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Top six kitten care tips: A vet's guide

kitten care
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It’s important to understand the basic principles of kitten care if you’re planning to introduce a new kitten to your home, along with providing the best kitten food and the best kitten toys

Although it’s easy to view kittens as a low-maintenance pet, compared to a puppy, the reality is that kittens do require attention, socialization, and medical care! Understanding your kitten’s basic needs can help ensure that your new pet has a peaceful adjustment to your home, providing benefits for the rest of your kitten’s life. 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

Regular veterinary care is an important part of keeping your new kitten happy and healthy. Schedule your kitten’s first veterinary visit within the first few days after adopting your kitten. At this visit, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination to see whether your kitten is showing any signs of illness or has any underlying health issues that you need to be aware of. Your veterinarian will also review any medical records that you may have received with your kitten in order to determine what diagnostic tests and vaccines are recommended for your kitten. Depending on your kitten’s medical history, your veterinarian may recommend testing for intestinal worms, feline leukemia virus, and/or feline immunodeficiency virus. 

2. Don’t skimp on your kitten’s vaccination visits

kitten care

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kittens typically visit the veterinarian every three to four weeks, beginning at eight weeks of age and continuing until they reach at least 16 weeks of age. During these visits, your kitten will receive a series of vaccines to protect against a number of feline viral illnesses, including rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus), calicivirus, panleukopenia, feline leukemia virus, and rabies. While it can be challenging to fit these vaccine visits into a hectic schedule, it’s important to set aside 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

The unfortunate reality is that there are far more kittens than there are homes for these kittens. By ensuring that your kitten is spayed or neutered prior to six months of age, you are doing your part to prevent accidental breeding and avoid contributing to pet overpopulation. 

In addition to preventing accidental breeding, spaying or neutering can also offer direct benefits for you and your kitten. Cats in heat are often difficult to be around, vocalizing loudly and attempting to escape the house. Intact males have their own challenging behavior, including urine marking and attempts to escape in search of in-heat females. Spay or 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. 

4. Use a prescription product to prevent problems with fleas, intestinal worms, and heartworms

kitten care

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While many owners think that parasites are only a concern in outdoor cats, veterinarians commonly diagnose even indoor cats with fleas and other parasites. 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, it’s important for all cats to receive broad-spectrum parasite prevention, beginning at an early age. 

Although over-the-counter flea prevention products are available in many pet supply stores, these products do not offer protection against heartworms or intestinal worms. Additionally, over-the-counter flea products are typically less effective than prescription parasite preventatives, and have a higher risk of side effects. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the best parasite prevention plan for your kitten. 

5. Provide your kitten with healthy outlets for her energy

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. [Description: This feeder was designed by a veterinarian in order to mimic a cat’s natural hunting behavior in order to prevent boredom and help cats maintain a healthy body weight.]

6. Take steps to “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 babyproof your home for a toddler, it’s important to “kitten-proof” your home for your new kitten. 

Consider the following:

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 early efforts will pay off

Having an understanding of kitten care is important to ensure that your relationship with your kitten gets off to a good start. Paying attention to your kitten’s needs during the early stages of development will minimize the likelihood of your kitten developing medical or behavioral issues that may have long-lasting effects.

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette received both her Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida. She’s an experienced writer, educator, and veterinarian, with a passion for making scientific and medical information accessible to public and professional audiences.