Puppy and Kitten Health
Your brand new fur baby is coming home for the first time! You’ve got the toys, crate, and treats all ready. In addition to getting a puppy or kitten acclimated to their new home, it’s important to understand their health and how you can help them live the happiest and healthiest life with you. Puppies and kittens need more medical care than older pets, as their bodily systems are especially vulnerable to illness. It’s also best to spay or neuter your furry friend in their early months to reduce numerous health risks, such as cancer. At Harmony Veterinary Center, we are here to help you create a wonderful life with your puppy or kitten. This article will contain the basics for doing so, and check out the websites linked throughout the text for more specific information. Contact us for any questions or to schedule an appointment for your dog or cat.
Veterinary Visits and Exams
Veterinary visits are very important to start your puppy or kitten off right. Bring your pet for an appointment as soon as possible after you bring them home. Our veterinarians will examine your new family member thoroughly for signs of illness or congenital diseases. We will also design a personalized health care plan based on your pet’s age, breed, overall health, and disease risk.
During your appointment you will have time to ask our medical team any questions. Remember that no question is a bad question: we are here to help you! Our team will also spend time socializing your puppy or kitten to being in a veterinary clinic, making their experience more like a play date than an exam. Please bring a list of your questions, as well as any medical records and a stool sample to this first appointment.
Whether it is a fecal exam, x-rays or blood tests, regular and consistent diagnostic testing throughout your cat or dog’s life establishes a normal range, or baseline for your furry friend. Knowing the baseline trends for your pet allows you to make informed decisions that keep your best friend active and healthy for years to come. Consistent diagnostic testing can also detect abnormalities before outward signs of illness can be observed, providing you and your pet with valuable time to treat disease early when it is easier and less costly to manage. Our team will work with you and your cat or dog to determine the appropriate testing to keep them happy and healthy throughout their life.
Vaccinations can go a long way to keeping your puppy or kitten healthy. However, not every animal needs every vaccine. Our doctors can guide you in designing a vaccination schedule that is safe and protective for your puppy or kitten. Most often, we will vaccinate a puppy or kitten as soon as 8-10 weeks with a rabies vaccine and combination vaccine that fights numerous common illnesses: DHPP for puppies and FVRCP for kittens. Then, they will receive follow-up vaccines every 2-4 weeks until 20 weeks of age. Then, your furry friend will get their booster each year, typically during annual wellness exams. To learn more about our vaccination process, click here, ask our staff for our vaccination flowchart handouts, or schedule an appointment to create a plan specific to your furry friend.
With so many pet foods on the market, all claiming to be the “best” for your puppy or kitten, how do you choose? Here are a few guidelines to help you:
- Dogs: Make sure to choose a puppy-specific food. These contain more nutrients to help them grow into adults, which regular dog foods lack.
- Cats: Cats are carnivores. Meat should be one of the top 3 ingredients in any food you choose.
- Look for food that has been certified by AAFCO, an independent organization that oversees the pet food industry. Brands that employ Veterinary Nutrition Specialists (DACVN) also will be based on new research on pet health.
- Avoid filler ingredients. While adding some grain or carbohydrates for fiber is okay in pet foods, avoid foods with high amounts of wheat, corn, or soy. These ingredients should be avoided for cats altogether. If lots of carbohydrates are found in a pet food, it is more likely to lack the nutrients that your puppy or kitten needs.
- Though expensive, canned food is better to include. Extra water in semi-moist foods can be vital to kidney health. This is more suitable for meal feeding rather than free-choice feeding, as canned feed can dry out and spoil. Make sure to carefully choose canned food based on nutritional qualities.
- Avoid chemicals. Not all chemicals are bad, but in general avoid foods with things you can’t begin to pronounce. This includes ethoxyquin, a preservative that is a known carcinogen.
- Measure the amount of food you feed. Obesity is rapidly approaching epidemic levels in our dogs and cats. We can help determine the right amount and make adjustments based on your puppy or kitten’s weight.
- Treats are a great way to bond with our pets. Just remember that calories from treats can add up quickly, so consider how many treats have been given when determining how much to feed your pet at meals.
Along with nutrition, exercise is vital to keep your furry friend healthy. Regular interactive exercise improves musculoskeletal growth, coordination, cardiovascular health, and weight control. But the mental health benefits of exercise for both you and your pet can be even more important. Play sessions, walks, and other activities allow your pet to explore new environments, learn new skills, give an outlet for natural hunting behaviors, and burn off excess energy. This is a must for dealing with a puppy or kitten and will make them easier to train.
Regular oral health care can add years to your pet’s life. Just as we need our teeth cleaned regularly, so do our pets. Unfortunately, animals don’t brush their teeth daily, and many humans don’t do it for them. Even with the best preventative home care, bacteria can accumulate at the gumline, ultimately hardening into tartar. Brushing, oral rinses, and tartar control treats can help slow this process. Lack of dental care can lead to painful neck lesions (holes in the teeth at the gumline) or abscessed teeth. Severe dental disease can erode the gum tissue, allowing bacteria into the bloodstream where they can affect the heart, kidneys, joints and other organs. Our veterinarians can help you determine when your pet needs a professional cleaning and what type of preventative home care may be best for your companion.
When brushing your pet’s teeth, be sure to use pet-specific toothpaste and oral products. Human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and is toxic for your furry friend!
Litter Boxes for Kittens
Starting early will encourage a lifetime of good litter box habits for your kitten. Follow these do’s and don’ts.
- Do clean the box regularly. Scoop daily and change the entire box frequently.
- Don’t use scented litters.
- Do place the litter box in a place that is accessible yet quiet. Cats like a little privacy.
- Do have 1 more box than the number of cats you have.
- Do offer a variety of litters at first to see what your cat prefers.
- Don’t change litters. Once you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it. Otherwise, cats can voice their preference by NOT using the box.
Puppies and kittens require a lot of work to integrate into a human household. Especially for puppies, their natural behaviors tell them to chew, destroy, bite or wrestle with their human “pack”, bark, steal food, and soil the carpet. It is up to us to show them the “rules” for living in our environment vs. a traditional dog pack or cat colony structure. Consistent, appropriate training is the best way to accomplish this. Puppy kindergarten classes can help socialize your puppy and get you off on the right foot. Our staff are happy to help you address simple training issues, and to refer you to a qualified dog trainer for more in-depth problems. Learn more about training your dog in a way that works for you in our blog.
Did you know that cats can be trained, too? Most feline owners aren’t aware of this, especially when so many cats seem to live in their own world. However, it can be very useful to start training with your kitten to help them improve self-control, adapt to new environments, and tolerate new experiences such as a car ride or veterinarian visit. Learn about crate training here, or check out our educational articles to practice new skills with your kitten.
Claws and Nails
Cats: Cats have claws. To keep their claws healthy, they need to sharpen them periodically. Providing a variety of approved scratching surfaces will help them choose wisely. Most cats prefer a taller surface, such as a carpeted “tree”, so they can stretch full length while scratching. Some prefer a cardboard-type flat surface that is laid out on the floor. Adding catnip to the approved areas will encourage a cat to scratch. Rewarding scratching with petting or a small amount of treats will reinforce good behavior. If you are having trouble, ask us about scratching at your next appointment.
Both dogs and cats have very sharp nails, and regular trimming the ends will make your puppy or kitten more comfortable, and help avoid scratching up furniture. It is important to use nail trimmers made for pets, especially as they get older. While holding your puppy or kitten in a relaxed mood, cut only 1 mm of the nail at a time, until your pet begins to get sensitive. For clear and white nails, look for the pink of the “quick” and make sure to stay safely away from this area. Some dogs have black nails, and it is likely to get a little too close on at least one nail before you learn where to stop trimming. When cutting nails, be sure to use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers can crush the nail and cause pain, even if you are not at the quick. Our Veterinary Nurses are very good at nail trims and can give you pointers on how to trim nails efficiently and painlessly.
If nail trims are not feasible, be sure to bring your furry friend into the veterinarian for a quick trim, or ask your groomer if they offer this service. Though uncomfortable at first, both dogs and cats can be trained to enjoy the nail trim process, especially when you start at a young age. Be sure to stay relaxed while trimming your pet’s nails, making the experience more like a salon than a chore. Schedule an appointment with us to learn more about nail trimming and how you can complete this process more efficiently.
Declawing a cat involves the amputation of each fingertip at the first knuckle. It is painful, with the pain lasting from weeks to years. At Harmony Veterinary Center, we believe in working with cats and their owners to solve behavior issues, and find alternatives to declawing. Please call us to discuss those alternatives, or visit www.pawproject.org.
Spaying and Neutering
Spaying and neutering prevents unwanted litters of more puppies and kittens, as well as multiple health problems like uterine and testicular tumors. We recommend spaying or neutering around 6 to 7 months of age to avoid the development of unwanted behaviors like urine spraying and aggression. Each pet is different, so discuss the best time for this procedure with your veterinarian.
Dogs: Many dog owners, and some cat owners as well, buy collars and name tags to help others identify their furry friend in case of wandering off. This should include their name, your name, and phone number. Some pet owners include an address as well. However, puppies are prone to distraction, and can wander far away from home.
Cats: Indoor cats live longer. They avoid being hit by cars, attacked by wildlife, ingesting antifreeze, and the many other mishaps that outdoor cats get into. If your kitty must go outdoors, consider supervised excursions (preferably on a leash/harness) or a “cabitat” or “catio” (a fenced-in enclosure near a window or door that allows controlled access outdoors).
Regardless of the furry friend you have, there is a chance that they can get out and find themself lost. Microchips are a safe, permanent way to identify wandering cats and get them back home safely. It is only the size of a grain of rice, and is injected under a pet’s skin as a permanent form of ID. If the animal is found and taken to a vet or shelter, the chip can be scanned to find the owner’s information and get them home in the same day. We recommend microchips for all pets.
Parasites and Worms
Even if their stools are normal, dogs and cats can harbor intestinal parasites, some of which can be passed to people (especially children). Since these parasites in people can cause serious problems (such as blindness), we recommend all puppies and kittens have fecal exams to detect worms and parasites. Please bring a fresh stool sample to your pet’s first appointment.
Dogs: Dogs can also get canine heartworm infections. We will discuss your puppy’s risk and heartworm prevention at your first visit.
Cats: Kittens can easily become infected with worms, or intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian may administer a broad-spectrum dewormer that is safe and effective against several species of intestinal worms.
Should your pet get sick or injured, a little first aid may be required until you can get him or her to the vet. Check out the Pet First Aid articles in our website library or look on our resource page for more information about emergency resources. All pet owners should know how to slow bleeding by applying direct pressure over the wound, ease burns and scalds with cool water, and keep your furry friend calm until more assistance is available.
Puppies and kittens can get sick or injured, even with the best of care from their human companions. Signs of illness include:
- Changes in behavior or routine
- Increased or decreased affection
- Lethargy or sleeping a lot
- Changes in appetite or water consumption
- Changes in urinary or excretory habits
- Loss of housetraining
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Crying, anxiety, or aggressive behavior
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of hair or bald spots
- Labored breathing
- Discharge from the eyes or nose
- Excess drooling
- Inability to keep up on walks or not wanting to play for dogs and puppies
- Lack of grooming for cats and kittens
- Licking obsessively at one spot
If you notice these or other symptoms in your pet, please schedule an exam with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Recently, it’s become more and more popular to bring along adorable pets on vacation — after all, they need a break too! Having your dog or cat may add to the enjoyment of your trip, but it is important to keep their safety in mind. Familiarize yourself with pet travel requirements in your current location and final destination so that you can avoid a last minute crisis. Read more about our travel trips here. If you have travel questions specific to your pet, call us.
Pet Insurance or Medical Savings Plans
We never know when an unexpected accident or illness may occur. Approximately one in every three dogs and cats visit a veterinary hospital each year due to an illness or accident. Pet insurance combined with a medical savings fund for your pet can help you offset many unexpected expenses.
Pet insurance is primarily designed to cover emergency situations, and some plans are now covering more routine care. Medical savings funds are something you set aside each month in a savings account specifically for your pet’s health care. The hardest choice you will ever make will be to proceed with a lifesaving procedure or not because of financial constraints. Taking the financial responsibility to have health insurance, a savings plan, or both for your pet will give you peace of mind if your pet has an emergency or illness.
Insurance companies our clients recommend include Pet’s Best Insurance, Embrace and ASPCA. Coverage varies and it is always best to do your own research. Pawlicy.com is a website that helps pet owners compare multiple insurance plans in one place. Something to note is that with pet insurance, the owner pays for services when they are performed and then submits a claim to the insurance company for reimbursement.
For further questions, talk to your local veterinarian or schedule an appointment with us at Harmony Veterinary Center. We are happy to help answer any questions or concerns you may have about your puppy or kitten.