A new kitten is a large responsibility, especially if it is your first. There are a few things you should know if you want a happy and healthy kitten.
Kittens are protected from disease in the first few weeks of their life by antibodies in their mother’s milk. However, this immunity begins to weaken around 6-8 weeks, and vaccinations are necessary to protect your kitten from potentially fatal diseases like panleucopenia. Your veterinarian will recommend the correct vaccination program for your kitten – usually an initial vaccination and one or two boosters. Until this program is completed, keep your kitten away from cats that have not been vaccinated.
Your kitten will probably have been wormed before entering into your care to protect against Toxocara, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Always enquire when the last wormer was given. Further worming will be necessary, and it is important to consult a veterinarian about the best worming regimen for your kitten.
It is important to control the flea infestations on your new kitten. Not only are the fleas a source of irritation, but they can also cause anaemia and transfer tapeworms. Ask your vet about the right flea treatment for your kitten, as adult treatments are not appropriate for younger animals.
Kittens usually begin transitioning from milk to solid food around 5-6 weeks. By about 8 weeks it should be eating solid food. Kittens should be fed on a complete kitten diet, preferably the one that it was already on in order to avoid unnecessary stomach upsets. Do not feed your kitten an adult cat food!
Meals should be spaced out to 4 meals a day at age 6-12 weeks, 3 meals a day at age 12-16 weeks, and 2 meals a day from about 16 weeks onward. Make sure to offer the kitten water at regular intervals.
Housetraining can begin as soon as you bring your new kitten home. Most kittens will instinctively use a litter box, and may have already been using a litter box prior to coming to your home. If this is the case, try to use the same litter that it is accustomed to. The litter box should be of washable plastic with sides low enough for the kitten to climb in. Make sure the box is frequently cleaned, as most cats will avoid a dirty litter box.
The litter box should be situated in a quiet area of the house and always be easily accessible to the kitten. If you see the kitten stop what it is doing and start sniffing about, immediately place in the litter box. Be sure to praise the kitten when it is done. Never reprimand a kitten for any “accidents”!
The best time to socialize is the first few months of its life. During this window of time, the kitten is very impressionable to new experiences, thus it is important to avoid any negative experiences that may have unfortunate consequences later on in life. Aim to provide the kitten with positive exposure to men, women, children, other pets, etc. Keep in mind, though, that during this period of socialization your kitten may not have completed its course of vaccination, and should not be exposed to any potential sources of disease.
If you are not planning on breeding from your kitten, you should discuss getting it spayed/neutered with your veterinarian. Desexing is a routine operation that can significantly prolong your pet’s life. Spaying your female kitten will prevent it from coming into heat every 2-3 weeks, having unwanted offspring, and reduce or eliminate diseases such as mammary tumours (breast cancer), ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer.
Castration prevents typical mating behaviour like spraying urine, marking territory with urine, aggression/fighting, roaming, and howling. Neutering your kitten will also improve his health by reducing the risk of testicular cancer, prostate disease and infections.
Microchipping is a quick, easy and relatively painless procedure that can be done at the same time as vaccinations. The microchip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, is injected by a veterinarian beneath the skin between the shoulder blades. When a scanner is run over the site of implantation, a unique identification number will be shown on the scanner. This number is kept in a database along with owner contact information.
Pet insurance is highly recommended as veterinary expenses can really add up. It provides the owner with more options if their pet requires an expensive operation or life-saving treatment. Ask your vet for advice, as there is a huge range of insurance policies out there.