Kitten Care - Important Things You Need To Know About Raising A Healthy Kitten

What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

What are the most important things that I consider? Number one, do some research. If you've never had a cat, they are litter box trained, which means they will instinctively know to use the litter box. So step one is litter box litter. That's super easy. You want to make sure that your kitten is eating and drinking. You want to be able to play with your kitten. Playtime with kittens is how you socialize them. It's how they learn about the world. Everything that moves is going to be something new to them, and they're very much going to be like, Oh, I need to go look at this. So, following that, kittens like to get into trouble. They're very curious. The reason that there's a saying that cats have nine lives is that they're really curious, and that curiosity can get them into trouble sometimes. It's just something to be aware of.

Playtime with kittens, as I said, is a great way to socialize them. Yearly veterinary visits are extremely important. Also, they are just finding their own habits. Every cat is different. They have different personalities. You will learn what is normal for them. For instance, my cat loves to sleep with me. When he doesn't sleep with me, I usually go check on him because that's not normal. He also loves to drink water out of the faucet. You'll learn things about your cat, and as a kitten, those things will start to come out. You'll also learn their meows. You'll learn what a stress meow is, what a happy meow is, what the meow is when they're looking for you or when they're hungry, and you'll learn to pick up on these cues, which will help you form a really healthy cat-human bond, so you can have a furry feeling friend for as long as you can in a happy, healthy environment.

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws at Fulshear Veterinary Clinic

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

You never want to pick them just straight up from underneath their arms because that can hurt. You don't want to pick them up how you would pick up a baby. Babies, you pick up right underneath their arms, but with kittens, you have to ensure that you're supporting their little rear end. I usually like to scoop them and have their front legs here and their bottom here and pick them up, and you can kind of carry them like this. You can also have them on your forearm with the head here, body here, and have a hold that way. You never want to pick them up from their arms because that can cause pain and tension in the underarm area.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

A happy kitten is going to get into things. They will be chasing their tail, be bright and alert, and look at everything around them. Eating and drinking are a big part of that as well, but playfulness in a kitten is usually the number one sign that they're feeling better. Sleeping. If they're sleeping a whole lot, that can mean something's wrong. It's normal for babies to sleep, but for kittens, we should have spurts of energy followed by a nap and another spurt of energy. If all they're doing is napping or hiding, something's not right.

How should I feed my cat?

Cats are a little bit finicky. Some cats like to graze throughout the day. We recommend feeding them in the morning, middle of the day, or into the evening to get them on scheduled feedings so we can battle weight gain in cats as they get older because they used to be hunters and outdoors and exercising, but when we brought them in to be house cats, their jobs became purring on our laps and looking cute, so they don't burn up many calories. So it's very easy to overfeed them if we do what's called free feeding, where we leave the food out all day long. We just have to be mindful of something like that.

What are some products I might need for my cat?

Litter box. Litter box. The litter box is important with litter. Litter is important too. Kitten food is crucial, and toys are a good idea. Anything can be made into a toy. You can go buy toys, but anything can be made into a toy. I can't tell you how many times I will take a little Q-tip and go like this in an exam room, and the kitten just has an absolute ball. You've maybe heard the saying that when you buy a toy from Amazon and it gets delivered, the cat's more interested in the box than the toy. That's absolutely a truth. Cats love boxes. Feather toys and balls are great, and laser pointers can be really fun. Those are cool ideas for playing with your kitty.

How soon should I bring my kitten to see a veterinarian?

I usually recommend it within one to three days, depending on how the kitten's doing. It's good to have a baseline exam. It's good to check for intestinal parasites, where we get a stool sample. To make things a lot easier, bring a stool sample with you. Collecting a stool sample from anybody is not fun, but they will deposit a stool sample in their litter box, and a little bit of litter on it is fine. Bring it with you. That means we don't have to go in the back door of your little kitten, who will not appreciate that.

How can I get the most out of my first veterinary visit with my new kitten?

Listen and ask questions. I can't tell you how many times I get owners that come in, and they have so much they want to tell me, which is great, but sometimes they forget to listen. So make sure that you're listening. Watch how we examine the kitten and how we hold the kitten because what you can do from a young age is teach them that being held like this or being restrained like this is okay. They learn everything. The socialization period of a kitten goes all the way up to 18 weeks. So when they're little, like six weeks, teaching them to be okay laying on their side or being held on their back or just being held by a human, in general, can really help the ease of veterinary visits. Listening and asking questions are probably the best things you can do. Be a reflexive listener. There are no stupid questions. We've heard it all, but it's much better for you to ask me a question in the exam room than not to know something and accidentally do something wrong that could cause harm to your kitten.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten exam?

We do a full physical exam. I'm looking for if the kitten is bright and alert. Oftentimes, you'll see your veterinarian running their hands across the table. That might look like we're just playing with them, but what I'm actually checking for is whether they are tracking with their eyes. Are they interested in what's moving? That's normal cat behavior. They should be interested in things that move. What do their ears look like? Are they scratching? When I rub their ears, are they really leaning into it, meaning it's itchy, and I need to look a little deeper to see if they have an ear infection? I'll look inside their mouths to see if their gums are nice and pink. Are they hydrated? I'll listen to their heart, make sure that we don't have any heart murmurs, that their lungs sound clear, and that their abdomens are free of pain. We'll check a stool sample to look for intestinal parasites. A lot happens on that first visit, even if it looks quick. We go to school for a very long time, so those exams may look very brief, but we gain a wealth of information about your new kitten at that visit.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in your kitten?

We talked about it a little bit earlier, but we'll touch on it again. They should be playful. A kitten that's not playful, just lethargic, lying there, and doesn't want to play is not normal. A kitten that is doing nothing but hiding is troubling. Hiding can be a sign of illness in cats. They like to be alone, and they're very solitary when they don't feel well because they're carnivores, and their instincts tell them they're hunters. When a hunter is sick, they don't want to become the hunted, so they hide. Hiding in a cat is a major signal that something is wrong. Not eating, not drinking, vomiting, diarrhea. You would see many things in human babies and say, Oh, this isn't normal, then this wouldn't be normal in a kitten either. Often, they'll be times when I ask a client, Do you consider this to be normal in a human? And if the answer is no, then most likely, it's not normal in your cat either. But your main early warning signs are hiding, lethargy, not eating, and not drinking. Obviously, when we get to vomiting and diarrhea, that's a very obvious sign, but the subtle signs of hiding and maybe sleeping more are things you can pick up on quickly.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

This is a good one. Everyone knows about Dr. Google. Google gives a wealth of information. There are veterinary sites like that can give you a lot of really great information, but self-diagnosing can lead to delays in treatment. So your kitten might be really sick, but because you think you know what's going on and you try to treat them at home, it's not smart because they're babies. They get dehydrated a lot faster, their blood sugar drops a lot faster, and they don't have the reserves that an adult animal will have to weather for a few days. They can get sick very quickly, meaning your kitten could be totally fine in the morning, and by the evening, there could be something wrong. It can happen that quickly. By self-diagnosing, you're delaying the care of your kitten. Also, the earlier you get your kitten in to be seen, the faster and easier it is to get them turned around. The longer you wait, the more other body systems might be affected. If they're vomiting and get dehydrated, their kidneys can fail. There's a whole list of things that can happen the longer you wait. I always tell my clients that early intervention of care is cheaper and easier. The longer you wait, the more expensive and the more testing will be needed and the more we'll have to do to get them feeling better.

When should my kitten get vaccines?

This is a great question. I like to start vaccines between seven to eight weeks and then vaccinate every four weeks up until they're about 16 weeks of age. I like to wait until between seven and eight weeks because the maternal antibodies are still circulating in the bloodstream, which means that when you give a vaccine, those maternal antibodies are looking for what's in that vaccine.

They're supposed to do that, but your vaccines aren't as effective. We really like to vaccinate when the maternal antibodies start to decrease so you can get a good immune response. Vaccines are super important. Even if they're indoor only, we are not. We go everywhere. When you touch things, you can bring viruses and bacteria into your home and expose your kitten.

What do I need to know about kitten behavior?

They get into trouble. As I said a lot earlier, there's a reason we say they have nine lives. They're super curious. They need a lot of enrichment. Play with your kitten and expose them to new things. Make sure things that things they like to swallow, such as hair ties, plastic, and little chew-on stuff, are out of their reach. I had a cat once that swallowed pistachio and had to have surgery. So make sure you pick up any tiny little things on the ground because the kitties will make bad kitten life decisions, and that equals dollars that you have to spend. Hair ties are a big one. I've even had kittens that will chew on hair from the hair brushes. Weird things like that. Pay attention to your kitten's behavior. They're entering into the realm of, Oh, this might not be a good idea, and, I'm going to go walk on the railing next to the stairs on a second-story house. Probably not a good idea. Let's discourage that and maybe bring them down.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media

Kitten Care - FAQs

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws at Fulshear Veterinary Clinic

What are non-core vaccines for kittens, and why does my kitten need them?

We'll talk about core vaccines first before talking about non-core. Core vaccines are considered the most important thing for your kittens, especially in the United States. They are vaccines for the most common diseases that we can prevent. The first one, of course, is rabies. Rabies can be given starting at 13 weeks and then needs to be given once a year after that. Rabies is transmissible to people, which is why it's so important. It is a hundred percent fatal to animals, so it's super important. Even if your cat or kitten doesn't go outside, it's super important because things can happen. Here in Texas, we have endemic rabies. Skunks can carry rabies and show no symptoms. There was an instance even where a raccoon got inside and bit an indoor kitty cat who had to be put down because that raccoon carried rabies. Fluke things happen, and it's super important to follow. It's also Texas state law. Non-core vaccines would be something like feline leukemia. Feline leukemia is known as the Kitty-Loving Loving Disease because it's transmitted by cats when they're grooming and loving each other. It's usually fatal as well. We recommend it for cats that go outside and interact, but if they're indoor only, they're low risk. Another core vaccine that's super important is our FVRCP, which is basically for feline upper respiratory viruses that can be detrimental to their health and can create emergency situations. Just like we get vaccinated for the flu, or some of us get vaccinated for COVID-19, FVRCP is considered a core vaccine because it is one of the most common transmissible diseases in kittens.

How soon should my kitten be vaccinated?

We like to start kitten vaccines between seven and eight weeks of age. You can start them around six weeks. I typically like to wait a little longer just because the maternal antibodies are still hanging around. Then once you start your vaccines, you give them every three to four weeks up until the kitten is 16 weeks of age.

What is the recommended vaccine schedule for kittens?

Every three to four weeks up until they reach 16 weeks of age. That way, we ensure we form lasting immunity to protect your kitten. It's once a year after that.

Does my kitten need vaccines if they're only going to stay indoors?

They do because viruses and bacteria are microscopic, and even if your kitten is not going anywhere, you are. If you have dogs, they're going places, and viruses and bacteria can live on our skin from everything we touch and on our shoes. You can infect your kitten even if they aren't going anywhere. So it's super important that even indoor-only kitty cats that aren't going anywhere have their vaccines to help them stay healthy.

Are there any risks or side effects associated with kitten vaccines?

They're usually very low risks. The biggest side effect we can see is a little bit of pain when we're giving the vaccine. Nobody likes needles, and there is a little pinch. They can be sore in that area for a few days after. Sometimes you can even get some swelling. It's very rare to see a true vaccine reaction, but if it is seen, the first sign you're generally going to see is vomiting within about an hour or two after giving the vaccine. If that is seen, they need to return to the veterinary clinic. Other vaccine reactions we can see are facial swelling or hives. Once again, they're very rare, but in that event, you need to bring them back to your veterinarian. If your veterinarian's office is not open, please go to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic for care.

What if my kitten misses a vaccination?

If your kitten misses a vaccine, come in when you can, and we will start where we left off. So say you get your first vaccine at seven to eight weeks, and then you miss your 12-week vaccine, but you come in for 16 weeks. At 16 weeks, their immune system is considered an adult. What we usually do to make sure we've got enough protection is I will still give a booster one more time after that. So we kind of pick up where you left off. The only exception to this is with older kitties that are maybe one or two years of age. Their immune system is an adult; therefore, one vaccine should produce enough of an immune response to last for a year.

Can my kitten go outside if not all vaccines have been given yet?

Ideally not. We like our kittens and cats to be protected when they enter the environment. I can say that my cats are vaccinated for feline leukemia. They are indoor-only cats and don't go anywhere, but they come outdoors with me. I'm with them, and it's usually for short periods of time in my fenced yard. There's no chance for them to have any interaction. Is that best practice? I should probably vaccinate them. They only go outside maybe once every six months, but if you live in a highly populated kitty cat environment with a feral cat population, yes. Ideally, you need to have your cats vaccinated for both feline FVRCP, feline rabies, and feline leukemia.

Why is it important to get my kitten vaccinated by a veterinarian?

There are different types of vaccines. Not all vaccines are created equal, so if you go to a low-cost or if you get your vaccines from a tractor supply, we can't guarantee that the vaccines are, number one, stored appropriately. If the vaccine sits out for any longer than about 10 to 15 minutes, the vaccine doesn't always have as much of a response because the particles can start to die, so you won't get an immune response at all. Low-cost vaccines do have their place, but your vaccines given by a veterinarian, even though they might be at a slightly higher price point, you are assured that they've been stored appropriately and they're given appropriately. Because when you give your cat vaccines at home, you really want to make sure you're giving it at an appropriate time, place, and position on the body, and you don't want to harm your kitten. So while there is a place for that, I am not a huge fan because we can see kittens that are not given appropriate vaccines, or if they're given a vaccine that hasn't been stored properly, and they may not have any protection at all.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media

Kitten Care - FAQs 2

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws at Fulshear Veterinary Clinic

How do I know if a kitten is orphaned?

There are a couple of different ways to see if a kitten has been orphaned or not. One of the most classic signs is that it's clearly by itself. Sometimes you can find them wandering in the road, mud, or ditch, and there's no mother around. Typically, with kittens that are not orphaned, there's usually more than one. So if there's more than one kitten there, the mother may have just stepped out for a little bit. You can watch, but I think if you don't see the mother come back within two to three hours, then it's safe to assume that the kitten is orphaned. We were talking about how to tell if a kitten is orphaned. Another way that you can tell if a kitten's been orphaned is if it's wet, in the mud, and obviously not being taken care of. Mama cats and kittens are usually kept very clean. The mother's very good about cleaning them, so if the kitten's dirty or has eye goop or is obviously not doing well, you will know they've been orphaned. Sometimes they can be in the middle of nowhere with nothing around them. If that happens, then you know that they're orphaned.

Can I hold a newborn kitten?

With newborn kittens, we obviously want to make sure that we're not putting them at risk for just infection, just like human babies. Yes, you can hold a newborn kitten. The recommendation's always to either wash your hands thoroughly or put some gloves on. That way, you don't inadvertently transmit diseases. If the mother is present, she may not want you to hold a newborn. So it's not something that I recommend right off the bat. But definitely, if you are going to handle them, you need to make sure your hands are clean or you're wearing gloves.

How do I keep a newborn kitten warm?

It's really important for kittens to stay warm. When they're just a few weeks old, they can't regulate their body temperatures. One way to help keep them warm is to use warm towels from the dryer. You can use a heating pad, but you need to ensure that the kitten can get off of the heating pad. That way, they don't overheat. Those are the two easiest ways. A third thing is you can actually put them skin-to-skin against your body to warm them up. You want them to be about 98 degrees. You don't want them to go above 99.5 until they're a few weeks old.

How do I care for a kitten without a mother?

In this instance, it's really good to go ahead and have the help of your veterinarian, so they know what's going on and can guide you. It is possible to bottle feed, but generally, newborn kittens need to teach you how to stimulate them and how to go to the bathroom. You can do this by taking a warm, damp paper towel and gently rubbing over their private area for their poops and their peas every two to three hours, and they should go ahead and go. That's how the mother cat stimulates them to go to the bathroom. I always recommend coming in to see your veterinarian, going through this, and talking about bottle feeding because sometimes bottle feeding isn't the easiest. You think that it would be, but it's not.

How do I care for a newborn kitten that's been found with its mother?

With newborn kittens that are with their mother, you can just support the mom. As long as the weather is nice outside, you can put a box outside with blankets, and you can produce food and water. Then, once the kittens' eyes are open and they're about five to six weeks of age, you can remove them from the mom and rehome them if the mother is feral. If the mother is not feral, you can bring all of them into the home and put them in a kennel or get them to a rescue where they can grow up and find new homes.

How do I know if the kitten I've found is healthy?

Most of the kittens found outside will be talking if they're healthy. If their eyes aren't open, they still should be fairly vocal. They should be mobile, like moving around. We should also not see any nasal discharge, wheezing, or gasping for breath. Their tongue should be nice and pink, and they should have coats with no sores. I think their activity is your biggest thing here to distinguish if they're healthy or not.

What is fading kitten syndrome, and how can I prevent it?

Fading kitten syndrome is a failure to thrive. If you adopt or take care of an orphan kitten and nothing you're doing is working, and they just seem like they're not doing well, number one, you need to get them to a veterinarian. This means if they won't eat, if they're eating and they're not gaining weight, or if they're not talking and they're just very lethargic or quiet. Fading kitten syndrome can happen from infection. It can happen if they are born with something wrong inside them, like a congenital defect. Just like humans can have cleft palates, so can baby kittens. There can be other changes internally that are preventing them from thriving. But fading kitten syndrome is a failure to thrive. The best way to help that kitten is to get it to a veterinarian so they can administer supportive care and give them a chance.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media