What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

The first thing to know when you pick out your little kitten is to bring it home to have food, water, and access to a litter box. Watch their behavior and take them to the veterinarian just as quickly as you can for a checkup to make sure you're off to a good start.

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

I think the best way to pick them up is to really be able to support them. I reached under here, underneath the whole chest, and I scooped him up from the back and then I brought him very close to my body and he feels very secure; he knows I have a really good handle on him. That's the best way to do it.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

Well, look at this little guy. His ears and pricked forward, his little eyes are wide open, he's very curious about his environment. When you put him down, he might be interested in... he certainly is watching this little feather thing. He's adorable. Yeah, there you go. So, he's very happy, he's very comfortable even in these unusual surroundings and he's growing and he's eating very well, and he's using the litter box.

What should I feed my kitten?

Always feed your kitten kitten food. We'd like you to pick a name brand like Purina, Hills, or Royal Canin—something that your veterinarian recommends, and make sure it's kitten food up until about a year of life.

What are some products I might need for my kitten?

You need a food bowl, a water bowl, and you need a litter box. It’s also good to have a couple of toys around. Sometimes even a paper ball will make a good toy, but this guy's really interested in this little feather duster I have going on.

How soon should I bring my new kitten to see a veterinarian?

I would do it just as soon as you get him. We want to make sure that they're off to a great start. The veterinarian will do a complete physical examination and will also look for intestinal parasites, de-worm your little kitten, and give you any advice and information that you need. So do it right away.

How can I get the most out of my first vet visit with my new kitten?

Be observant when you have your little kitten. Watch how they sleep and eat and play, and what's going on in the litter box. Not just that they went to the litter box, but what happened in there? Was it a normal stool? How often do they go to the litter box? How often do they drink water? Those things will be really important to the veterinarian.

If you bring that history with you and bring your kitten... oh, and bring any previous veterinary records and any vaccines that have already been done—fecal results and Feline Leukemia results so that we know what's already been done and where to go from there.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten care visit?

The first thing we do is we really look at their attitude. And we can see this little one is bright and alert and well-rounded and happy. And then what I always do is I get out my ophthalmoscope and I look right in their eyes and I want to make sure that I can see all the way back to the retina. That they don't have any discharge and the pupils are even. I then go ahead and switch over to my otoscope and I look down in their ears. I want to be sure that there's no discharge or itching. They always do that every time you do that. But there was no discharge or anything down in there. It looks nice and clean. I look in both of those.

I then open up their mouth and I look at these adorable, little kitten teeth. I look all the way down inside there, make sure that the gums are nice and pink. The next thing I do is feel all of the lymph nodes, make sure that they're normal all the way down the back. I feel the pulse on the back legs.

I also get out a flea comb and I check them for fleas. We don't want to have any fleas or flea dirt on them. And that's a good way to do a complete physical examination. And then lastly I'm going to use my stethoscope to listen to their heart and lungs. Perfect. Listen on both sides. I make sure that there's no murmur or arrhythmia, elevated heart rate, or slow heart rate. And I also weigh them so we have a beginning weight and then we know each time they come in if they're gaining weight properly.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in your kitten?

We don't see any in this little kitten, but if they had runny eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose, those would signs of health issues. Maybe they don't look all bright and happy like this. They might be scratching their ears or shaking their head. They could be sneezing, limping, or perhaps they don’t have a nice shiny hair coat like this. Maybe they hadn't grown and were really kind of skinny and poor looking. The opposite of this kitten, because this kitten really looks great.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

I think looking at the internet and talking to friends is very confusing. Veterinarians and their assistants are trained to ask the right questions and get really down to what the problem is, and then we can use that and put a plan together with our clinical signs. We might have to have to add some X-rays or some blood work with that, and then together as a team, we can come up with the correct diagnosis and the treatment and get your cat off and healthy right away.

When should my kitten get vaccinations?

Veterinarians generally start vaccinations at eight weeks of age, and then we'll tell you from there when is the next time to come in. In some cases, you will have already had a vaccine before you came in, so we'll just do the physical exam and then we'll recommend when to come in the next time based off of when the last vaccines were completed.

What do you need to know about kitten behavior?

Know that they're very playful, they really are. They are kind of nocturnal by nature, so they might be up running around your house at night. Eventually, they do seem to adjust to what we do. They're very playful and they do eat much more than you probably think they do—those are the big things. Kittens alos like to knead things, and they like to claw thing. You can help this by taking care of their nails and keeping them nice and short, or providing them with a scratching post, some that are maybe lateral, some that are vertical, and other places to climb that are safe in your house. Those are some things that you should know in order to have a very successful relationship.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Kitten Care - FAQs

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

What should I expect on my kitten's first veterinary appointment?

What I would expect is that you brought in their history and any previous medical records that you have, so we know where we're starting. You hopefully brought in a history of observations that you made with your kitten since you've had it. And you might have a list of questions that you want to bring in also, and obviously that you brought in a kitten! So that's what we're going to have. And then the veterinarian is going to do a full physical examination and ask you some follow-up questions as well.

What should I ask my veterinarian in my first kitten's appointment?

I think it's important that you know what to be feeding your kittens, how much water to expect them to drink, how to play with the kitten, how to pick up a kitten, when the next vaccines are due, why we're giving the vaccines, and why it’s mportant to kjnow when to have your kitten spayed or neutered. Those things I think are good questions to ask your veterinarian.

How often does my kitten need to go to the veterinarian?

Well, first bring your kitten to the veterinarian as soon as you get your kitten, so we can do a physical exam, get them off to a great start. And then from there, the veterinarian will let you know when the next time that they need to come in for follow-up blood work when to spay and neuter them, and what vaccines need to be done. But get started right away.

What vaccinations does my kitten need?

The first thing they need is a feline distemper vaccine. It's a combination vaccine that protects against feline distemper and upper respiratory vaccines. And we usually give those at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks.

The second thing that the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends is that we do a feline leukemia vaccine on all kittens. They'll need two of those four weeks apart. And it is required by law in all states that they have a rabies vaccine, so that'll be given when they're about 16 weeks of age.

Additionally, we do a blood test to make sure the kitten has started out without having feline leukemia and FIV. And we always ask you to bring a stool sample in as well so that we can run a fecal and look for roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia.

Does my kitten need vaccinations, even if I keep them inside?

Absolutely. First of all, rabies is required by law, so you have to have that one. Feline leukemia is important because once in a while a cat could get out, even though your intention was for them to be inside. And the feline distemper combination, that's upper respiratory, so that can be carried in actually on other clothes. You may have another cat, someone may bring a cat over, you may go over to someone else's house who has a cat who's sneezing. So even though you have an indoor cat, you definitely want to keep your cat up to date on vaccines. Plus sometimes they get groomed or you have to board them, and then they are around other cats that you weren't thinking about originally.

What kind of preventative care does my kitten need?

There are a lot of things to consider with preventive care. Preventive care is actually really good nutrition. You get on a name brand food, like a Purina food or Royal Canin or Hills, and feed them only kitten food up until they're a year—that's preventative medicine because you're getting started out on a clean plane of health.

Second of all, the vaccinations are key to preventative care. They're trying to prevent diseases that we just don't even want to see anymore.

The third would be a flea and tick medication because fleas can come into your house. They can come in on the dog, and ticks can come in. Sometimes cats just go out on porches and windowsills. And so that's also preventative medicine.

And then the other part of preventative medicine is to get your cat spayed or neutered when they get older, or at about six months of age.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.