Congratulations on your new kitten! If this is the first time you’ve owned a cat, there are a few things you should know about your kitten’s care and cat health in general.
A kitten is like a curious child; it’s bound to get into some mischief. Remove any toxic houseplants, cords and blinds that pose a strangling hazard, etc. Remember also that kittens jump and climb; they’ve been known to knock over ironing boards (a fire hazard if the iron is left on) and push small, breakable items off tables and counters.
A kitten has different dietary needs from an adult cat, because it is growing so fast. For optimum kitten health, choose a good brand of food that is formulated especially for cats that are less than one year old. Very young kittens need to eat several times a day; it’s okay to leave out a bowl of dry food that won’t spoil. By the time a kitten is six months old, it can adjust to a twice-daily feeding schedule. Adequate hydration is also an important part of kitten care-always make sure your kitten has plenty of fresh water available.
Your new kitten may already have received its first round of shots if you adopted it from a shelter. Vaccinations are extremely important to cat and kitten health. Kittens generally require three rounds of vaccinations in total, and your vet can advise you on the timing of these. All cats should get the “core vaccines,” while other vaccinations are considered optional.
Kittens are fragile, and the presence of fleas, ear mites, or intestinal worms can have severe impacts on their health. Keep an eye out for signs of infestation, which may include scratching and crusty patches on the skin or ears in the case of fleas or ear mites, and weight loss, diarrhea, and bloated belly in the case of worms. Check with your vet before using any type of product on a young kitten; many are designed only for use on adult cats.
If you adopted a kitten from a shelter, find out if it was tested for infectious diseases like feline leukemia. If not, you should keep the new kitten separated from other cats in the household until you can have it tested. (Kittens can acquire certain diseases from the mother during birth.)
Kittens often have sharp little claws and you may find you’re getting scratched. You can easily clip claws at home with a regular toenail clipper. Gently press down on the kittens foot pad to extend the claw, and then nip off the sharp, curved tip of each claw, being careful not to cut down into the quick, where blood vessels and nerves are located.
Kittens groom themselves instinctively and there is usually no reason to bathe a cat. Even though a very young kitten may not be shedding yet, you can begin to brush it regularly to get it used to being groomed. Use a brush with soft bristles, and be very gentle. If you’ve adopted a long-haired kitten, daily brushing is very important to prevent the fur from matting.
A healthy kitten is very active and playful while it is awake; it will bat around a toy tirelessly. Kittens, like all babies, also need many hours of sleep. It’s best to provide a soft, warm bed that can be as simple as a cardboard box lined with flannel (there are also many cuddly beds available at pet stores). Your kitten is used to snuggling up tightly against her mother and litter mates, for warmth, so do place her bed next to a heat vent or in another warm spot.
Even very young kittens can form hairballs. A cat’s grooming habits make ingesting a certain amount of hair inevitable. Regular brushing is a helpful preventive measure. But if your cat or kitten is throwing up a hairball more than a couple of times a month, it’s time for a treatment plan. Hairball remedies are easily obtained from most pet stores and are usually flavored to be appealing to cats.
Responsible pet owners spay and neuter their cats to avoid bringing more kittens into a world that doesn’t have enough homes for them. Spaying and neutering is also good for general cat health. An un-neutered male has a tendency to get into fights, which can result in injury or infection. It may also engage in territory marking behaviors like spraying urine around your house. An unspayed female will be more or less constantly in heat if she’s not allowed to breed, and the symptoms of estrus can be distressing for both cat and owner.
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