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The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Kitten

Setting Your Kitten Up for Success

Adding a new kitten to your household is exciting. You can look forward to kitten snuggles, playful antics, and watching your new feline friend bounce across the floor. Along with the fun parts, you can also expect a few accidents, mishaps, and frantic veterinary calls, but with your guidance, your tiny fur ball can grow into a loyal companion. Kittens will be kittens, but you can take steps to set your new best friend up for success, and ensure a lifetime of happiness. 

Integrating a new kitten into your household

Whether your new kitten only recently left their mother’s side, or was rescued from a shelter, coming to your home is a new and daunting experience. Your kitten may need time to discover that your home is a wonderful place, and let their true personality shine. Be patient as your kitten navigates this transition, and support them as they grow in confidence. 

Cats have all personality types—some will be eager to meet new people and animals, and others will hide under the bed when they encounter strangers. Watch your kitten’s body language, and let them approach people and other pets at their own pace. That being said, exposing your new kitten to as many different people, animals, sights, and sounds as possible during the critical socialization period—3 weeks to 3 months of age—is vital. Cats are known for being reclusive, and proper socialization can help them become more confident and social. Ensure you make each introduction a positive experience so your kitten associates positive feelings with new situations. For example, while you restrain your kitten, or run the vacuum cleaner, feed high-value treats to help them form positive associations with these situations that can often cause anxiety. 

A new kitten will likely be curious about your pets, but your other cats may not immediately take to a newcomer. To introduce your new kitten to your existing feline companion, allow them to meet on opposite sides of a closed door with a gap underneath, if possible. This way, the cats can smell one another, and extend a paw under the door. Once each cat seems comfortable, you can crack the door, and allow them to interact with supervision. 

 

When introducing your new kitten to your dog, leash your dog, and allow the kitten to approach as they feel comfortable. If your dog is too boisterous, acts aggressively, or chases the kitten, you will need to supervise all interactions, and separate them when you are not around. Provide your kitten with plenty of hiding spaces where they can escape when they do not wish to interact with your other pets or family members.

Feeding your kitten

With so many options, choosing a diet for your kitten can be overwhelming. Ensure the food you choose is appropriate for a growing kitten, and is not meant for an adult cat. Obesity is a common problem among adult cats, and establishing healthy eating habits when your kitten is young is important to prevent obesity down the road. Many pet food companies overestimate the amount you should feed your pet, so ask a veterinarian to help you determine an appropriate daily calorie allotment for your kitten as they grow. Cats are grazers, and prefer to eat many small meals throughout the day and night, but you should divide your kitten’s daily calorie allotment into meals, instead of filling their bowl only once a day. This way, they won’t eat all their food by noon and beg for more. For example, if you plan to feed your kitten three times per day, divide their total daily calorie allotment by three, and use the calories per cup on the food label to calculate how many cups of food to give your pet. At meal time, measure your cat’s food with a measuring cup to ensure they receive the proper amount. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water for your kitten at all times.

Litter box training your kitten

Training a kitten to eliminate in the proper location is much easier than house training a new puppy. Show your kitten where their litter boxes are located, and place them inside so they can feel the litter under their feet. Cats prefer to bury their urine and feces, and will understand this is where they should eliminate. If your cat does not take to their litter box quickly, you can use a product such as Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Litter Attractant, which contains a pet-safe herbal mixture that encourages cats to use the litter box. 

 

Inappropriate elimination is the most common reason pet owners abandon their cats, so ensuring your kitten has good litter box habits is essential. To encourage your cat to always use their litter box, follow these tips:

  • Provide one litter box for each cat in your household, plus one extra.
  • Place litter boxes in different locations and on different levels of your home.
  • Choose quiet, private locations—for example, do not place litter boxes near loud appliances, such as the washing machine.
  • Choose a sand-based, unscented litter.
  • Do not change litter types, as cats are often picky about their litter.
  • Do not use harsh, scented chemicals to clean your cat’s litter box.
  • Scoop your cat’s litter at least once each day.
  • Once a week, completely dump the old litter, clean the box, and fill it with fresh litter.
  • Minimize stress in your cat’s life, as anxiety is a leading cause of chronic bladder inflammation and inappropriate elimination in cats. 

 

Clean up any accidents quickly with an enzyme-based cleaner that will completely eliminate the odor, so your kitten will not be tempted to use the same spot again. Accidents are expected when training a new pet, and you should never punish your kitten for having an accident.

Providing activity for your kitten

You likely won’t take your new kitten outside for play sessions and daily walks as you would a puppy, but kittens have a lot of energy, and require frequent play and activity. Although they are domesticated, cats retain an instinctual desire to hunt, stalk, and pounce, and encouraging your cat’s inner lion is important to keep them fit and trim, and prevent obesity as an adult. Without mental stimulation, your indoor cat will become bored and stressed, which can lead to behavior and medical problems. Activities that will keep your kitten busy include:

  • Chasing a feather toy or robotic mouse
  • Perching at the window to watch birds and other wildlife
  • Climbing a cat tree
  • Surveying household activity from a high vantage point
  • Solving food puzzles that require them to “work” for their food
  • Finding treats or food pieces hidden throughout your house
  • Playing with another pet

Keeping your kitten safe and healthy

Regular veterinary care is critical to keep your new kitten healthy throughout their lifetime. Infectious diseases, parasites, and health problems are common in kittens, and regular veterinary care is the best way to ensure as many years as possible with your new best friend. Start a health care routine now to help keep your kitten up to date on vaccines, parasite prevention, and routine, potentially lifesaving, health screenings.

Regular veterinary visits for your kitten

Your new kitten should visit a veterinarian during their first week with your family. They will require several appointments to complete their kitten vaccines, be tested for common feline viral diseases, and receive other necessary health care. After your kitten completes their initial vaccines, and is spayed or neutered, they should visit the veterinarian at least once a year for booster vaccines, wellness care, and professional dental cleanings.

Vaccines for your kitten

Your kitten will need several vaccines to protect them against life-threatening infectious diseases. Kitten vaccines should begin at 6 weeks of age, and be repeated every three to four weeks, through 16 to 20 weeks of age. A veterinarian will base your kitten’s vaccines on their lifestyle and exposure risk to specific diseases, but all kittens will receive core vaccines. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association for Feline Practitioners (AAFP), all kittens should receive the following core vaccines:

  • Rabies — The rabies virus is spread mainly by wildlife, and transmitted via bite wounds. Rabies affects a pet’s nervous system and is always fatal, making vaccination critical. The disease can also be transmitted to people, and is typically fatal.
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) — Caused by a herpesvirus, FVR can cause lifelong infection in cats. The disease, which is spread by respiratory secretions, causes a respiratory infection that can become severe in young kittens, and lead to life-threatening pneumonia. Chronic infections can cause respiratory flare-ups and corneal ulcers, which can cause scarring and vision problems.
  • Calicivirus — Calicivirus also causes a respiratory infection, characterized by painful oral and nasal ulcers. Severely affected kittens often stop eating, and can develop pneumonia. The virus is shed in respiratory secretions, and spreads when sick cats cough and sneeze.
  • Panleukopenia — Panleukopenia is caused by a feline parvovirus similar to the virus that causes parvo in puppies. The feline parvovirus causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and white blood cell deficiencies in infected cats, and is often fatal. 
  • Feline leukemia — Feline leukemia is mainly spread via saliva, when cats groom one another, or share food bowls. The disease can cause lifelong infection, and can lead to blood cell deficiencies, gastrointestinal cancer, and immunodeficiency. 

 

Optional vaccines that may be administered, based on your kitten’s lifestyle and risk, include:

  • ChlamydiaChlamydia felis is a bacteria that causes an upper respiratory infection and ocular inflammation in kittens. Severe infections can cause a kitten’s eyes to swell and mat closed, and can lead to permanent ocular damage. Chlamydia felis is spread via respiratory and ocular secretions, and infection is common  among cats who come in contact with other cats, such as those who visit boarding or grooming facilities. 
  • BordetellaBordetella bronchiseptica, the bacteria that causes canine kennel cough, can also cause a respiratory infection in cats. Kittens who come in contact with other cats are most at risk for infection, and should be vaccinated.

Parasite prevention for your kitten

A number of internal and external parasites can threaten your kitten’s health, and require regular prevention and screening.

  • Fleas — Fleas ingest a small amount of a pet’s blood each time they bite, and can cause life-threatening anemia in small kittens. Regular flea prevention is important to prevent infestation of your kitten and home.
  • Ear mites — Ear mites are microscopic mites that can live inside a kitten’s ear canals, and cause intense itching and inflammation. 
  • Heartworms — Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, cause progressive lung inflammation that can become fatal. Unfortunately, safe treatment is unavailable for cats, and year-round preventive administration is critical to prevent this deadly parasite from invading your cat’s body.

Gastrointestinal parasites — Gastrointestinal parasites, including roundworms, tapeworms, and coccidia, are common in kittens, and can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases can lead to life-threatening dehydration in young kittens. All kittens should be dewormed to eliminate roundworms passed from their mother, and screened for other parasitic infections with routine fecal analysis.

Spaying or neutering your kitten

Cats should be spayed or neutered to prevent reproductive problems, such as mammary cancer, and behavior problems, such as urine spraying in males. The AAFP recommends that all cats be spayed or neutered by 5 months of age to prevent unwanted pregnancies, health problems, and behavior issues. Your family veterinarian can advise you regarding the appropriate age for spaying or neutering your kitten.

Microchipping your kitten

A microchip is a permanent identification device that can help reunite you and your cat, should they dart outside and become lost. The size of a rice grain, a microchip can be injected under your cat’s skin during a routine veterinary visit, without sedation. However, many pet owners opt to have their pet microchipped during their spay or neuter surgery to prevent the minimal discomfort caused by the injection. After the microchip is registered, its unique number will be linked to your contact information. Should a Good Samaritan take your lost pet to an animal shelter or veterinary hospital, an employee can scan the microchip and you can be contacted.

Dental care for your kitten

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dental disease is the most common pet medical problem, and without regular dental care, most pets will develop dental disease by 3 years of age. Regular dental care consists of daily toothbrushing combined with regular dental exams and professional veterinary cleanings. If started early, kittens usually accept toothbrushing—a veterinary professional can demonstrate how to correctly brush your pet’s teeth, if you need help. Most pets require annual dental exams and cleanings, although some may need more frequent care.

Common kitten health concerns

Kittens can develop many health problems, and young kittens with immature immune systems are at high risk of developing disease. Common health concerns of kittens include:

  • Infectious diseases — Infectious diseases, such as panleukopenia and feline leukemia, most commonly affect unvaccinated kittens, and can be life-threatening. Vaccines should begin at 6 weeks of age, and boostered according to the schedule your veterinarian prescribes, to adequately protect your kitten from dangerous infectious diseases. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) are also common infectious feline diseases, but effective vaccines are not available. Protecting your cat from these life-threatening diseases involves keeping them inside your home, and preventing contact with other cats. 
  • Parasites — Fleas, heartworms, and gastrointestinal (GI) parasites can cause significant disease in your kitten, making regular prevention a necessity.
  • Foreign body ingestion — Kittens investigate their surroundings with their mouths, and often ingest non-food items that can cause problems. GI foreign bodies can cause toxicity, become lodged in the stomach or intestines, or wear a hole in the GI tract wall, and can become life-threatening. Kittens particularly like to eat string-like objects, which the intestines can bunch around, causing an obstruction. Emergency surgery is often required to remove foreign bodies, and extensive hospitalization may be necessary for recovery. Kitten-proof your home by picking up small toys and string, and keep a close eye on your kitten to ensure they don’t eat something they shouldn’t.

Toxin ingestion — Kittens often ingest toxic substances, such as plants, that can cause significant illness. Lilies, in particular, can cause deadly toxicity in cats who ingest only a small amount of pollen or plant material. Become familiar with common pet toxins, and keep them out of your cat’s reach to prevent an emergency.

Common kitten behavior problems

A scratched sofa or occasional housetraining accident are normal parts of kittenhood, but true behavior problems can lead to lifelong issues. Common behavior problems to watch for include:

  • Aggression — If your kitten regularly hisses, scratches, or bites your family members, speak to a veterinarian about possible behavior or medical issues that may be causing their aggressive behavior.

Urinating outside the litter box — Inappropriate elimination is the most common reason cats are abandoned or taken to shelters. Most cases are related to stress and boredom, and cats often improve with environmental enrichment and regular mental stimulation.

 

We hope your first days, weeks, and months with your kitten are packed full of fun and adventure, as you learn and grow together. However, mishaps are common, and kittens often need frequent veterinary care. If your kitten is sick, or you have further questions about life with your kitten, download the Airvet app, and you can speak with one of our experienced veterinarians in minutes.

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