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Top six kitten care tips: A vet's guide

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Adding a kitten to your home requires a crash course in the basic principles of kitten care. Although kittens are often less needy than puppies, they do require attention, socialization, and medical care. There’s more to kitten care than just providing the best kitten food and the best kitten toys. It’s important to understand your kitten’s physical and psychological needs, so you can help them acclimate to your home and maximize the likelihood of a smooth adjustment. Take a look at these tips to ensure you're giving your new kitten the best possible care.

1. Partner with your veterinarian to provide optimal medical care

While your efforts at home are certainly important, some kitten preventive care needs can be met only through a veterinarian. Veterinary care is essential to ensure that your cat receives necessary disease-preventing vaccines, parasite prevention, and deworming. 

Schedule your kitten’s first veterinary visit within the first few days of bringing your kitten home. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination, looking for signs of illness and underlying health issues. Your veterinarian will also review your kitten’s medical records, to determine what medical care your cat needs. Depending on your kitten’s medical history, your veterinarian may recommend vaccines, a fecal parasite exam, and/or infectious disease testing. 

2. Don’t skimp on vaccines

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There’s no NHS for pets. Veterinary care can be eye-wateringly expensive and most pets will need treatment for an illness or injury at some point in their life. It’s difficult to think about your animals being hurt or unwell, but you need to ask yourself: what would you do if you were faced with a vet bill for hundreds or thousands of pounds?

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Kittens typically visit the veterinarian every three to four weeks, from eight to sixteen weeks of age. After the initial kitten vaccine series, vaccinations will decrease in frequency to once every one to three years. 

The initial series of kitten vaccines will protect your kitten against a number of feline viral illnesses, including rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus), calicivirus, panleukopenia, feline leukemia virus, and rabies. While it may seem challenging to fit these frequent kitten vaccine visits into your hectic schedule, it’s important to set aside the time to do so. Missing vaccine visits can put your kitten at risk for serious and potentially fatal viral infections. 

3. Have your kitten spayed or neutered before six months of age

Pet overpopulation is a serious concern, because there are often more kittens available than there are available homes. By ensuring that your kitten is spayed or neutered before they reach reproductive maturity, you’re doing your part to prevent accidental breeding and avoid contributing to pet overpopulation. 

Spay/neuter surgery can also directly benefit you and your kitten. Cats in heat can be difficult to be around, vocalizing loudly and attempting to escape the house. Intact males may urine mark inside the home, as well as attempting to escape in search of in-heat females. Spay/neuter surgery prevents these behaviors, making your cat a more pleasant companion and reducing the likelihood that your kitten will be injured while out roaming. Spaying and neutering also reduces the likelihood of your cat developing certain types of cancers and has been shown to increase a cat’s lifespan. 

4. Use a prescription product to prevent parasites

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Parasites, such as fleas, intestinal worms, and heartworms, pose a serious risk to cats. While you may not think your indoor cat is at risk, veterinarians commonly diagnose parasites even in indoor cats. Fleas aren’t just disgusting and annoying; they can spread serious viral infections. Intestinal worms can trigger vomiting and diarrhea, while heartworms can be deadly. Therefore, you should give your pet a veterinarian-recommended parasite preventative, beginning in kittenhood and continuing throughout the remainder of your cat’s life.

Although over-the-counter flea preventatives are available in many pet supply stores, these products do not protect against heartworms or intestinal worms. They also tend to be less effective than prescription parasite preventatives, with a higher risk of side effects. Talk to your veterinarian about the best parasite prevention plan for your kitten. 

5. Provide your kitten with healthy outlets for play and exercise

As you may have noticed, kittens have a lot of energy! It’s important to provide your kitten with plenty of healthy opportunities for play. Not only will this increase your cat’s mental well-being, it will also decrease the likelihood that your cat develops bad habits, such as attacking you or chewing on your hands. 

Experiment with your kitten to determine which toys she prefers – take a look at our guide to the best kitten toys for some ideas. There are a number of available options, including fake mice, balls (with or without bells or other noisemakers inside), and teaser wands (toys that have a feather or other small toy on the end of a string, attached to a long handle). You can even make mealtime an opportunity for play by using a product such as Doc & Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder, which mimics a cat’s natural hunting behavior.

6. “Kitten-proof” your home carefully

Despite your best efforts to keep your kitten entertained and pleasantly exhausted, the curious and playful nature of kittens still sometimes results in them getting into trouble. Just like you would baby-proof your home for a toddler, it’s important to “kitten-proof” your home for your new kitten. Take the time to walk (or even better, crawl) around your home, looking for potential kitten hazards and removing them before they present a problem.

Your time and energy investments will pay off

Understanding kitten care will help get your relationship with your kitten off to a good start. Pay close attention to your kitten’s needs during the early stages of development, in order to strengthen the bond that you will have and minimize the likelihood of your kitten developing undesirable medical or behavioral issues.

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.