Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kitten Care Basics: General Husbandry and Nutrition

Having a new kitten is an exciting experience, but it carries great responsibility. Your new kitten will need a lot of attention and care, so it's a good idea to learn some basics about these wonderful creatures. Your relationship with kitty will benefit tremendously.

First vet visit: Schedule your new kitten's first visit with us for 3-7 days after you obtain it (sooner if it is still not on solid food). The first visit for vaccinations/parasite treatment is normally at 8 weeks of age, but kittens younger than that still need to be seen to make sure they do not have any immediate medical concerns. Obviously if kitty has vomiting, diarrhea, visible parasites, or is not eating enthusiastically, it needs to be seen promptly.

Naming: Keep it short and simple so it's easy for kitty to learn. Teach the name by using it consistently.

Feeding: You should place the food and water bowls together, preferably in the kitchen. Special mats are available to help control spills. Use ceramic or stainless steel dishes - plastic can contribute to chin acne and is impossible to clean thoroughly. Provide fresh food and water daily, and clean dishes frequently.
Avoid the following foods: human foods as a general rule, chocolate, garlic/onions, dairy products, bones, fats, and all seafood. Stick with a proven high-quality commercial food to prevent potentially serious medical problems.

Sleep: Provide soft, washable bedding for kitty, and try placing it in a basket or cozy box near your own bed or in a sunny spot in the home. Give your kitten a soft or plush toy to cuddle with in bed to ease the transition away from littermates. We discourage shutting kittens out of your bedroom at night because cats hate closed doors and the resulting fuss will probably prove more disruptive to your sleep than nighttime roughhousing. Play with kitty for a while right before bedtime to encourage sleep patterns similar to your own.

Litter Box: The rule of thumb for litter boxes is one per cat, plus one - if you have the available space. The best location for the box is in the bathroom or a laundry/mudroom, well away from the feeding station for sanitary reasons. Clumping litter is best, but kittens need to be at least 8 weeks before using it so they do not eat it mistakenly. Scoop out the feces and urine clumps daily, and add more litter as the level drops. Wash the box itself on a regular basis (to get those near-miss marks off the sides). We advise against boxes with lids and the automatic cleaning type - they are gimmicky and can backfire badly. Kittens have a strong instinct to use litter and bury their own waste so they usually just need to be shown where to go.

Collars/ID: Get kitty a breakaway collar and adjust it so it just barely slips over the head. Don't forget to adjust it frequently as the kitten grows. Attach an ID tag with your current phone number. Consider having a microchip implanted at the time of spaying/neutering - we recently reunited an injured stray cat with its owners because it had a microchip - they were delighted.

Basic Safety: Never allow your cat or kitten to play with any potential linear foreign bodies such as string, thread, yarn, ribbon, rubber bands, sisal rope, or newspaper ties as these can cause fatal intestinal injury. Never give your cat or kitten any human medicines (including OTCs), vitamins, or cat grass unless your own veterinarian specifically instructs you to do so. Catnip IS safe, and kittens may safely partake of its mild euphoric effect, though some do not respond to it (and never will). Do not allow access to houseplants as many are toxic.