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Kitten Care

Owning a new kitten is a very special experience with lots of joy, warmth, and laughter. There is a reason why the internet is so full of kitten and cat pictures and videos. Kittens are super fun, loving, and entertaining. The focus of kitten care is on acclimating the kitten to its new family and providing for the kitten's physical well-being to support healthy development.

Drawing upon a lifetime of love for kittens and many years of clinical experience, our veterinary team will help ensure that you are well-informed about your kitten's needs. There are many phases of a kitten's life and it is important to understand how your cat's needs will change as they grow. We have compiled some essential kitten care information for you here.

Remember that proper kitten care also requires an examination from a cat-friendly veterinarian, kitten vaccinations, feline viral screening, deworming, and nutritional and behavioral counseling, and other forms of care that support development throughout the various phases of kittenhood.

Taking Care Of Kittens -- The First 6 Months

How to take care of a kitten is one of the most common kitten care questions we are asked, but it is also one of the broadest. Here are some basic tips for caring for a kitten during his or her first six months of life:

  • Under 4 Weeks of Age: Kittens are considered newborn kittens from 0 - 4 weeks of age. During this time, newborn kittens are just developing motor skills and coordination. They are also learning how to regulate body temperature. At this time in their life, they count on their mother for warmth. If the mother cat is still with the kittens, there is very little required from human caretakers besides a warm safe environment, good nutrition, and veterinary care for the mother cat. If for some reason, the mother cat is not able to care for the kittens, then alot of care is required to help the kittens grow and thrive. You should plan an immediate visit to see us with your kitten so we can review his or her needs, especially those related to feeding and monitoring their progress. This includes bottle feeding every 2 - 4 hours, keeping your kitten's environment warm and safe, and helping him or her to urinate and defecate. Be sure to keep your kitten warm with blankets, especially if he or she has been separated from his or her mother and/or siblings. You can definitely hold your kitten during this time, but please be extra gentle, as his or her bones are still forming.
  • 5 - 8 Weeks of Age: By this time, newborn kittens should be weaned off of their mothers or discontinued use of bottle-feeding, and they should be fed a high protein, energy-dense diet. During this stage, their motor skills and coordination should also be progressing. Beware that when this happens, your kitten will become quite the force to be reckoned with! Caring for a kitten at this age includes proper supervision in order to ensure that his or her newfound sense of adventure and bravado doesn't lead him or her into dangerous situations.
  • 2 - 4 Months of Age: This is a period of rapid growth in kitten development. You should expect your kitten to have a lot more energy than an adult cat, and you should be ready to be woken up during the night by a kitten who is ready to play. Taking care of a kitten during this phase includes a lot of bonding-based playtime and 3 or 4 high-protein meals per day. Eight weeks of age is the perfect time to take your kitten to the veterinarian for a wellcheck, viral testing, appropriate vaccinations, deworming, and nutritional and behavioral counseling.
  • 4 - 6 Months of Age: Your kitten is reaching an age of adolescence and, therefore, sexual maturity. This will result in an increase of energy and, at times, behavioral changes similar to an adolescent human child entering puberty. Caring for a kitten during this phase includes continuing hands-on bonding-based playtime with the addition of behavior modification if necessary. There are many ways to enrich your kitten's environment, and this is especially important for indoor kittens. During your next appointment, we will discuss ways to build an enriched environment that provides the right amount of stimulation that your kitten instinctively desires. At approximately 6 months it is time to plan to have your kittens spayed or neutered. Most kittens go through puberty at approximately 6 - 8 months and it is recommended that they are spayed or neutered just before then to avoid unwanted kittens.

Nutrition Tips For Kittens

As we briefly discussed above, proper kitten nutrition includes modifying the diet to ensure you are feeding kittens what they need during each stage of growth.

  • The mother cat should be nursing kittens during the first 4 weeks of life, or you should use a special commercial milk-replacer formula every 2 - 4 hours if the kitten has been separated from his or her mother.
  • From 3 - 5 weeks of age, feeding kittens involves offering the milk-replacer formula in a shallow dish to encourage weaning from a bottle. You can also add a moist, easily chewable diet consisting of a mixture of warm milk-replacer and high-quality canned or dried kitten food 4 - 6 times a day.
  • By 5 - 8 weeks of age, your kitten should be able to chew his or her own food, and you should provide a protein-rich and energy-filled diet, with feedings taking place 3 - 4 times daily. There are many different types of kitten food available, and we would like to discuss these dietary options with you at your next veterinary appointment. A proper diet may consist of a combination of canned and dry cat foods.
  • After 6 months of age, kittens should be fed 2 - 3 times per day.

Feeding kittens the right food in the right amounts and at the right times throughout the day is essential for happy, healthy, and growing cats. Our veterinary team will be happy to discuss the proper feeding schedule for your kitten at your next veterinary appointment.

Socializing Your Kittens

An important feature of kitten development is socializing your kitten with both human family members as well as any other animals in your household. The old adage about dogs not getting along with cats is anything but true. However, some dogs have a strong prey instinct and cannot decipher a cat from a rabbit. For this reason, proper interspecies interaction and overall behavior require hands-on, responsible, and sustained social development, including:

  • Litter box training
  • Frequent petting and cuddling
  • Toy introduction
  • Exploration with boxes, paper bags, etc.
  • Rewarding good behavior with treats
  • Time-outs for bad behavior
  • Redirection from biting or scratching
  • Introduction to new people and animals in a controlled environment
  • Weekly combing and grooming and handling
  • Controlled outdoor excursions (only after kitten vaccinations have begun) are acceptable in some areas

As you can see, kitten development is fun but requires you to be actively involved in the process. It is critically important that you consider the time commitment necessary to do your part and ensure proper kitten development.

What Can Go Wrong With Kittens

Newborn kittens (0 - 4 weeks) are a lot of work in many regards. One of the most important things to take into account is what can go wrong with newborn kittens. Some warning signs to look for include:

  • Not accepting food, especially for younger kittens who have been abandoned by or separated from their mothers
  • Motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties
  • Lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting

Kittens older than 4 weeks will have moved past the more delicate stages where feeding requirements and body temperature maintenance are crucial. During this next phase, you will still need to be aware of the above warning signs, but you should begin to be more concerned with behavioral issues such as:

  • Litter box usage
  • Signs of aggression and play-biting
  • Fears and other behaviors that we want to address while the kittens are still impressionable

We realize that human parents of newborn kittens are prone to being over sensitive and cautious, and this is actually a good thing. In fact, it shows how much you care about your new furry companion. However, if you observe any odd or concerning behaviors during kitten development, don't hesitate to bring your kitten in for a special visit in addition to the veterinary appointments that should be scheduled for preventive purposes and kitten vaccinations.

Preventive Care For Kittens

Preventive care is important to ensure that your kitten is given the best opportunity to live a healthy life. Preventive kitten care begins with partnering with your veterinary team and working with him or her to implement a wellness checkup schedule, kitten vaccinations, viral testing, deworming, and behavioral and nutritional counseling. As experienced veterinarians, we are able to identify health or behavioral issues that your kitten may be experiencing. The following are some helpful tips to begin planning for the long-term health of your kitten and overall positive kitten development.

When To Schedule Your Kitten's First Veterinary Appointment

No matter when you get your kitten, you should schedule a veterinary appointment within the first week. Early and frequent visits will help socialize your kitten with your veterinariay team and help the veterinarian establish an informed baseline for your kitten's health and wellness.

Intestinal Parasites, Fleas, And Heartworm In Kittens

All kittens need a regular deworming program that includes medication to kill most intestinal parasites. In addition, we will want to check your kitten's stool for more uncommon but potentially serious parasites. In addition to intestinal parasites/worms, cats can contract heartworms. There is no effective treatment for heartworm disease in cats. Therefore, we recommend heartworm prevention for all cats.

One of the most common and annoying parasitic problems in cats is fleas. In Maryland, ticks are also present and carry disease. A discussion about your cat's lifestyle and proper flea and tick control is an indispensable component of kitten care. We do not recommend over-the-counter sprays, powders and collars. They are less effective and more toxic to your kitten. At your next appointment, we will be happy to discuss an effective flea/tick and overall parasite prevention program.

Schedule For Kitten Vaccinations

Kitten vaccinations are essential to proper kitten care and should begin soon after you acquire your kitten. The average age to adopt a kitten is 8 weeks. At 8 weeks of age, we recommend visitng your veterinarian for a kitten wellcheck, viral screening, deworming, nutritional and behavioral counseling, and beginning the kitten vaccination series. Boosters will follow every two to four weeks until your kitten turns 16 weeks of age. Annual examinations and boosters will help prevent disease throughout your cat's adult life. Kitten vaccinations are given to prevent feline leukemia, rabies, and distemper. These infectious diseases are devastating and vaccinations help to prevent them.

When Should You Spay/Neuter Your Cat?

By 5 - 6 months of age, kittens are reaching a point of mature adolescence, or kitty puberty, if you will. Because of this, it becomes essential for you to have your kitten spayed or neutered. Reasons for spaying and neutering include:

  • Avoiding unpleasant habits like territorial scent spraying
  • Avoiding unplanned litters
  • Decreasing the chance of mammary or testicular cancer later in life

If your kitten is in contact with other kittens or unneutered cats of the opposite sex, it is essential that you have them spayed or neutered before, or as they reach, 6 months of age.

We Love Kittens

Caring for a kitten can certainly be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences you can have as a pet owner. However, if you are under-informed about the needs of your kitten during this time, he or she could be at a developmental disadvantage.

At Countryside Veterinary Clinic, kitten care is one of our greatest joys. Our veterinary team will be delighted to spend time with you and your kitten to help ensure that your relationship will be a healthy, happy, and rewarding one for many years to come.

Schedule your first kitten care appointment today!

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