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Kitten Care

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Developing a special bond with your kitten can be a very exciting and rewarding experience. The first year of your kitten's life is the most important for your pet's development. Good nutrition, proper care and regular veterinary visits will help ensure that your kitten will grow into a happy, healthy, and loving cat.

Diet
Your kitten's fastest growth period is right now and will continue until it is about twelve months old. There are many brands of food to choose from in the grocery store, pet store and veterinary hospital. In general, always stick to well known brands. Check the label to make sure the food meets AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. Kittens should be fed kitten or growth food. It provides the proper ratio of nutrients for growing and gives the kitten's body a solid nutritional base for healthy adulthood. Kittens do not need vitamin supplements if they eat a high quality food. If you are not sure about the food please feel free to ask us questions. Avoid table scraps and so called "gourmet" cat foods. These can alter the nutritional ratio of the diet and can cause the kitten to become a "finicky eater" later in life. Always have plenty of fresh water available. Never give milk, as it may cause diarrhea. Select one brand of food and stick with it. Most cats actually prefer not to change from one food to another. As a general rule, kittens do best if they have dry food available at all times. Unfortunately, some kittens can become overweight by using this "free-feed" method. If your kitten turns out to be one of these, you will need to feed limited meals instead. Canned food is not necessary for kittens, however if you choose to feed canned food, a small amount can be offered as a "treat". It can spoil if left out all day.

Introducing Your Kitten to the Household
You may need to keep your kitten confined to one room of your house for the first few days to accustom him to his new surroundings and to make sure he knows how to use his litterbox. This can be especially helpful if you have other pets in the home. Bring the kitten out for short, supervised visits with other pets. This allows them to become accustomed to one another's scents. Most pets will work things out among themselves in a week or so. Make sure that each pet has a place they can go to be alone if they want to. Older, more established animals may become very stressed at the introduction of a new kitten. Be sure that the older animal is not ignored. Give him or her plenty of attention during the introduction period. Assure the older pet that he or she is not being displaced.

Play
Kittens love to play. Playing begins when kittens start to bite, stalk and wrestle with their litter-mates. You can encourage playful exercise with the right kinds of toys. Lightweight toys that your kitten can chase and bat around the house enhances the kitten's play and helps develop good muscles. Some suggestions for toys would be wads of paper, ping pong balls, empty thread spools or kitten "fishing" toys you can purchase at pet supply stores that allow you to interact with your kitten. Balls of yarn, string and ribbons should be avoided as the kitten could swallow the material and it could become lodged in hiss intestines. Do not use your fingers, hands, feet or clothing when you play with your kitten. Remember, your cute little kitten is going to grow into a healthy-sized cat and you do not want to encourage aggressive behaviors. Also provide your kitten with a carpet or sisal rope covered scratching post. This gives the kitten an acceptable place to scratch and climb. You may find that you need to discipline your kitten for rough play or inappropriate behavior; however, harsh punishments should be avoided. Clapping your hands, using horns, spray bottles or making loud noises can be intimidating enough to stop undesirable behaviors. These remote punishments are preferred because the kitten associates the punishment with what he is doing and not with you.

Vaccines
There are many diseases that can be fatal to cats. Fortunately, we can prevent many of them by the use of a series of effective vaccines. Feline Distemper vaccine (FVRCP) protects your kitten from three diseases. It is given as a series of vaccines beginning at 6-8 weeks of age with boosters given every 3 weeks following until the kitten is 4 months old. Rabies vaccine is given when the kitten is 14 weeks old. Rabies vaccine is not required for cats but if your kitten is going to be outside, it is recommended. Leukemia vaccine is also highly recommended if your kitten will be going outside. This disease is transmitted by contact with other cats, especially when fighting occurs. Leukemia is a series of two vaccines starting at age 9 weeks with a booster in 3 weeks.

Grooming
Cats are very fastidious about their grooming and will usually keep themselves very clean. Because of this, they very rarely need to be bathed although outdoor cats may need occasional bathing to remove stubborn dirt or grease. Combing or brushing your cat regularly can help reduce the possibility of hairballs and will prevent matting of hair. Your kitten's grooming habits extend to it's environment also. Kittens like and need a clean litter box. Keeping a clean litter box will help it develop and keep good litter habits. One of the reasons kittens stop using their litter boxes is because they are not kept clean. Kittens have very sharp toe nails. They can be trimmed with regular finger nail clippers or with nail trimmers that are made for dogs and cats. Most cats have white or clear nails that allow you to see the pink color of the quick through them. When clipping nails you should avoid cutting into the quick as it will bleed and be painful. Always have styptic powder available to cauterize nails that were accidentally trimmed too far back.

Socialization
Although we do not take our cats out in public like we do dogs, kittens need to be socialized also. The experiences of kittens during their first few months of life shape their temperaments and personalities as adult cats. Frequent petting and handling enhances socialization and studies have shown that petting a young kitten can make it more responsive as an adult cat. Expose your kitten to as many people and other pets as possible. This will help lessen their fear of strangers and other animals when they grow up. You should have a cat carrier for traveling or bringing your kitten to the veterinary hospital for routine exams. Carriers allow your kitten to travel safely and securely in a vehicle. Your kitten should be allowed to play or sleep in his carrier to get him comfortable with it so he will not be afraid when traveling.

Training
Litter box training is easily accomplished if the kitten spent the first few weeks of his life with the mother. Placing your kitten in the litter box after meal times will help him understand what is expected. Kittens may do better with a smaller litter box, one with lower sides for their shorter legs. If an accident occurs outside the litter box, do not rub the kitten's nose in it. They do not understand that they made the mess. Instead, wipe up the mess with a paper towel and place it in the litter box. Set the kitten in the box and gently scratch the kitten's front paws in the litter so it understands that this is the place to deposit and bury waste. Kittens can also be trained not to scratch furniture or jump up on counters and tabletops. If you can catch the kitten scratching furniture, pick him up, tell him "No" and place him by his scratching post. Gently scratch the kitten's front paws on the scratching post while praising him. This will show the kitten the appropriate place to use his claws. If you cannot catch the kitten 'in the act', you can place plastic wrap, aluminum foil or double sided tape on places where the kitten scratches. Cats generally do not like the feel of these materials and will not scratch through it. Double sided tape and aluminum foil can also be placed on countertops to dissuade the kitten from jumping on these surfaces. Cats can also be trained to walk on a leash and do certain behaviors on cue. It takes patience and time, but it can be done. One resource for learning how to train your cat is Ray Berwick's book The Complete Guide to Training Your Cat".

"I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It's not. Mine had me trained in two days." - Bill Dana

Spay and Neuter
Cats can be spayed (female) or neutered (male) after they are four months old. Cats reach sexual maturity at about six months of age. A female's first heat will last for about four to eight days. If she isn' spayed or mated, she will go into heat every 2-3 weeks until she is bred. A healthy female cat is capable of having several litters of kittens every year. Male cats are sexually active all year round. If they are allowed outside, they will roam in search of females and will fight with other males. They may also start to spray a strong smelling urine on furniture, walls and carpeting to mark their territory. Spay and neuter surgery will eliminate unwanted litters of kittens and will reduce or eliminate territorial behavior in males.

Declawing
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and kittens. A cat's claw is a specialized toe nail with many different functions including feeding, grooming and territorial marking. Claws grow slightly in length but primarily grow in layers, like the layers of an onion. As older layers are shed, then underlying, sharper ones are revealed. When a cat scratches a surface, he's not sharpening his nails, he is removing the outer warn layers. Unfortunately, this behavior can result in significant destruction of furniture, carpets or other property. The decision to declaw your kitten should not be taken lightly. A declawed cat should remain an indoor cat the rest of his life. By removing a cat's claws, you will be taking away his primary defense mechanism in the outside world. A declawed cat cannot defend himself against other cats and he might not be able to climb to escape other animals. The surgery known as "declawing" involves the amputation of the toe at the last joint on the front feet. This removes the claw and the nail bed from which the claw grows. This procedure is performed while the cat is anesthetized and will require at least one night's stay in the hospital. The kitten's feet will be sore and tender the first few days after surgery. Most kittens recover rapidly and without complications. Once healed, many cats do not seem to notice the claws are gone and will continue to "sharpen" the claws as normal, but without inflicting damage to your furniture. This procedure can be done after twelve weeks of age and is best done before your kitten is one year old.

Non-surgical Alternatives to Declawing include trimming cat's nails regularly, application of nail caps (soft plastic caps that are glued directly onto the cat's nails, which require replacement on a regular basis), and most importantly providing appropriate places for your kitten to scratch. Some cats prefer horizontal rather than vertical scratching surfaces, and may have a preference for a particular surface such as carpet, sisal rope or cardboard.

Kitten Dangers
Dangerous Foods include, but are not limited to chocolate, fatty foods, garbage and bones (chicken, steak, pork, etc.).

Dangerous Drugs include, but are not limited to Tylenol (acetominophen), Motrin (ibuprophen), aspirin and Aleve (naproxen). Do not give over-the-counter drugs to your cat without consulting us.

Dangerous Plants include, but are not limited to oleander, pyracanthas, poinsettia and diffenbachia. Nurseries can also help you decide which plants may be harmful to your pets.

Dangerous commonly used and potentially attractive house and garden items include snail bait, rat and mouse bait, antifreeze, lawn mushrooms, moldy walnuts and fertilizers.

If your cat has eaten any of the above listed items, or in case of emergency, call Pleasanton Veterinary Hospital at (925) 462-7750 during our office hours, or call VetCare Emergency at (925) 556-1234 after our regular business hours. The Animal Poison Control Center can also be contacted at 1-800-548-2423.