In this article, we discuss some of the most important points when it comes to owning a kitten. If you have any additional concerns, please contact any of our three locations. You may also wish to take a look at our Nurse Clinics.
General Health Check
We recommend getting your kitten used to having their mouths, ears, paws and tail examined on a regular basis at home, by you and maybe some friends or family members, using lots of treats and rewards.
Hopefully this will mean they are more at ease when the vet needs to have a look at them on the consult table, making the whole experience less stressful.
To prevent distressing and potentially life-threatening illnesses, we recommend vaccinating kittens at 9 weeks of age and again at 12 weeks.
This is when antibodies from their mother are depleting and they need to develop their own immunity. The vaccine we give your kitten covers the following infectious diseases:
- Various viruses that can cause ‘Cat Flu’. This is easily spread from other infected cats. It is particularly serious in young kittens and causes sneezing, a blocked nose, breathing difficulties, and eye and mouth ulcers (like human cold sores). One of the causes of Cat Flu (a herpes virus) remains latent and can reactivate at any age, causing recurrent disease
- Feline Panleukopenia (also known as feline parvovirus). Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration and the disease is usually fatal or may result in serious deformities in kittens that survive
- Feline Leukaemia Virus. It is spread between cats via the saliva, by close contact such as grooming, fighting, mating and sharing food/water bowls. There is no effective treatment so the only way to protect your cat is to vaccinate. Feline leukaemia virus can affect all parts of the body and can lead to multiple problems including tumours, anaemia and eventually death.
For most kittens we recommend using the Stronghold spot-on from 6 weeks of age.
It is applied every month to the skin on the back of your cat’s neck. It is important to make sure other animals can’t lick the product, so it’s best to apply at night time. Stronghold also protects against lice, ear mites, roundworms and heartworms (but not tapeworms so it is important to still give regular worming treatment).
Other options for flea prevention if Stronghold is not appropriate include:
- Advocate spot-on – very similar to Stronghold and may be a good alternative in the rare case that your kitten has an allergic reaction to Stronghold
- Seresto collar from 10 weeks of age – kills adult fleas and prevents ticks from attaching. Lasts for 8 months and is ideal to use during tick season (Spring until Autumn) provided your cat will tolerate wearing a collar
- Program injection every 6 months – breaks the flea life-cycle by preventing eggs from hatching, but does not kill adult fleas
- Comfortis tablet monthly – kills all stages of the flea life cycle. Easy in greedy cats
Hopefully using an effective prescription-strength flea product regularly will prevent a flea infestation occurring. However, if you do have problems, the quickest way to get rid of them is to treat ALL the animals in the house (particularly cats, which are often the source of the problem) and treat the house itself. We recommend an environmental spray, such as RIP or Indorex, which kills adult fleas for up to 2 months, and prevents reinfestation for up to 12 months. How you use the spray is very important; here are some guidelines:
- Take all animals out of the house before spraying
- Vacuum everywhere thoroughly, including carpets, sofas, animal beds, skirting boards etc. This will remove a lot of the flea eggs and the warmth and vibration from the vacuum encourage eggs to hatch, making them more susceptible to being killed by the spray. Vacuuming also fluffs up the fibres of soft furnishings, which allows the spray to penetrate better
- Spray the Indorex or RIP spray everywhere according to manufacturer’s instructions, paying particular attention to areas the pets spend a lot of time e.g. their beds, rugs, around the sofas etc.
- Leave the mist to settle for at least half an hour
- Hoover again a few hours later and then on a daily basis if possible to pick up the flea eggs and larvae as they die.
The important thing when dealing with fleas is to be persistent! Their life cycle can be up to a year long, with eggs living in the carpets etc. for long periods of time. Vacuuming, regularly using flea treatment on all your pets and treating the house at the first sign of flea-trouble is the only way to prevent fleas from becoming a problem.
There are many types of intestinal worms, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and pinworms. Some of the flea treatments (eg. Stronghold and Advocate) are also effective against some of the intestinal worms, but not all of them.
Therefore we still recommend using an additional worming treatment to target these. Panacur paste is easiest when your kitten is small, but as they get older it is easier to swap to a tablet (either Drontal or Milbemax). For kittens that are difficult to tablet, there is a spot-on treatment called Profender that kills all intestinal worms.
We recommend that you worm your kitten every 2 weeks until they are 12 weeks old, then every month until they are 6 months old, then every 3 months throughout adulthood. Talk to a vet or nurse about the best option for your kitten.
Visit www.itsajungle.co.uk for more information on parasites and how to prevent them.
We recommend a good quality, complete, dry, kitten food from brands such as Arden Grange, Burns, James Wellbeloved, Royal Canin or Hills. This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are lots of good brands of cat food.
The main things to look for are natural ingredients, no additives or colourants, and a high protein content. You can add a small amount of kitten wet food to the dry food if your kitten is really fussy but if you can get them eating just dry food it is far better for their teeth. It’s also cheaper, more hygienic and more convenient to be on a complete dry food!
Once you have found a brand your kitten is happy with and their stools are a normal consistency, stick with that brand and be careful when changing flavours to introduce them gradually because a sudden change may upset your kitten’s tummy.
We do not recommend a home-made diet (either raw or cooked) for cats because their nutritional requirements are much more specific than dogs or humans and it is very difficult to formulate an appropriately balanced feline diet at home.
New kittens should be kept on the same food the breeder or rescue centre has been feeding them for at least a week after you take them on. It is too much of a disruption to take them away from their litter mates, mum and familiar surroundings, and change their diet all in one go.
Kittens should be fed 4 times daily until they are about 12 weeks old, then 3 times daily until they are about 6 months old. We recommend twice daily feeding throughout adulthood, or alternatively leave a measured amount of food down for them to eat throughout the day; this usually only works in single cat households otherwise the chances are one cat will be greedier and eat everything! It is not ideal to leave wet food down during the warmer months as old food will attract flies and become unpalatable.
Don’t feel you always have to feed your kitten from a bowl; there are many interactive games that involve food so that the cat has to work for it.Just a simple feeding ball or flicking their biscuits across the floor will entertain your kitten no end and provide exercise.
Preventing obesity is very important in cats as health consequences can be very severe. As a practice, we are seeing a higher incidence of diabetes, osteoarthritis and heart problems in obese cats, which are all serious diseases that can be very expensive to treat, can shorten your cats life and can easily be prevented by losing weight!
Also, in male cats urinary blockages are far more likely to occur in overweight cats so prevention is key! Once neutered your kitten’s metabolism will reduce so they usually require 20% less calories.
Please keep an eye on their general body condition and alter their food as necessary to prevent them becoming overweight.
One of our veterinary nurses will be happy to discuss this with you if you have any concerns.
Toilet Training Tips
Hopefully your kitten will already be very clean about where they like to toilet. If not then try to recognise when they are most likely to need to toilet and very gently place them in the litter tray. This is usually when waking up, after eating and after playing.
A few important tips to remember when using litter trays:
- The litter tray should be low enough for the kitten to easily jump in and out off
- Cats can be fussy about what type of litter they like so once they are happy using a certain litter, try to always buy the same one
- It is important to provide at least 1 litter tray per cat in your household +1 extra; so if you have 3 cats there should be 4 litter trays. This is because cats are very private and do not like to share or use dirty trays
- Because cats are very clean animals it is important to clean out the tray regularly (once or twice a day is usually enough) otherwise you may find them toileting elsewhere
- Another thing to bear in mind, particularly in multi cat households is to have the litter trays in different, private locations around the house. Placing in a busy kitchen or by a door way is not a good idea as the cat will have no privacy. If you have dogs please try to ensure they do not have access to the tray as your cat will not liked being disturbed or watched.
When you decide to let your kitten out (after vaccinations and possibly after neutering) they will probably choose to toilet outside and only when they discontinue using a litter tray for at least a week should you reduce the number of trays in the house.
It is always a good idea to keep one in case they become stressed by another cat outside. Sometimes they will need to be kept indoors or hospitalised so it is really useful if they are happy using a litter tray.
It is important to introduce your kitten to lots of sounds, objects and people while they are still young in a calm, controlled manner to build up their confidence.
Things such as the hoover should be used at a distance and in a non-threatening manner early on so your kitten learns that it won’t hurt them. Always try to make new experiences a happy and rewarding time, not scary or overpowering.
We generally neuter male and female kittens from 3-6 months of age. There are many health benefits to neutering but the main reasons are to prevent unwanted pregnancies and urine-spraying indoors.
If you live in an area with many other cats we recommend neutering your kitten before letting them outside to avoid pregnancies. Also, entire male cats are much more likely to fight with other cats causing injuries and spreading diseases such as Feline Leukaemia Virus, which is potentially fatal.
The myth of ‘every female cat should have at least one litter’ is complete nonsense; not only do you run the risk of complications potentially requiring an emergency caesarean, but rescue centres are full to the brim of unwanted cats.
There are not enough homes out there as it is, so adding another litter of kittens to the equation is irresponsible. One un-neutered female cat could be responsible for 20,000 descendants over 5 years (according to Cats Protection).
We advise that cats should wear a quick release collar, which pulls apart if the cat gets stuck and will allow them to escape should they become entangled whilst climbing.
A small tag attached to the collar can be engraved with text on both sides – enough space for your name, address and phone number. Please ask at reception if you would like to order a tag.
In addition, we strongly recommend getting your kitten microchipped around the time of their 2nd vaccination or when they are neutered. This involves inserting a small chip (about the size of a grain of rice) into the scruff of your kitten’s neck. Once chipped your details will be held in a national database so should your kitten ever get lost, they can be scanned and traced back to you via your contact details.
Therefore it is very important to keep your contact details up to date with the database company.
We strongly recommend insurance for your new kitten. There are a wide range of policies on the market nowadays and it’s tempting to go for the cheapest option, however, this may not offer the cover you need when your pet is ill.
You don’t want to be worrying about whether insurance will cover the treatment or not when you’re already worried about your cat’s health. Important things to look out for when doing your research include:
- Lifelong cover of every condition. For example, should your cat develop arthritis, diabetes or thyroid problems they will need treatment for the rest of their life, not just for a year
- The maximum limit of cover should be as high as possible. Some policies have a limit of £1000 or £2000 – this amount really isn’t going to last long should your cat need on-going treatment for problems such as arthritis, or a one-off major operation such as fracture repair or spinal surgery. Therefore it is preferable to find a policy that will either offer unlimited cover or a high maximum (e.g. £4000-7000) for the life of your cat
- Once you have taken out an insurance policy it is advisable to stick with that company on-going (rather than changing companies yearly looking for the best deal like you would with car insurance). This is because once your cat has suffered from a condition if you should then change companies they will exclude this condition meaning they will not pay out for any treatment towards it
- If cost is an issue there are many optional extras that can be opted out of when arranging the insurance cover, such as money towards posters should your pet go missing. These are largely unnecessary and increase the premium without increasing the level of veterinary cover.
According to FSA regulations, we are not allowed to recommend any particular insurance company. However, we are allowed to tell you our experience in claiming from different companies. In our experience, some are very easy to deal with and pay out with no fuss most of the time; others will find any tiny reason not to pay.