frequently to avoid reinfestation.
Ask your vet or nurse for advice about what you need.
These anchor themselves to the kitten’s skin using their mouths and suck blood, swelling to the size of a pea. In certain areas of the world, including the US and, rarely, southern England, ticks can pass on Lyme Disease.
Treatment: An insecticide such as that used for fleas should kill the tick and make it come away more easily. It’s very important not to leave the mouth parts embedded in the skin as this can cause localised infection.
For more information please ask a member of staff at Hall Place Veterinary Centre for advice and an information leaflet.
This depends on your preference, but we recommend sometime from one week after the primary vaccination to six months of age. The bond between yourself, your home and your kitten should be sufficiently established before this is allowed. Initially, accompany your kitten into the garden allowing it to get used to the new environment. When the cat is first let out unattended it is a good idea to starve it so that it really is hungry. It should be left out for only a short time and then called in to be fed. For the first two weeks it should be only let out once a day and be called in after no longer than 30 minutes and fed immediately.
Veterinary medicine has, in recent years, become increasingly sophisticated. We are able to diagnose and treat many conditions that a few years ago would have remained undetected with often fatal consequences, especially in the older pet. The down side of these advances is cost. It is not unheard of for treatment of a case to exceed £1,000.
Collars and tags
This is a quick and easy route to contacting you if your cat becomes lost. Collars should be introduced at an early age, as young kittens become accustomed to wearing collars easier than older cats. Collars should always have a quick release catch or an elastic safety strip; this enables your cat to free itself easily if it should become caught by its collar. It is worth bearing in mind that many clients report their pets missing and some cats do lose their collars which leaves them without any identification.
Your cat can now be permanently identified by placing a tiny microchip under the skin between the shoulder blades.
The chips are safe and completely harmless containing a unique number, which is held in a national register and can be read using a scanner. The number is registered in your name and thus absolutely identifies your pet as yours. All veterinary practices, animal rescues centres, police stations and catteries carry scanners to read the microchip.
If you intend having your cat neutered this is an ideal time to have it micro-chipped.
Should you wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail, please consult your veterinary surgeon.