Friday, March 29, 2013

New Kitten FAQ

Cute blue eyed kitten

We would like to congratulate you on the acquisition on your new kitten.  Owning a cat can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it quite a bit of responsibility.  We hope this document will give you the information needed to make some good decisions regarding your kitten.

First let us say that we are grateful that you have chosen us to help you with your kitten's health care.  If you have questions concerning any subject related to your kitten's health, please feel free to call our hospital.  Either one of the technicians or one of the doctors will be happy to help you.

How should I introduce my new kitten to its new environment?

A cat is naturally inclined to investigate its new surroundings.  At first, you should limit the cat's area of exploration so that these natural tendencies do not create an unmanageable situation.  After confining the cat to one room for the first few days, you should slowly allow access to other areas of the home. 

What type of playing should I expect from a kitten?

Kitten getting tummy rubs
Kittens love to play with just about ANYTHING! 
Stimulating play is important during the first week.  Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in kittens and have an important role in proper muscular development.  If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to use family members for these activities.  The best toys are light weight and movable.  These include wads of paper and small balls.  Kittens should always be supervised when playing with string or ribbons to avoid swallowing them.  Any other toy that is small enough to be swallowed should also be avoided. 

Can I discipline a kitten?

Disciplining a young kitten may be necessary if his or her behavior threatens people or property, but harsh punishment should be avoided.  Hand clapping and using shaker cans or horns can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior.  However, remote punishment is preferred.  Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior.  Examples include using spray bottles, throwing objects in the direction of the kitten to startle (but not hit) her,  and making loud noises.  Remote punishment is preferred because the kitten associates punishment with the undesirable act and not with you.

When should my kitten be vaccinated?

There are many diseases that are fatal to cats.  Fortunately, we have the ability to prevent many of these by the use of very effective vaccines.  In order to be effective, these vaccines must be given as a series of injections.  Ideally, they are given at about 6-8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, but this schedule may vary somewhat depending on several factors. 
The routine vaccination schedule will protect your kitten from five diseases: distemper, three respiratory organisms, and rabies.  The first four are included in a combination vaccine that is given at 6-8, 12, and 16 weeks old.  Rabies vaccine is given at 12 or 16 weeks of age.  Leukemia vaccine is necessary if your cat does or will go outside or if you have another cat that goes in and out since this deadly disease is transmitted by contact with other cats, especially when fighting occurs.  A vaccine is also available for protection against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP); this vaccine is probably not necessary for all cats and is recommended in selected situations.

Why does my kitten need more than one vaccination for feline distemper, upper respiratory infections, and leukemia?

Kittens receive a temporary form of immunity through their mother's milk while nursing.  This immunity is in the form of proteins called antibodies.  For about 24-48 hours after birth, the kitten's intestine allows absorption of these antibodies directly into the blood stream.  This immunity is of benefit during the first few weeks of the kitten's life, but, at some point, this immunity fails and the kitten must be able to make its own long-lasting immunity.  Vaccinations are used for this purpose.  As long as the mother's antibodies are present, vaccinations do not "take."  The mother's antibodies will neutralize the vaccine so the vaccine does not get a chance to stimulate the kitten's immune system.

Many factors determine when the kitten will be able to respond to the vaccines.  These include the level of immunity in the mother cat, how much of the antibody has been absorbed, and the number of vaccines given the kitten.  Since we do not know when an individual kitten will lose the short-term immunity, we give a series of vaccinations.  We hope that at least two of these will fall in the window of time when the kitten has lost the immunity from its mother but has not yet been exposed to disease.  A single vaccination, even if effective, is not likely to stimulate the long-term immunity which is so important. 

Rabies vaccine is an exception to this, since one injection given at the proper time is enough to produce long-term immunity.

Do all kittens have worms?

This is a type of roundworm
Intestinal parasites are common in kittens.  Kittens can become infected with parasites almost as soon as they are born.  For example, the most important source of roundworm infection in kittens is the mother's milk.  The microscopic examination of a stool sample will usually help us to determine the presence of intestinal parasites.  We recommend this exam for all kittens, if we can get a stool sample.  Please bring one at your earliest convenience.  Even if we do not get a stool sample, we recommend the use of a deworming product that is safe and effective against several of the common worms of the cat.  It is important that deworming be repeated in about 3-4 weeks, because the deworming medication only kills the adult worms.  Within 3-4 weeks the larval stages will have become adults and will need to be treated.  Cats remain susceptible to reinfection with hookworms and roundworms.  Periodic stool analysis and/or deworming throughout the cat's life may be recommended for cats that go outdoors.

Tapeworm segments in a cat's fur
Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasite of cats.  Kittens become infected with them when they swallow fleas because the eggs of the tapeworm live inside the flea.  When the cat chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, the flea may be swallowed.  The flea is digested within the cat's intestine; the tapeworm hatches and then anchors itself to the intestinal lining.  Therefore, exposure to fleas may result in a new infection, which can occur in as little as two weeks.  Cats may also become infected with tapeworms if they hunt and eat mice.

A lungworm under the microscope

Cats infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their stool.  The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice.  They are about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the stool.  They may also stick to the hair under the tail.  If this occurs, the segments will dry out, shrink to about half their size, and become golden in color. 

Tapeworm segments do not pass every day or in every stool sample; therefore, inspection of several consecutive bowel movements may be needed to find them.  We may examine a stool sample in our office and not find them, then you may find them the next day.  If you find them at any time, please notify us so we may provide the appropriate drug for treatment.
Giardia organisms

Depending on a kitten's history, other common parasites that we look for are lung worms, heartworms, and infections with single-celled organisms like Giardia or Coccidia.

There are lots of choices of cat foods.  What should I feed my kitten?

Diet is extremely important in the growing months of a cat's life, and there are two important criteria that should be met in selecting food for your kitten.  We recommend a name-brand food made by a national cat food company (not a generic or local brand), and a form of food made for kittens.  This should be fed until your kitten is about 12 months of age.  In the United States, we recommend that you only buy food which has the AAFCO certification.  Usually, you can find this information very easily on the label.  AAFCO is an organization which oversees the entire pet food industry.  It does not endorse any particular food, but it will certify that the food has met the minimum requirements for nutrition.  Most of the commercial pet foods will have the AAFCO label.  Generic brands often do not have approval.

Feeding a dry, canned, or semi-moist form of cat food is acceptable. At Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, we recommend feeding a small amount of dry food and 3-6oz of canned food daily.  

Each type of food has advantages and disadvantages.  Dry food is definitely the most inexpensive.  It can be left in the cat's bowl at all times.  If given the choice, the average cat will eat a mouthful of food about 12-20 times per day.  The good brands of dry food are just as nutritious as the other forms. 

Semi-moist and canned foods are also acceptable.  However, both are considerably more expensive than dry food.  They often are more appealing to the cat's taste; however, they are not more nutritious.  If you feed a very tasty food, you are running the risk of creating a cat with a finicky appetite.  In addition, the semi-moist foods are high in sugar.

Table foods are not recommended.  Because the foods we eat are generally very tasty, cats will often begin to hold out for these and not eat their well-balanced cat food.  If you choose to give your kitten table food, be sure that at least 90% of its diet is good quality commercial kitten food.

We enjoy a variety of things to eat in our diet.  However, most cats actually prefer not to change from one food to another unless they are trained to do so by the way you feed them.  Do not feel guilty if your cat is happy to just eat one food day after day, week after week.

Commercials for cat food can be very misleading.  If you watch carefully you will notice that commercials promote cat food on one basis, TASTE.  Nutrition is rarely mentioned.  Most of the "gourmet" foods are marketed to appeal to owners who want the best for their cats; however, they do not offer the cat any nutritional advantage over a good quality dry food, and they are far more expensive.  If your cat eats a gourmet food very long, he will probably not be happy with other foods.  If he needs a special diet due to a health problem later in life, he will be very unlikely to accept it.  Therefore, we do not encourage feeding gourmet cat foods.

How do I ensure that my kitten is well socialized?

Mother siamese mix with kittens
The socialization period for cats is between 2 and 12 weeks of age.  During that time, the kitten is very impressionable to social influences.  If the kitten has good experiences with men, women, children, dogs, other cats, etc., she is likely to accept them throughout life.  If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, the kitten may become apprehensive or adverse to any of them.  Therefore, during the period of socialization, we encourage you to expose your cat to as many types of social events and influences as possible.

What can be done about fleas on my kitten?

Adult flea
Many of the flea control products that are safe on adult cats are not safe for kittens less than 4 months of age.  Fleas may not stay on your kitten all of the time.  Occasionally, they will jump off and seek another host.  Therefore, it is important to kill fleas on your new kitten before they become established in your house.  Be sure that any flea product you use is labeled safe for kittens.

Flea dirt on a cat
This is "flea dirt" - a sure sign of fleas
Flea and tick dip is not recommended for kittens unless they are at least 4 months of age.  Remember, not all insecticides that can be used on dogs are safe for cats and kittens. 

In addition to flea treatments and preventives, it is important to control fleas in the environment by thoroughly vacuuming areas where the kitten spends time.

Can I trim my kitten's sharp toe nails?

Kittens have very sharp toe nails.  They can be trimmed with your regular finger nail clippers or with nail trimmers made for dogs and cats.  If you trim too much, you will cut into the quick of the nail which will bleed and be painful.  If this happens, neither you nor your cat will want to do this again.  Therefore, a few points are helpful:
Trimming cat nails

You can use normal human nail clippers to trim your cat's nails.1. If your cat has clear or white nails, you can see the pink of the quick through the nail so it is easy to avoid.

2. If your cat has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick so only cut 1/32" (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the cat begins to get sensitive.  The sensitivity will usually occur before you are into the blood vessel.  With black nails, it is likely that you will get too close on at least one nail.

3. If your cat has some clear and some black nails, use the average
     clear nail as a guide for cutting the black ones.

4. When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers.  Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick. 

5. You should always have styptic powder available.  This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, but it will be labeled for use in trimming nails.

What are ear mites?

Cat ear mite
Ear mite under the microscope
Ear mites are tiny insect-like parasites that live in the ear canal of cats (and dogs).  The most common sign of ear mite infection is scratching of the ears.  Sometimes the ears will appear dirty because of a black material in the ear canal; this material is sometimes shaken out.  The instrument we use for examining the ear canals, an otoscope, has the necessary magnification to allow us to see the mites.  Sometimes, we can find the mites by taking a small amount of the black material from the ear canal and examining it with a microscope.  Although they may leave the ear canals for short periods of time, they spend the vast majority of their lives within the protection of the ear canal.  Transmission generally requires direct ear-to-ear contact.  Ear mites are common in litters of kittens if their mother has ear mites.

Why should I have my female cat spayed?

Spaying or ovariohysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries. It offers several advantages:

1.      The female's heat periods result in about 2-3 weeks of obnoxious behavior.  This can be quite annoying if your cat is kept indoors.  Male cats are attracted from blocks away and, in fact, seem to come out of the woodwork.  They seem to go over, around, and through many doors.  Your cat will have a heat period about every 2-3 weeks until she is bred.

2.      It has been proven that as the female dog gets older, there is a significant incidence of breast cancer and uterine infections if she has not been spayed.  Spaying before she has any heat periods will virtually eliminate the chances of either.  There is mounting evidence to believe that this is also true of cats.

3.      Spaying prevents unplanned litters of kittens.

4.      If you do not plan to breed your cat, we strongly recommend that she be spayed before her first heat period.  This can be done anytime after she is 5 months old.

Why should I have my male cat neutered?

Neutering or castration offers several advantages.  Male cats go through a significant personality change when they mature.  They become very possessive of their territory and mark it with their urine to ward off other cats.  The tom cat's urine develops a very strong odor that will be almost impossible to remove from your house.  They also try to constantly enlarge their territory which means one fight after another.  Fighting results in severe infections and abscesses and often engenders rage in your neighbors.  We strongly urge you to have your cat neutered at about 6 to 9 months of age.  If he should begin to spray his urine before that time, he should be neutered immediately.   The longer he sprays or fights, the less likely neutering will stop it.

If I choose to breed my cat, when should that be done?

If you plan to breed your cat, she should have at least one or two heat cycles first.  This allows her to mature physically and she will be a better mother without so much physical drain.  We do not recommend breeding after 5 years of age unless she has been bred prior to that.  Having her first litter after 5 years of age is more physically draining to her and increases the chances of her having problems during the pregnancy and/or delivery.  Once your cat has had her last litter, she should be spayed to prevent the female problems older cats have.

My kitten is already becoming destructive with her nails.  What can be done?

There are several options that can be considered: offering scratching posts, frequent nail clipping, nail shields, surgical declawing, and tendonectomy.

1.      Offering desirable scratching posts near the area where your kitten is scratching is an important tool in helping direct them to appropriate places to express this natural behavior. Many people make the mistake of sticking a scratching post in a far corner or offering scratching accessories that are too small or unstable. Cats need a post that allows them to stretch to their full length to scratch and sturdy enough not to fall over when they do so. You may need to experiment to learn if your cat is a vertical scratcher or a horizontal scratcher, and whether he or she prefers wood, sisal rope, carpet or cardboard as a scratching texture. There is a new product called FeliScratch that is a synthetic copy of the Feline Interdigital Pheromone that they excrete when they scratch. Applying this to a desirable scratching post will help your cat choose an acceptable place to scratch in your house. 

2.        The nails may be clipped according to the instructions above.  However, your cat's nails will regrow and become sharp again in about 4-7 days.  Therefore, to protect your property, it will  be necessary to clip them one to two times per week.

Soft nail caps protect the nails, but do keep them extended
3.      There are some commercially available products that are called nail caps.  These are generally made of smooth plastic and attach to the end of the nail with a special glue.  The nails are still present, but the caps prevent them from causing physical harm.  After 2-4 weeks the nails will grow enough that the caps will be shed.  At that time, you should be prepared to replace them. While soft nail caps protect your furniture from scratching, they do keep the nails in a state of extension, and can cause painful, severe problems if not changed regularly.

4.      Surgical declawing is the removal of the nail at its base.  This surgery is controversial, and you can read further about position of the AAFP on this surgery on their website. This is done under general anesthesia and with proper surgical techniques and adequate pain control, post-surgical discomfort should not exceed that of any other surgical procedure, especially when it is performed on a kitten. As with any surgical procedure, there can be complications and side effects. It should be noted that a declawed cat will not realize the claws are gone and will continue to "sharpen" the claws as normal on various objects, including scratching posts and furniture items. This surgery can be performed as early as 12 weeks of age or anytime thereafter.  It can also be done the same time as spaying or neutering.  Once declawed, your cat should always live indoors since the ability to defend itself is compromised.

5.      Tendonectomy is the surgical removal of a small part of the tendon on the bottom of each toe.  This tendon is needed to make the nail extend.  The cat retains its nails, but it cannot extend them for sharpening and scratching.  The disadvantage of this procedure is that the nails continue to grow and may grow into the pads.  Therefore, the nails should be clipped every 7 to 14 days.

You can also consider additional ways of modifying behavior, which may prevent the cat from scratching furniture in the house or being destructive.

This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM.

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