Cats are fantastic pets that provide unconditional love and affection, bringing enjoyment and companionship to many individuals and families. In return, they will look to you for love. This is a significant responsibility for you as their owner, but with good care, a new kitten should become your lifelong friend.
From a young age, you have the opportunity to mould your kitten’s health and personality and many health and behavioural problems are best tackled at an early age.
This article summarises the important considerations when caring for a new kitten. Of course, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask one of our vets at your kitten’s check-up.
Kittens are vaccinated at 6-8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, with annual vaccinations then recommended. We always vaccinate against feline enteritis and two types of cat flu. These diseases can be fatal and kittens are much more susceptible than older cats. In addition, vaccination is available against feline AIDS (FIV). Feline AIDS is endemic in Australia; please ask us if your kitten is likely to be in a high-risk category for this disease. Vaccinations for FIV are administered at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age with annual boosters.
Worming for intestinal worms
Kittens are much more susceptible to worms than adult cats and therefore need to be wormed regularly. Furthermore, these same worms can have serious effects on people as well, hence the importance of regular worming treatments. We suggest worming kittens every 2 weeks between 2 and 12 weeks of age with a kitten all-wormer, then monthly until 6 months of age. Adult cats should be wormed every 3-4 months.
Worming for heartworm
Cats contract heartworm less commonly than dogs; however, there are good reasons to prevent heartworm in cats. Firstly, heartworm is difficult to diagnose in cats and is therefore often not detected until the disease is quite advanced. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, heartworm is not treatable in cats as it is in dogs. Signs of heartworm include coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting and sudden death. Two options exist for heartworm prevention in cats.
Monthly dosing with a tablet given from 12 weeks of age.
A monthly spot-on (Revolution/Advocate) which is applied to the back of your cat’s neck.
These products provide excellent protection against fleas, most intestinal worms and mites (including ear mites) in addition to providing protection against heartworm. These products offer the most complete parasite protection available for your cat.
Treatment and prevention can be started as early as a few days of age. We suggest using the newer medications as these appear to work better, are very safe for you and your cat, and are easy to apply. Eliminating fleas early in life will prevent a large flea population from building up in your yard.
It is law in NSW that all newly purchased cats be microchipped. This, however, is not the only reason to have your kitten microchipped. Each year, many lost cats are destroyed because their owners cannot be found or cats are not administered full treatments because their owners cannot be contacted.
For all cats, the cost of registration with the local council is significantly lower for de-sexed cats. Even with microchipping, it is a good idea for your kitten to have an identification tag on his or her collar. Tags can be ordered from us in a range of styles and are mailed directly to you within a few days.
Don't forget to register your cat with the local council. This involves a one-off payment and by law should be done by six months of age. You will need to take a copy of your pet's microchip form and his or her de-sexing certificate.
What should I feed my new kitten?
Diet is one of the most important influences you can have on your kitten and can mean the difference between good and poor health. As with people, a balanced diet is most important. There are two main ways of achieving a balanced diet for your kitten.
Canned & dry foods
The majority of these foods are very well balanced and contain most nutrients. However, they also contain ingredients such as grains and preservatives that cats do not naturally ingest and therefore are sometimes the cause of allergies and inflammatory bowel diseases. The ‘premium’ cat foods contain fewer grains and preservatives.
Feeding a natural diet
While cats are predominantly carnivores, several factors should be kept in mind. When cats eat in the wild, they eat the bones and vegetable matter from the intestines of their prey. We can mimic this diet by feeding mainly meat, along with raw bones (e.g. chicken wings) and some vegetables (or a vitamin supplement). It is important not to fall into the trap of feeding a meat or fish-only diet – this contains very few vitamins and minerals and is especially calcium deficient.
What about socialising my kitten?
Suggestions for responsible pet ownership:
Always keep your kitten inside between dusk and dawn to minimise the risk of attack from wandering feral cats. A small bell on your cat’s collar will help minimise attacks of native birds.
Kittens learn most rapidly between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks. In addition, most of their social behaviour is learned in the first 9 months; hence this is the best time to teach your kitten what is acceptable and what is not. Social behaviour is enhanced if socialisation occurs at a very young age.
Therefore, meeting lots of people and when vaccinated, lots of cats, is very important. This age is also the best time to discourage unacceptable behaviour and praise good behaviour in your kitten. The best way to discourage bad behaviour (e.g. play aggression or scratching) is to ignore it. This means no scolding, yelling or shouting – just turn away and ignore your kitten. When your cat is settled, give a pat, make eye contact and talk to them.
There are many situations that require either a special response from you or more detailed training. Please contact us if you are having any difficulty with training your kitten so we can advise you as to the best solution. Often a little time spent doing the correct things at this age can prevent difficulties later.
Should I de-sex my kitten?
Unless you are planning to show or breed your pet, then we suggest de-sexing both male and female kittens from 5-6 months of age. The reasons include:
Male cats which are not de-sexed (tomcats) are significantly more likely to wander and become involved in cat fights with other male cats. As a result, they are more likely to develop cat fight abscesses and to contract infectious diseases such as feline AIDS. Furthermore, entire male cats are more likely to mark their territory by spraying urine inside and outside your house. De-sexing male cats is the best chance of preventing these undesirable traits from developing.
Female cats that are de-sexed do not contribute to the problem of unwanted litters and increase in the feral cat population. Also, de-sexing female cats eliminates the risk of them developing infections of the reproductive tract as well as reducing the chances of developing some cancers in later life. De-sexing female kittens prior to them first being ‘in season’ also reduces the chances of them being attacked by toms and prevents the ‘calling’ behaviour which can become quite annoying.