This month, we’re addressing the huge increase in fostering and adoptions across the country due to the pandemic this year. It’s always a good thing when shelter animals find a loving fur-ever home, but we want to make sure that new pet parents are fully equipped to give their new fur-babies a great start in life.
While adult cats are typically independent creatures, kittens are an entirely different ball-game! Kittens have seemingly endless amounts of energy and curiosity, and they need a lot of attention and care from their humans. Just like with puppies, the life you create for them now will inform the kind of adult animals they will grow into.
Here’s what to expect when adopting a new kitten:
The first thing to know is that kittens can appear healthy and still carry FeLV/FIV (feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.) A FeLV/FIV test is highly recommended to make sure she is not carrying either of these highly contagious and infectious diseases.
Afterward, the kinds of vaccinations your kitten will receive depends on her age:
At 8 weeks, your kitten should receive “the distemper shot,” which is the common name for FVRCP—a combination vaccine that protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia.
At 12 weeks, your kitten should get her second FVRCP vaccine as well as the feline leukemia vaccine (FeLV). FeLV is recommended for all kittens by the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) because kittens are more likely to dart outside than adult cats, and are thus more susceptible to leukemia virus infection.
Finally, at 16 weeks, your kitten should receive her third FVRCP vaccine, second FeLV, and a rabies vaccine. In most states, rabies vaccinations for cats are actually required by law. The rabies virus is fatal and all mammals are susceptible to infection.
Parasites & Worms
We will ask for a fresh fecal sample to rule out parasites, as approximately 25% of healthy kittens with normal stool will carry parasites.
Then, kittens should be treated for parasites such as roundworms and hookworms three times: at 2 weeks of age, 4 weeks of age, and 6 weeks of age. You may also want to discuss with your veterinarian different options for keeping up with routine deworming treatments throughout the rest of your cat’s life, depending on her lifestyle.
Spaying & Neutering
Before spaying and neutering, your kitten should have pre-anesthetic blood work drawn, which screens for congenital liver and kidney problems, juvenile diabetes, anemia, and heartworms. This is typically drawn when the last set of vaccines are given, and the spay/neuter is then scheduled.
If your kitten is healthy, they can be spayed or neutered safely as young as 4 months of age. As with the case of puppies, each heat cycle increases the risk of breast cancer, so you’ll want to make sure your kitten is spayed or neutered before 6 months of age. Another reason to spay/neuter your kitten early is because studies have shown that cats who are spayed later in life have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Most kittens who have been properly and fully weaned off their mothers will take to a litter box naturally, as they have learned from their (domesticated) mothers. In this case, you’ll find that your kitten will already know what to do once she is shown her box.
In some other cases, litter box training may require some positive reinforcement, like treats and praise. It is crucial to only use positive reinforcement techniques, as anything else can seriously damage your cat’s relationship to the litter box… and trust us, you don’t want that problem in your household! Additionally, stress in cats can cause major physical problems, like urinary blockages.
As we mentioned earlier, older cats have a reputation for being socially independent creatures. And, it’s true, some adult cats like to be left alone, or to be in control of the attention they receive. However, socialization for kittens is a necessary step in their development, even if you anticipate that your kitten will grow up to be the “typical cat.”
Your kitten should become familiar with interactions with other people and animals. She should get used to being handled, like playing with her paws and feet so that nail trims can be done later. You can even practice opening up your kitten's mouth and placing a treat on her tongue so that giving her medication later won’t be as difficult.
Another great technique for socializing is to expose her to new environments. Of course, that may be hard to do this year given the circumstances, which is why we suggest cat boarding at facilities like Furry Friends Resort. Getting your cat familiar with the boarding environment can be helpful later on when you have to travel or leave for extended periods of time.
Even booking for one night can make a remarkable difference in your kitten’s socialization and exposure to different environments, people, and animals. And we know our friends at Furry Friends Resort LOVE kittens!
Kittens are amazing and delightful animals who are also incredibly complex. There’s a lot more to know about raising and training a kitten, so give Cuyamaca Animal Hospital a call at (619) 448-0707. We can go over the best strategies and practices to ensure your kitten grows into a healthy and happy adult.