Congratulations on the new addition to your family! This is a very fun and exciting time, but it can also leave you with many questions. Here are some basic guidelines on how care for your new friend.
Vaccines: It is important to protect your new kitten from contagious diseases. Every cat, regardless of being an indoor or outdoor pet, must be vaccinated against Rabies. This is required by law. In Massachusetts, the first Rabies vaccine is good for one year, if you bring your kitten in for a second vaccine within 9-12 months it will be good for three years. The law is very strict, one day early or late and the second vaccine is only good for one year. The first Rabies vaccine can be given when your kitten is three months old. We also recommend vaccinating for FVRCP. This is a combination vaccine that protects against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calici virus, and Panleukopenia which are all common contagious diseases which often cause upper respiratory illnesses. This requires a minimum of two shots starting at 8 weeks of age and given 3-4 weeks apart, with the last shot given after 12 weeks of age. The vaccine we currently use is good for three years. If you plan on letting your kitten go outside we recommend vaccinating against Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). This is a very contagious disease which is often fatal. It is contracted through direct contact with an infected cat. There are many feral cat colonies in the area which can be source of infectious disease which is why it is extremely important to keep your outdoor cat up to date on vaccines. If your kitten has not already been tested for Feline Leukemia or FIV (Feline Immune Virus), we may recommend doing this. Both are contagious diseases that may affect your kitten’s long term health and may be a risk to any cats you may already have in your home or neighborhood. It is also important to make your kitten an indoor only kitten if they are found to be positive either of these viruses to avoid exposing other cats to them.
Fleas, Ticks, and Other Unwanted Guests: There are many different flea and tick preventatives on the market. We carry many different options. Some people prefer topical medications and some prefer collars. Each cat is individual and while one medication may work great for one cat, it may not work as well for another. We can help you decide what may work best for your family’s lifestyle. Typically, exclusively indoor cats do not require flea and tick protection, but there are exceptions. Intestinal parasites are very common in kittens, even the most well bred kitten can have them. We highly recommend bringing a fecal sample with you to your kitten’s first appointment so it can be tested for various intestinal parasites. The unwanted guests can commonly cause diarrhea and excess gas, sometimes even vomiting. Most are easily treated with a short course of medication. Because some parasites are zoonotic (they can be spread to humans), the CDC recommends giving your pets a broad spectrum dewormer annually. If your cat ends up being a big hunter, you may want to deworm him or her more frequently.
Feeding: One of the most important things you can do for your new kitten is to feed it a quality food. There are many different brands available- Science Diet, Purina, Royal Canin, and Eukanuba/Iams are all complete and balanced diets. Kittens grow extremely fast and proper nutrition is very important to give them a healthy start to their life. Proper nutrition throughout your kitten’s life can lead to a long happy life together. It is especially important to keep your male cat on a quality diet. Some cats can be predisposed to forming crystals in their urine which can cause urinary obstructions. Crystals most often form in cats on low quality or boutiques "holistic" diets. Just because a cat food is expensive, it does not mean it is good for your cat. This can be life threatening for any pet but males cats are at greater risk due to their anatomy. Diets such as Science Diet, Purina, Royal Canin, and Eukanuba/Iams have been studied for years and have specially formulated diets that can help reduce the risk of crystal and stone development.
Litterbox Training: Kittens tend to be fairly easy to train to use a litter box. It is very important however to be sure to keep the litter box clean or else your kitten may start to find other places to go potty. The litter box should be in a quiet, but convenient place. Your new kitten needs to feel safe using the litter box. If you have multiple cats you should have multiple boxes. One suggestion is one box per cat plus one extra, this ensures that there will never be a line at the litter box, this will also help to reduce the chances of inappropriate elimination problems. There are many different types of litter on the market and also many types of litter boxes. Some cats can be very picky about the type of litter you use, others will use whatever you put out. If your new kitten is not using the litter box, try changing the type of litter you use. Some cats like privacy, so a covered box may work well for them, some cats may not like confined spaces so they would like an open box. Some cats like clumping litter, some don’t, some like wood pellet litter, other like crystals. Experiment to see what works best for your cat and family.
Meet the family: Introducing a new kitten to existing pets is not always easy. Cats tend to be very territorial and dogs can have strong prey drives. Some pets welcome a new arrival very willingly, others want that new little critter gone by any means necessary, and others don’t care one way or another. The initial meeting should always be under close supervision, it is best to keep dogs with a strong prey drive on a leash when introducing them to a new kitten, especially if they have not had positive experiences with cats in the past. If you have dogs, make sure your cat has a place to escape to that the dog can not get to, this can be a room with the entrance blocked by a fence or a tall space the dog can not reach. With some patience, and lots of treats, it is possible in most situations to eventually have all of your pets living in harmony.
Play time: Cats are social animals. Playing with your kitten can help to develop a strong, lifelong bond. There are many different cat toys available. Try out different types to see which your cat likes best. Cats can become overweight and lazy fairly easily, but if you find something they enjoy doing, you can help to keep your kitten a lean, mean, purring machine. While a biting kitten may be seen as cute, a biting cat can be painful and dangerous. When playing with your new kitten, discourage rough play and play biting. Direct the kitten’s attention towards appropriate toys rather than your hands and feet.
Indoor vs Outdoor: While keeping your new kitten indoors is the safest place, some cats just are not happy being inside all day long. Some cats will eliminate inappropriately when forced to stay in; others can become destructive. If you do choose to let your new kitten out, wait until he is big enough to defend himself, it is best if you can wait until your kitten has been spayed or neutered. If you do plan to let your kitten out, you should first have him tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV so he won’t be putting others at risk. He should also be vaccinated for Feline Leukemia to protect him and it is even more important to keep him up to date on his Distemper vaccine and Rabies. Nighttime is the most dangerous time for your kitten to be outside, there are many predators (coyotes, fishers, foxes) outside that can be a danger to your cat. Meal feedings can help to get your kitten to come in at night where it is safe. Going outside can also put cats at an increased risk for intestinal parasites. Hunting is an especially common way for them to become infected. Not only are intestinal parasites bad for your cat’s health, they can also be harmful to the health of your family. It is therefore important to deworm your cat annually with medications you can get at our clinic, or possibly more often if your cat is an avid hunter or if you see signs of parasite infestation. Flea and tick medication should also be applied as directed for outdoor cats to prevent unwanted pests.
Grooming: Most cats don’t need much grooming, they tend to keep themselves neat and tidy. Often lack of grooming is a sign of a cat that is not feeling well. One thing that cats do need help with is their nails. Get your kitten used to having its feet handled at an early age. Trimming your kitten’s nails on a regular basis can prevent them from destroying your rugs and furniture. Another important part of nail care is having a variety of scratching posts available. Some cats prefer sisal posts, some like cardboard. Experiment with your cat to find out what he likes best. Strategically place the scratching posts in areas where he is most likely to want to scratch, for example, next to the couch. Longhaired cats may need some help keeping their fur mat free. Try to get your kitten used to being brushed at a young age. Some cats love being brushed, and others do not. If your kitten does develop mats despite your best effort, never use scissors to cut them out. We repair several lacerations a year caused by well-meaning owners trying to cut mats out of their cat’s fur. It is best to invest in electric trimmer, beard trimmers can work great, or bring your cat to a groomer for a day of beauty.