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A Kitty Sampler: A to Z

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Kittens are funny, curious, independent and beautiful. They amaze and entertain with their leaps and impressive hunting skills. Want to know more? We’ve got it all in our quick and easy guide to kittens from A to Z.

Activity Level

Kittens begin exploring at around 3 weeks of age and, as they grow, their activity level is off the charts. They don’t seem to have an “off” button. This is the time to start interacting with and socializing them around people and other pets in the household. Introduce small crinkly balls to bat about and even a nice fluttering object on a wand for them to practice their innate chasing and pouncing skills.

Brachycephalic breeds

This term describes cat breeds that have “squished,” flat faces (brachy means “short” and cephalic means “relating to the head”), such as Persians, Scottish Folds, Himalayans, Burmese and Exotic Shorthairs. Because of the shorter bones of the face, these breeds can suffer breathing difficulties and require extra care to ensure they don’t experience respiratory issues — like making sure they don’t get overheated or over-exerted. Cats can be mildly (mouth breathing, snoring) or severely affected (coughing, gagging, tiring easily).

Carnivore

Cats are termed “obligate carnivores,” which means that meat proteins (beef, poultry, fish) are essential to a well-balanced diet.

Diet

If you are adopting, your kitten should be fully weaned. Place your kitten on a diet formulated for kittens for proper growth through the growth phase, which is up to a year old. First feed wet food and then introduce kibble formulas. Serving a combo diet of wet and dry food ensures cats get extra moisture and proper hydration. Always make sure there is fresh water next to the food bowls.

Enrichment

Lots of toys and safe places to climb are essential for both a kitten’s physical and mental well-being. Play should always be supervised when they are young. Close off hard-to-get-to areas, such as behind the refrigerator and the stove, to avoid a kitten getting stuck.

Feeding

Kitten formulas have extra calories for energy and essential growth, but don’t overfeed. The meal suggestions on the packaging are a guideline but may be a little too much or too little for your own kitten. Discuss the best portion size of food for your kitten with your veterinarian. Must-do tips: Use a proper standard measuring cup and don’t top up by heaping, which can lead to overfeeding. Kittens under 4 months can be free-fed a controlled amount or fed three to four small meals a day. Slowly reduce to twice-a-day feeding for kittens 4 months or older, watching their weight carefully and discussing any concerns with your veterinarian.

Grooming

This is a great way to spend quality time with a kitten and allow her to get used to being handled. Start with a soft rubber brush and gently groom from the neck downward. Play with her paws so she gets used to this and won’t resist when she is older and needs mani-pedis.

Hunting instinct

Initial pouncing and playing is nothing more than a kitten learning about her innate hunting instinct. Help her hone her skills by introducing wand toys for fun games. Choose something with a light, fluttering “critter” on the end. When playing, always swing the wand away from you to ensure when in “attack mode” the kitten doesn’t inadvertently scratch you.

Indoor only

Kittens and adult cats are much safer and healthier if they have an indoor-only lifestyle. This way, they can avoid encounters with predators, traffic and unkind people. If possible, try and give them access to a safe outdoor enclosure like a catio. Placing a tall cat tree near a window is a great substitute and lets them watch the world go by and also lets them get some privacy from the household as they get older.

Jumping

You say “Jump” and a kitten automatically thinks “How high”?! A tall cat condo, preferably one with lots of different platforms, is a great playground for kittens. So are steps and shelves set up along a wall to give them vertical space and places to go.

Kitten behaviors

Watching a litter of kittens at play, it’s all about tumbling, chasing and wrestling. Then, lying in wait and getting ready to pounce! Normal kitten play. But don’t encourage biting, because then they grow up believing it’s OK to lie in wait and nip ankles and fingers.

Litter box

Most of the time, the use of a litter box filled with litter is instinctive. If a kitten has been trained on newspaper instead of litter, place her on top of the litter in her litter box after mealtimes. She will soon get the hang of it and transition over to litter. Make sure the litter box has a low entry point for a small kitten to come and go with ease. There are many kinds of litter on the market. Do some homework to find the right brand from the get go, then you don’t have the bother of trying to transfer over to something else later.

Meow

This is the most common word in a cat’s vocabulary. And yes, as they grow older, if you talk to them, they will talk back with a range of different sounds. Meow can mean “Look at me,” “I’m hungry” and when it’s a really small kitten, it can also be “Help! I’m stuck!”

Neuter and spay

There are long-term health benefits to spaying and neutering your kitten apart from preventing them from fathering or conceiving way too many offspring from a pretty young age onward. Veterinary opinion now suggests the best time to neuter and spay is before they are 5 months old. Spaying prevents mammary cancer developing later in life, too. Learn more at felinefixbyfive.org.

Odors

If your kitten is stinky, especially in the litter box, it could be the food. Try another brand. Mishaps outside the litter box are rare, but if it happens, make sure it isn’t a medical problem that’s the cause, and use special pet-safe enzymatic sprays for clean-up operations.

Picky eaters

Cats have a reputation for being picky eaters. But just like humans, they develop a taste for particular flavors and textures. Varying the textures in kittenhood will help develop a taste for all food types and hopefully your kitten will not be too picky when she’s older. Another reason to feed both wet and dry food is because kibble helps to remove tartar and wet food is ideal for hiding medicine.

Queens

Female cats are called Queens. This term applies whether the cat is purebred or a mixed breed. Similarly, male cats are called Toms.

Rescue

Adopting a kitten from a shelter saves a life and the payback for this kindness is unconditional love and loyalty from your new family member. While most kittens in the welfare system are mixed breeds, there are special adoption agencies that work with purebred kittens that need loving homes, too.

Socialization

The most impressionable age for a kitten to become comfortable around people and other pets is from as young as 2 weeks old and the following six weeks, until they are 2 months old. Never overwhelm a kitten with too many people. Take it slow. Gentle petting and lots of talking is the way to go.

Trilling

The more time you spend with your kitten, the more sounds you will hear her making. Trilling sounds are typical and often referred to as cooing or chirrups. These soft sounds are somewhere between a purr and a meow. It’s a friendly greeting and sometimes an acknowledgement or confirmation of something you’ve done.

Urine

Cats talk with their pee: marking territories, telling other cats they are ready to mate and informing veterinarians about their health. Cat urine is mostly water and 2% urea. It has quite a pungent smell because of the high levels of protein cats eat as carnivores

Vaccinations

Vaccinations give a kitten a great start in life. Your kitten will need two sets of vaccinations. The first set at 9 weeks old and a second booster set at 3 months old. The combination FVRCP vaccine protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis (feline herpes), panleukopenia virus (the feline version of distemper) and calicivirus. Rabies is also recommended.

X-ray

Kittens can be notorious for eating things they shouldn’t. An X-ray (also known as a radiograph) will tell if there is an intestinal blockage, which can be serious and even life-threatening.

Yarn

Forget the cute photographs of kittens and balls of wool. Yarns of any thickness can be extremely dangerous. Never leave knitting or any kind of sewing materials lying around. Ever!

Zoomies

Those crazy bursts of energy that are very amusing to watch are all part of being a kitten and a fully grown cat. Kittens don’t react to catnip until they are about 9 months old, so when they are young they are just expending energy. As they get older, catnip brings on bursts of hyperactivity, which usually last around 10 minutes and induces play with a favorite toy.

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