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Kitten Care, Vaccinations, Feeding and Development - Veterinary Advice

Welcoming a new kitten into your family and home can be both an exciting and stressful experience. As a new kitten owner, there is plenty to navigate — from proper nutrition and adequate exercise to learning their personality and correcting destructive behaviors. Since this stage comes with many questions, you might have turned to the internet for insight. At Clark Road Animal Clinic, we work extremely hard to bring you accurate information you can trust. That’s why we’ve taken the FAQs about kitten care and answered them as thoroughly and accurately as possible to ensure you have the facts.

If you’re looking for a highly trained veterinarian in Sarasota, FL, we’d love to see your new kitten to ensure they’re on the right path, so please call us at (941) 922-5007.

What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

There are many important things to know about raising a kitten, the greatest being understanding what it means to be a cat. While many pet owners understand how a dog fits into a family, there are many misconceptions about what's typical for cat behavior, including what they enjoy for interaction and activities, and how to keep them healthy and mentally stimulated.

The most important things to know about raising a kitten are:

  • They need plenty of physical activity and exercise.
  • They require proper nutrition and good preventative care.
  • Just like dogs, they need vaccinations and preventatives.
  • They require work as a kitten but learn to become self-sufficient fairly quickly.
  • It’s critical to find out what they prefer in their litter box.
  • They’ll usually want to be playful with other pets in the home.

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

Everyone has different ways they like to interact. Some people love to hug, while others don’t. Cats are the same way. Some cats are very affectionate and love to be picked up and cuddled, while others prefer sitting five feet apart on the couch. You’ll need to learn about your cat and how they like to be handled and work with them to interact in ways you prefer.

In terms of picking up your cat, once you know they like to cuddle, or because you need to protect them in a particular situation, it’s essential to make sure they feel well-supported. Place a hand under their chest and a hand under their back legs, so they don't feel like they're falling.

Up to about four months of age, you can technically pick them up from the back of their scruff, just above the shoulder blades, although we’d probably recommend leaving that to their mom. Don’t ever pick them up by one leg, two legs, or dangle them. You always want to have a solid hold on their chest or abdomen. You should also avoid picking them up under their armpits.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

You can tell if your kitten is happy and healthy simply by observing them. The more time you’re around your kitten, the better you’ll get to know them. You’ll notice their quirks and habits and what they like and dislike. Any changes in their usual demeanor or behavior could indicate that something is going on and warrants a visit to your veterinarian. 

Signs of an unhealthy kitten include:

  • Not eating or drinking adequately 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal interactions
  • Decreased activity
  • Not using the litter box

How should I feed my kitten?

Young kittens can enjoy free-choice feeding, meaning there's food available for them at all times. However, because adult cats don’t do as well with free-choice feeding, it’s best to establish a feeding routine early on. Consider feeding them a small amount of canned food in the morning and a small portion of dry food in the evening.

Also, you can provide mental stimulation for your kitten by making them work for some of their food. Puzzle feeders or hunter feeder toys are great tools, requiring your cat to search around the house to find their food or work through a puzzle or contraption to get to their food. These exercises go a long way in terms of enrichment and make the meal more satisfying for them.

Be sure to only feed your kitten food that is formulated especially for kittens. Talk to your veterinarian about their recommendations, and continue with kitten food until one year old. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine offers insight into the various types of cat food.

 What are some products I might need for my kitten?

The products you need will depend on your cat, your lifestyle, and how much you want to spoil them! You can go the simple route and ensure they have a water bowl, food bowl, litter box, and a couple of toys. Or, you can go all-out and get them a giant cat wheel, which is somewhat like what a hamster uses for exercise. You can also get creative with cat furniture, wall mountings, scratching posts, cat towers, laser pointers, and other things that will give your cats something to do and keep them active. It all comes down to what makes sense for your living environment. Of all the previously mentioned, we recommend a scratching post (both horizontal and vertical) to save your furniture, sofa, and curtains.

How soon should I bring my new kitten to see a veterinarian?

Your new kitten should see a veterinarian as soon as possible. At Clark Road Animal Clinic, we always want to see any new pet within the first few days of them joining your family to ensure they're healthy. Your veterinarian will look for any underlying health conditions, evidence of parasites, fleas, and any birth defects like a heart murmur, hernia, or other issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

How can I get the most out of my first veterinarian visit with my new kitten?

Before your veterinarian visit, be observant of your kitten. Watch how they sleep, eat and play, and pay attention to what's going on in their litter box. Was it a normal stool? How often do they go to the litter box? How often do they drink water? Those details will be crucial to your veterinarian.

Arrive as prepared as possible and write down your questions beforehand so you don’t forget anything. Be sure to share exactly what you're feeding your kitten and what type of litter you’re using, including the brand, texture, and fragrances. Even though these may seem like small details, certain types of products can contribute negatively to some medical and behavioral issues. You’ll also want to bring any known medical history, including previous veterinary records and administered vaccines.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten care visit?

Your veterinarian will do a complete nose-to-tail exam, looking at every body system and getting a good overall picture of their health. They will listen to your kitten’s heart and lungs, ensuring there is no murmur, arrhythmia, elevated heart rate, or slow heart rate. Your veterinarian will also weigh them to monitor weight gain with each visit.

They’ll use a flea comb to check for fleas and look for any visible parasites. Parasites can also be internal, so your veterinary team will conduct a fecal test. Your veterinarian will ensure that your kitten wasn’t born with any oral abnormalities and that there are no umbilical hernias or congenital neurologic issues.

Your veterinarian will spend a lot of time talking to you so they can understand your home environment and what you expect in terms of your relationships with your cat. Is your cat going to be on the couch most of the time? Are you planning to train your cat? Do you want to walk your cat on a leash? Will you allow your cat to go outside? While we know that this is ultimately your decision, most vets will urge you to keep your cat indoors to keep them safe. Your veterinarian wants to do whatever they can to provide you with the tools you need to have a successful relationship with your cat.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in my kitten?

Take note of any significant changes in your kitten, such as sleeping the day away when they’re typically quite active. Your veterinarian would prefer a phone call every day with questions about your cat’s health versus delaying and allowing a medical issue to worsen. 

Early signs of a health issue in a kitten may include:

  • Change in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Litter box issues (not using it appropriately)
  • Runny eyes and/or nose
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge
  • Ear scratching
  • Shaking their head
  • Limping
  • Dull hair coat
  • Lack of weight gain
  • Pale gums

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

As previously mentioned, veterinarians recommend you bring your concerns directly to them. Veterinarians and their assistants are trained to ask the right questions to understand the problem and use that information along with clinical signs and diagnostics to develop the correct diagnosis and treatment plan. Self-diagnosing can also delay critical treatment if misdiagnosed at home, possibly leading to a larger issue and a more intensive treatment plan. 

When should my kitten get vaccinations?

Kitten vaccines can begin dewormer at 6 weeks old. Vaccines should begin at 8 weeks of age, then again at 12 weeks, then 16 weeks. In most cases, your veterinarian will see your new kitten between 8-10 weeks old, so they will administer a distemper shot on that first visit. They may also consider starting the feline leukemia series at that point. Vaccines are then boosted every 3-4 weeks until about 14-16 weeks to ensure good immunity. You’ll need to visit your veterinarian at least twice during that initial period to assess your kitten’s health and make sure your relationship is developing the way that you want. Once the kittens is 16 weeks and around 4 pounds, the rabies vaccine is administered.

What do I need to know about kitten behavior?

Kittens can be very challenging. They are tiny predators and somewhat of a prey species, making their behaviors confusing. Most behaviors that you may find to be annoying are actually normal kitten behaviors. As their new owner, you’ll need to learn to manage the negative behaviors and reinforce the good behaviors. Contact your veterinarian if you are struggling to elicit the behaviors you want from your kitten. The earlier they can intervene and help change that trajectory, the more successful you will be.

Kittens are very playful and somewhat nocturnal by nature, so they might run around your house at night. Eventually, they will adjust to what their owners do. Provide them with a scratching post to help satisfy their need for clawing, which will also keep their nails short and provide a safe place to climb in your house.

If you have further questions about caring for your kitten, reach out to your veterinarian. If you live in or near Sarasota, FL, we’d love to see your kitten to see how they’re doing so far, so please don’t hesitate to call us at (941) 922-5007.

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