Before adopting a kitten ensure he is at least 7 weeks of age. Kittens younger than 7 weeks should not yet be separated from their mothers and littermates.
To prepare your home for your new arrival we recommend that your kitten be confined to one room for the first few days. Preferably, this should be a small bedroom or bathroom. You need to place a litter box, food and water dishes in his room with him. You want your kitten to have quick, easy access to these things. Initially limiting your kitten's living space is important since a kitten of 7 or 8 weeks is not capable of searching extensively for his litter box. If he can't easily find the box, he may choose to use something else in its place.
Even as your kitten matures, we advise that she be kept indoors at all times. Prohibiting outdoor roaming seems cruel to some people. However, to keep your cat at her healthiest you must keep her indoors. There are simply too many opportunities for a kitten or cat to run into serious problems out of doors. She may come into contact with other unhealthy cats, wild animals, dogs, parasites, or poisonous substances. She may be struck by automobiles, fall from trees or encounter traps. In short, there are just too many dangers outdoors to justify letting your cat out. Cats will adapt to living inside your home very readily.
Before bringing your kitten home, find out what she has been eating and, for the first few days, keep her on that diet. If she isn't on a quality diet already, you need to gradually switch her to a good kitten food. In order to change your kitten's diet, place a dish of the new food next to a dish of the food she's accustomed to eating. Gradually reduce the amount of the old food and increase the amount of new food until she is eating nothing but the new. We recommend that canned food be the main component of a healthy diet.
Ensure food is available to your kitten at all times until she is 6 months of age. After that time, begin a routine of feeding her twice daily. Depending on her weight gain, feed your kitten only kitten food for the first 9-12 months. After 9 months you may begin blending in some adult food and gradually transitioning her to it completely. Provide fresh water to all your cats, including your kitten, at all times. Do not give your kitten milk.
As long as she doesn't have vomiting or diarrhea, we recommend that you feed your kitten a variety of flavors and textures of food so that she gets used to many different foods. This makes her less likely to become finicky as she gets older. Ensure that food and water dishes are placed in the opposite corner of the room from the litter box. Cats are very particular about cleanliness and are generally not happy with their food and litter in close proximity. You are likely to end up with either eating or litter box problems if food and water dishes are not kept separate from the litter box.
The Litter Box
Training your kitten to use the box will be easier for the both of you if you confine your kitten to one small room during the first few weeks he is home. Keeping your kitten in one room will prevent him from getting lost and confused on the way to the box. Remember, kittens grow quickly so buy a large litter box unless you don't mind replacing it a few times during your pet's early months. Litter boxes should be situated on a smooth surface (i.e., smooth flooring or a sheet of cardboard).
There are two basic types of kitty litter: traditional clay litters and the scoopable litters. The clay litters are somewhat cheaper to buy initially, but they must be discarded daily. The entire litter box needs tobe dumped out, washed, and refilled weekly. Consequently, you will use greater quantities of litter. The scoopable litters form a clump when your cat urinates or defecates, thus allowing you to simply scoop out the soiled litter and leave the remaining clean litter behind. You need to regularly replenish scoopable litter. Total litter replacement is required only every 4-6 weeks, depending on the number of cats in your house. The scoopable litters are, by far, the more convenient product for cat owners. The finer texture of scoopable litter is also preferred by many cats.
There are plenty of other, less common types of litter available in pet stores. These include thenewspaper-based, corn-cob based, and "crystalline" types of litters. Although these can be appropriate for certain cats in certain situations, veterinary behaviorists tell us that most cats dislike these products and prefer scoopable litter. To prevent litter box-avoidance problems, only consider one of these products if it is recommended by your veterinarian.
We at The Cat Doctor recommend Everclean Cat Litter. We feel it is the best clay-based scoopable litter on the market. We also carry and recommend World's Best Cat Litter, a corn-based scoopable litter. This litter clumps well, is not too dusty, and seems to be well-liked by many cats.
After bringing your kitten home, one of your first obligations to his good health is a visit to your veterinarian. An initial physical exam is vital to ensure your kitten is healthy. Kittens can become critically ill surprisingly quickly if they have an undetected illness, so a physical exam is of utmost importance. And please remember to always transport your kitten/cat in a carrier or a secure box!
The first trip to the veterinarian should be as soon as you can possibly make it. During your first visit, The Cat Doctor will examine your kitten to make sure there is no evidence of disease. We look for bright, clean eyes; clean nose; healthy, pink mucous membranes; clear lungs and a nice looking coat. All are signs of good health. We also check to ensure your kitten is active, playful and curious.
Also during this first visit we will take a small blood sample to test for the Feline Leukemia Virus and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Unfortunately Feline Leukemia is fatal and may or may not cause any initial symptoms. FIV is often a non-fatal illness but can lead to certain diseases as your cat gets older and you should consider the risk of infection to other cats in your household. The test will determine whether your kitten has either of these diseases and we can counsel you appropriately if the test is positive.
Vaccinations that are vital to your kitten are Distemper (Panleukopenia) and Upper Respiratory (Herpes and Calici). Massachusetts state law requires that all cats be vaccinated for Rabies. Kittens need to receive a series of vaccinations for Distemper and the Upper Respiratory viruses beginning as soon as possible. Boosters are required at 3 to 4 week intervals until your kitten is at least fourteen weeks of age. A Rabies vaccination is given after your kitten is 12 weeks old. Your kitten is boostered for Rabies again in 9 to 12 months. If your kitten will be going outdoors or will have contact with other unknown cats, we also strongly recommend vaccinating him against Feline Leukemia. These vaccinations may be started at 9 to12 weeks of age, given 2 to 3 weeks apart and boostered annually.
There are 82 million cats in the United States. In Massachusetts alone there are an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 stray cats! Many of these beautiful creatures are destroyed. Many others remain on the streets to continue breeding. This is a cycle we can stop with a fairly simple procedure. To keep your cat from contributing to the overpopulation problem and to help keep her healthy (and your karma glowing), we recommend spaying (ovariohysterectomy) or neutering (castration) at four months of age. We strongly urge having this done before females come into heat or males begin to spray.
Tagging for identification is now a possibility for your cat. Very few lost cats taken to shelters are reunited with their owners. Now we have the ability to implant an identification microchip under the surface of your cat's skin. Shelter operators and animal control officers have scanning devices to read the identification number from the microchip. With the identification number, they can look you up and reunite you with your pet.
Although the procedure to implant the chip can be done while your cat is awake, it is easier to do it when she is sedated. For this reason, we recommend placing the implant when we spay or neuter your kitten. Please ask us if you have questions about this service.
Scratching is a behavior very natural to cats. Kittens scratch indiscriminately when they are young. However, as they grow older, they begin to concentrate on one or two favorite areas. Scratching is one way of marking territory. Where you see your kitten scratching is where you must place his scratching post. Once your kitten imprints on the scratching post you can then move it, about 6 inches per week toward a location in the house more desirable to you.
All kittens have a normal instinct for hunting and pouncing. They're brimming with energy which you need to channel appropriately. It is improper and very unwise to use your fingers or hands as toys. If you imprint a kitten with your finger as a toy now, a year from now your cat will still consider your finger and others' fingers fair game. We advise against playing hide-and-seek with your kitten. He will see it as "Hunt the Human", a stalking and pouncing game that may lead to injury when the cat is full size.
Dangling toys are a great example of a proper play thing for kittens and this type of toy provides the most fun. One that we especially like and highly recommend is The Cat Dancer. It is inexpensive and safe for both you and your kitten.