Kitten – Caring for your Kitten the First Year

Harmony Veterinary Center Recommendations

At Harmony Veterinary Center our team is here to help you create a lifetime of health and happiness with your new companion. You are about to embark on a journey of love and laughter that is like no other. This article will help you get started and we have others in our website library and resource pages. And of course please contact us if you have any questions.

Veterinary Visits and Wellness Exams

Veterinary visits are very important to start your new kitten off right. Bring your kitten for an appointment with us as soon as possible after you bring him or her 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 kitten’s age, breed, overall health, and disease risk.

During your appointment you will have time to ask our medical team any questions. A few common issues to get you thinking are litter box training, unwanted biting, clawing or scratching, and nutrition and training (yes cats can be trained). Our team will also spend time socializing your kitten to being in a veterinary clinic, making his or her experience more like a play date then an exam. Please bring a list of your questions, as well as any medical records and a stool sample to this first appointment.

Diagnostic Tests

Whether it a fecal exam, x-rays or blood tests, regular and consistent diagnostic testing throughout your cat’s life establishes a normal range, or baseline for your cat. Knowing the baseline trends for your cat 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 cat with valuable time to treat disease early when it is easier and less costly to manage. Our team with work with you and your cat to determine the appropriate testing to keep your cat happy and healthy throughout his or her life.

Vaccinations  

Vaccinations can go a long way to keeping your kitten healthy.  However, not every kitten needs every vaccine.  Our doctors can guide you in designing a vaccination schedule that is safe and protective for your kitten.  To learn more about vaccinations and how they work, read the Harmony Veterinary Center Vaccination Philosophy article in our website library and visit our resource page to find other informative links.

Nutrition

With so many pet foods on the market, all claiming to be the “best” for your kitten, how do you chose?  Here are a few guidelines to help you:

  • Cats are carnivores.  Cats are meat eaters.  Period.  Meat should be one of the top 3 ingredients in any food you choose.  While adding some grain or carbohydrates for fiber is ok, avoid foods with wheat, corn, or soy.
  • Canned food is better.  Dry diets are only about 10% water, whereas a mouse in the wild (or a canned food diet) is 70% water.  This extra water in cats can be vital to kidney health.  And contrary to popular belief, canned food does not CAUSE dental disease in cats. 
  • 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 cats.  Our domestic cats can become bored and overeat to “compensate” for lack of play or normal hunting behaviors.  We can help determine the right amount to feed your kitty to keep her slim and trim.
  • Treats.  Treats are a great way to bond with our pets.  Just remember that calories from treats can add up in a hurry.

Exercise

Along with nutrition, exercise is vital to keep your kitty healthy.  Regular interactive exercise gives an outlet for normal hunting behaviors, builds coordination, keeps the cat mentally stimulated, and burns off excess energy (a must when dealing with a kitten).

Take Care of Your Kitten’s Teeth

Regular oral health care can add years to your kitten’s life. Unfortunately, kittens don’t brush their teeth daily and 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.  Just as we need our teeth cleaned regularly, so do our cats.  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 kitty needs a professional cleaning and what type preventative home care may be best for your companion. 

Litter Boxes

Starting early will encourage a lifetime of good litter box habits.  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.

Scratching Posts and Trees

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 kitty to scratch.  Rewarding scratching with petting or treats (not too many) will reinforce good behavior.  If you are having trouble, call us for advice.

Declawing

This procedure, in a nutshell, is a no no.  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, so we do not perform declaws.  Please call us to discuss alternatives, or visit www.pawproject.org.

Spaying/Neutering

Spaying and neutering prevents unwanted 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.

Indoor vs Outdoor

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 (a fenced -in enclosure near a window that allows controlled access outdoors).  For ideas on how to keep your indoor kitty happy, please visit www.indoorpet.osu.edu/cats.

Pet Identification

Even if your kitty stays indoors, there is a chance that he can get out and find himself lost.  Microchips are a safe, permanent way to identify wandering cats and get them back home safely.  We recommend microchips for all pets[MSOffice2] .

First Aid

Should your kitty 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” article in our website library or look on our resource page for more information about emergency resources. 

Parasite Control

Even if their stools are normal, cats can harbor intestinal parasites, many of which can be passed to people (especially children).  Since these parasites in people can cause serious problems (such as blindness), we recommend all kittens have fecal exams to detect worms and parasites.  Please bring a fresh stool sample to your kitten’s first appointment.

Behavior

Kittens are adorable, but some can cross the line from cute to crazy.  We are here to help you through these times.  Please call with any questions, and visit our library and resource page for informative articles on common kitten issues.

A Word About Kitten-proofing Your Environment

Kittens are like small children.  They have no sense of what is inappropriate or dangerous and rely on you to gently guide and teach them.  To avoid intestinal foreign bodies, poisonings, and other mishaps, do the following:

  • Police the floor for small objects.  Common hazards include hair ties, rubber bands, ribbon, yarn, string, cords to blinds and drapes, small children’s toys, super balls, sugarless gum, socks, underwear, panty hose, and a host of other small objects.
  • Put the plants up.  Houseplants are just another source of fun as far as kittens are concerned, and many can be poisonous.  For a list of common poisonous plants, please visit www.petpoisonhelpline.com.
  • Get a cat proof trash can.
  • Protect your toilet paper. Some kittens find it fun to pull it off the roll. They quickly grow out of this stage, so simply closing the door or putting it out of sight for a short period will take away any temptations.
  • Get childproof plugs for electrical sockets.
  • Hide all electrical cords out of the kitten’s reach.
  • Store all antifreeze, cleaners, and other chemicals in a locked cabinet out of the kitten’s reach.
  • If your cat goes outdoors, police the back yard and surrounding neighborhood.  Make sure fences and gates are secure and your cat has quick access back to inside safety. Get acquainted with your neighbors and introduce you kitten to them so they can know this is your cat and not a stray.  Get familiar with hiding places and remember foxes, coyotes and raptors hunt day and night. Check for any toxic plants.  Pull out metal lawn edging or cover it with a plastic cap. 

Accidents and Illness

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
  • Hiding
  • Changes in appetite or water consumption
  • Changes in litter box habits
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Crying or aggressive behavior
  • Limping
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Loss of hair
  • Itching
  • Labored breathing
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Lack of grooming
  • Straining to urinate or defecate

If you notice these or other symptoms in your kitty, please call us to schedule an exam.

Travel

In our busy lives, it is often necessary for us to travel away from home.  If you decide to take your kitten with you, be sure to consider the following:

  • Does your cat travel well?  If not, consider leaving him at home with a sitter.
  • Will your cat have a place to stay once you are at your destination?  Many hotels don’t allow pets, so be sure to check first.  Make sure your cat is welcome if you are staying with friends.
  • Take food, toys, beds, and carriers that your cat is used to.
  • Your cat should be current on vaccinations, whether you are flying or driving. Always bring your Proof of Rabies vaccination, as well as our phone number, with you when you travel.
  • Consider calming treats to ease your kitten’s travel anxiety.
  • Cats flying on a commercial flight need a health certificate signed by a veterinarian within 10 days of travel. 
  • Certain areas of the country see diseases we don’t see in Colorado.  Be sure to call us if you are traveling out of state so we can advise you on appropriate vaccination, external parasite control, and other hazards.

Leaving your cat at home?  Pet sitters are a great option because your feline friend gets to stay in her own environment, which generally means less stress.  If you have to board her in a kennel, be sure to visit the kennel first.  Ask about exercise, staff to cat ratios, bringing personal belongings like beds and toys, what kind of play time they get, and what vaccinations are required to board your cat there. Please call if you have questions about boarding your pet at a kennel.

Pet Insurance or Medical Savings Plan

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 expense.

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: VPI, Pet’s Best Insurance, and Embrace. Coverage varies and it is always best to do your own research. Harmony Veterinary Center accepts all pet health insurance.

Author: Shelley Brown, DVM and Julia McPeek, M.A.

© 2013 Harmony Veterinary Center, LLC