Caring for Your Kitten or Adult Cat
Owning a cat is an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it responsibilities. We hope these notes will give you some help and guidance. Please click on any of the links below for information on caring for your kitten or adult cat:
Fleas and Ticks
Why should I have my cat neutered? Should I declaw my cat?
Should I let me cat go outdoors?
For additional information concerning any subject
related to your kitten's health
There are many diseases that can cause severe or even fatal infection in cats. Kittens gain some protection from disease in the form of maternal antibodies passed in the mother's colostrum, (the milk excreted in the first few hours after the birth). To ensure that the mother has sufficient antibodies to pass onto her kittens, it is important that she is well vaccinated prior to mating. The protective effect of maternal antibodies lasts for only a few weeks. The kitten's vaccination program should therefore start from 7-8 weeks of age with follow-up vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart. Vaccination is routinely carried out against feline distemper (panleukopaenia or feline parvovirus), feline viral rhinotrachetitis, feline calicivirus, rabies and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV) virus. If you have any concerns or particular requirements concerning vaccination please do not hesitate to discuss them with us.
We have the ability to prevent many diseases with the use of very effective vaccines. In order to be effective these vaccines must initially be given as a series of injections.
Vaccines contain small quantities of "modified live" or "killed" viruses, bacteria or other disease causing organisms. When administered, they stimulate your cat's immune system to produce disease fighting cells and proteins or antibodies to protect against disease without causing the disease.
Very occasionally, a kitten is unable to respond to vaccination, usually because its levels of MDA (Maternally Derived Antibody) are too high. This is why kitten vaccines are given in a series. As the kitten matures, the Maternal Antibody diminishes and the kitten has more receptivity to the vaccine. Equally infrequently vaccines may also prove ineffective if the kitten's immune system has been damaged in some way, or, of course, if the disease has already been contracted before the vaccine has been administered or had time to work.
It should be stressed however, that ineffective vaccination and side-effects are both extremely uncommon and such minor drawbacks are far outweighed by the positive benefits of protecting your cat against diseases that could kill.
Also known as feline panleukopaenia or feline parvovirus, this disease is a viral infection that may cause severe illness and may be fatal in unprotected cats (as high as 90% in young kittens). The symptoms include fever, anorexia, diarrhea and vomiting. The kitten's white blood cells, which fight infection, often fall to dangerously low levels called leukopenia. Infection of pregnant cats can lead to brain damage in the kittens. The virus is very resistant and can remain in the environment for up to 12 months. Vaccination has been very effective in reducing this disease in pet cats but it is harbored in wild or feral cat populations that serve as a constant threat to your pet.
Flu-like symptoms in cats (e.g. sneezing and runny eyes) may be caused by feline calicivirus or feline herpes virus (also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus). The viruses are present in large amounts in saliva, tears and nasal secretions and are usually spread by droplets from sneezing cats. However the viruses may also survive outside the cat for short periods so infection can be transmitted on feed bowls etc. Most cats recover with supportive treatment but some cats can remain infected with the viruses and may suffer recurrent attacks of sinusitis or gingivitis even after they are apparently healthy again. They may shed the virus periodically thus providing a constant threat to other cats. The stress of pregnancy or nursing can also cause shedding of the virus which is then easily picked up by the susceptible kittens. In very young or immunosuppressed cats (e.g. those with FeLV or FIV infection or on certain medication) these viruses can progress to a life threatening pneumonia.
Chlamydia are intracellular bugs which can cause recurrent conjunctivitis, flu-like symptoms and may also involve the lungs and/or cause reproductive failure. The disease is particularly common in kittens and highly contagious between cats. Potentially humans or other animals could become infected. Once established the disease takes several weeks of treatment to eradicate. Vaccination is usually reserved for high risk situations.
This incurable viral disease affects the central nervous system of almost all mammals including humans. It is spread through contact with the saliva of infected animals through bites or any break in the skin. The disease is 100% fatal once symptoms develop therefore prevention is of paramount importance. The usual source of rabies is infected wild animals especially bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks. Clinical signs are related to the nervous system and may take several weeks to develop. The virus migrates along nerve tissue to the brain of the infected animal. Then it migrates to the salivary glands an the animal may then transmit the virus in its saliva.
There is no reliable blood test for rabies in a live animal. The only reliable test is performed on the brain tissue of deceased rabies suspects. If humans are potentially exposed they must be given preventative antibodies and vaccinations before the disease has a chance to develop. Any bite wound from a wild animal or unvaccinated pet must be reported to local animal control and/or public health authorities.
Vaccination of cats is a highly effective preventative measure and is required for all cats and dogs.
FeLV is an immunosuppressive disease similar to the human AIDS virus but is not transmittable to humans. Feline leukemia virus can cause a number of different problems in cats, including leukemia, tumors, anemia and increased susceptibility to other diseases. The virus is only spread by close contact (most frequently in saliva), although young kittens can become infected in their mother's uterus. There may be a long incubation period (up to several years) between infection and the development of disease symptoms, but 85% of cats die within 3.5 years of becoming permanently infected. Vaccination is particularly important for outdoors cats. Vaccination is available with a primary course at 9 and 12 weeks and yearly boosting thereafter. It is particularly important with feline leukemia vaccination that boosters are given on time as a lapse in protection could allow infection which may not become apparent for many months or years. Kittens are typically tested with a combination FeLV/FIV upon their initial visit.
Feline immunodeficiency virus (another virus closely related to the human AIDS virus) can cause symptoms similar to feline leukemia virus. There is no risk of the infection being passed to humans. As stated above a combination FeLV/FIV blood test will determine if your kitten has been exposed to the diseases. There is now a vaccine available given as an initial 3 shot series to kittens and then followed with annual boosters. Vaccination is recommended for outdoors cats.
Corona viruses are viruses that are spread in saliva and feces. Corona viruses usually affect young kittens although they can affect cats of any age. Some feline corona virus strains may have no obvious symptoms or mild transient diarrhea. However feline infectious peritonitis, a strain of corona virus is a progressive, fatal, systemic disease of cats. Early signs may be nonspecific such a weight loss, fever, anorexia, etc. As the disease progresses, the cat may develop abdominal swelling or fluid in the chest. Once symptoms develop the disease is almost invariably fatal. Blood tests for feline corona virus are available but do not distinguish the cats that have merely been exposed to the virus from those which have developed the disease.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection with the organism called
toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic single-cell organism that is one of
the most common parasites of animals. Felines are the primary host of
this parasite although virtually all warm-blooded animals, including
man, can be infected with this bug. It is an extremely well adapted parasite
and rarely causes significant disease to the individuals that it infects.
Sometimes however, cats (especially if they are immune suppressed) may
develop serious symptoms including eye problems, pneumonia, neurological
and digestive diseases. Blood tests can be helpful in diagnosis. Antibiotic
therapy may helpful however severe infections can be fatal.
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the superficial layers of the skin, hairs and nails. In cats, one type called Microsporum canis is responsible for almost all ringworm infections. In addition to being infectious to both cats and dogs, ringworm will also readily infect man. Diagnosis is usually made by examining hairs for fluorescence under ultraviolet light, by microscopic examination or culture. Although in many cats, ringworm is a self-limiting infection (with resolution typically taking 3-5 months), treatment of the disease is nearly always indicated to minimize the risk of infection to humans or other pets. Ringworm can be transmitted quite readily to humans (particularly children) and it is therefore important to take appropriate steps to minimize exposure to the fungus while the cat is being treated. If any humans in the house develop skin lesions (small patches of skin thickening and reddening, or patches of hair loss) early medical attention should be sought. Ringworm in humans generally responds very well to treatment.
Intestinal worms (most commonly roundworms and hookworms) are often found in kittens whom are infected from their mother through her milk. Diarrhea is the most common symptom, but some kittens tolerate the worms without symptoms. Many small kittens have a bloated appearance known as "worm belly". Modern worming preparations are safe and effective and we recommend their use at four week intervals from 2 to 4 months of age. It is important that the medication is repeated since it is only the adult worms that are killed. Within 3-4 weeks, the larval stages will have matured and will need to be treated again. Roundworms pose a small but definite risk to susceptible children therefore it is good practice to regularly administer worming preparations to your cat and to routinely have fecal tests performed.
Today combined preparations which eradicate both roundworms and tapeworms are available. Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasite of cats. They become infected either by eating small rodents or swallowing fleas during grooming. Cats infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their feces. The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice. They are about 3 mm (1/8 in) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the feces. They may also stick to the hair under the tail and when this occurs they will dry out, shrink to about half the size and become golden in color.
Protozoa parasites such as giardia and coccidia may also infect kittens and cause diarrhea of varying severity. They may be diagnosed by routine fecal checks or fecal smears or may require a laboratory tests and are treated with the appropriate antibiotics.
Early in life kittens need to eat often. They require relatively larger quantities of food because they are growing rapidly, but have limited space in their stomachs. At eight weeks they need to be fed about 3-4 meals a day. By six months the need for food is decreased as the kitten is nearly fully grown and can be fed 2 meals a day.
If possible try to find out what your kitten was being fed at its previous home and continue with this, at least for a short time. If you do decide that you want to change the type of food your kitten is being fed do so gradually over several days to allow the digestive system time to adapt. Rapid changes of diet are a frequent cause of diarrhea in young kittens.
A good quality kitten food has advantages over adult cat food since it has been specially formulated to meet the demands of rapid growth in a compact form. Since growth is almost complete by 6 months, kittens may be switched to "adult" cat food at 6-8 months of age. Because cats have different dietary requirements from dogs feeding dog food to cats can lead to disease problems.
If possible try to accustom your cat to a range of foods and flavors since it is common for cats to become fussy over the food they will eat. If this becomes extreme it may lead to nutritional deficiencies and may make the feeding of special diets required to manage health problems in later life more difficult.
Even though many cats do not seem to drink a great deal fresh water should always be available, and this is especially important if your kitten is being fed on dried food. Contrary to popular myth, kittens and adult cats do not need milk. In fact after weaning many kittens lose the ability to digest milk sugar (lactose) at about 12 weeks of age. Therefore while small amounts may be tolerated, too much can lead to intestinal upset and diarrhea because it is not being digested properly.
Ticks are small spider-like arthropods and fleas are insects. They are both parasites that feed on your cat's blood and can cause discomfort and more serious health problems. Flea bites may go unnoticed in some pets, cause slight irritation in others and produce extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in those animals with flea allergy dermatitis, which is the result of extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Severe flea infestations can cause anemia, especially in kittens. Fleas can also transmit several diseases as well as tapeworm.
It is quite possible for your new kitten to arrive with fleas, and if so early treatment is essential to avoid infestation of the environment and other pets. However, the best way to control flea and tick problems is to prevent them from happening.
Many effective flea and tick control preparations for use on adult cats are not suitable for use on kittens so please consult us regarding appropriate products. Today there are new, innovative products which are suitable for use on even very young kittens. It must be emphasized that flea and tick control in the kitten is equally as important as in the older cat.
Ear mites (otodectes cyanotis) are tiny parasites that live in the ear canal of cats (and dogs). Infestations are common in young kittens the most common signs are black or brown discharge and scratching and shaking of the ears. Mites can usually be easily diagnosed by looking at a sample of the discharge under the microscope. Transmission is by direct contact between animals and the mites can be transmitted between cats and dogs. Treatment consists of applying drops to the ears to kill the mites; these drops are unable to prevent eggs hatching so treatment must be carried out for at least 10 days and all in- contact animals should be treated at the same time. Re-treatment in 2-3 weeks may be necessary.
Neutering, or castration, offers a number of advantages, especially if performed at an early age (around 6 months). Following puberty, at approximately 6 months old, the male cat may develop a number of "undesirable" behavioral changes. He may become territorial and start to mark areas, often in the house, by spraying urine, which will by now have developed a particularly strong, lingering odor which is very difficult to remove. He may start to enlarge his territory by straying ever further from the house, particularly at night. It is for this reason that many cats involved in fights or road traffic accidents are intact males. By increasing his territory he will come into contact with other cats and so fight for dominance. Fight wounds can cause abscesses, septicemia and enable transmission of the FIV and FeLV viruses - which can cause AIDS-like syndromes and cancers in cats. Finally, but not least, neutering prevents the siring of unwanted litters.
Spaying female cats also offers several advantages. Most obviously, it will prevent the prospect of unplanned litters. Once puberty is reached, at around 6 months old, the female will be "calling" while she is in heat until she is mated. Unlike dogs, female cats will repeated go into heat until they mate. Calling is manifest as loud and persistent crying, and frequent rubbing and rolling on the floor. Such behavior and her scent will attract male cats from miles around. This can be eliminated by spaying. Spaying will remove the risk of uterine infection, and may reduce the future risk of breast cancer.
The decision to have your kitten declawed is a personal one that must
be considered carefully. There is considerable debate about the procedure
and many animal advocacy groups are opposed to it. Some state that declawing
results in psychological distress for the cat as a natural means of movement
and defense has been altered, however, the AVMA reports that there is
no scientific evidence to suggest that declawing leads to psychological
or behavioral abnormalities.
Declawing (onychectomy) is performed under general anesthesia and consists of surgical removal of the nail bed (basically the last joint). Kittens should be over 3-4 months old. The feet are usually bandaged, and the cat may be hospitalized briefly. After the bandages are removed, your pet will usually be able to walk, though tenderness may be evident for a few days. Kittens heal more quickly and hospitalization is usually overnight but cats over 8 months of age may require 2-3 days of hospitalization.
Although cats are very different from dogs, they also need interaction and loving attention. When you bring a new kitten into your home, you will have to decide whether your pet will live strictly indoors or will be allowed outside. There are advantages and disadvantages in both cases. Free-roaming cats are prone to more illnesses and have a much shorter life expectancy as they can be hit by cars, attacked by other animals and exposed to internal and external parasites such as fleas, worms and ear mites. Conversely, if your cat never ventures outside, you must provide him with physical and mental stimulation, including interaction with you, exercise, scratching posts and a clean toilet area.
Your interaction with your new kitten begins during the ride home in the car and all cats should be transported in some kind of carrier in the car. When you get home you should place the kitten in a small, quiet area with water and a litter tray. If possible, duplicate the type of litter material used in the previous home. When you start to introduce your kitten to the house you should begin the process very calmly and you should ensure that the first room you allow your new kitten to explore has been inspected for nooks and crannies where it might hide or get stuck. In a new environment a kitten may look for a secluded place to hide. The kitten needs to be given time to investigate its new surroundings and this process can be helped by limiting the space available and initially supervising the kitten closely but not interfering with its investigations. After your new kitten has had some quiet time in a restricted location, you can slowly allow access to other areas of the home. Kittens are natural explorers and in the first few weeks gradual access to the home will allow exploration as well enabling you to monitor the kitten's behavior.
New kittens need plenty of outlets for play. Stalking and pouncing behaviors are important play behaviors in kittens and aid in coordination and muscular development. If given sufficient outlets for these behaviors with toys and perhaps a playmate, kittens will be less likely to use humans as their targets. Good toys are ones that move rapidly and are light enough to be picked up, but large enough so that they are not swallowed. Never use your hands or body parts for play. This can lead to dangerous play and human injury. Depending on its personality and early experiences as a kitten, your cat may either enjoy, accept, or dislike, certain types of handling from stroking to bathing. In order for the cat to learn to accept and enjoy a variety of types of physical contact from humans, it is important that the human hand is only associated with positive experiences and that all physical punishment is avoided. You should begin with those types of handling that the cat enjoys or is willing to accept, and provide small treats at each of the first few sessions. Once the cat learns to associate food with these sessions, slightly longer or more intense sessions can be practiced. Handling your cat in this way can be used to help the cat become accustomed to and enjoy, patting, grooming, teeth brushing, claw cutting and even bathing. Never force handling upon your cat as any negative experience will only make the problem worse and the cat more resistant to further handling.
It is important to remember that physical discipline is inappropriate. It can scare your cat and make him or her afraid of being picked up or held throughout its life.
Initially it is important that the kitten be confined to a small area with an appropriate sized litter tray. This allows you to take advantage of a cat's tendency to eliminate in a loose material. As long as the litter is the only loose substance available, and especially if it is the same type of litter that used in its previous home, very little effort should be required to litter tray train the kitten. About the only other indoor area that might appeal to a number of cats is the soil around houseplants. Ensuring that the cat is prevented from getting into houseplants should deal with this problem. Kittens will need to eliminate after they eat, after they wake up and after play. At those times place the kitten in its litter tray and praise him or her for elimination. A kitten does not need to be confined continuously, but should be supervised to prevent accidents and brought back frequently to the appropriate elimination location.
For additional information concerning any subject
related to your cat's health