It's been quite a while since I wrote the previous edition of my kitten prevention recommendations, and I can't find the post easily, so I think it's time to write an updated version.
Kittens should be seen promptly when first acquired (within a day or two) to assess their age and look for any urgent problems, in addition to coming up with a game plan for vaccinations, parasite control, diagnostic testing, and neutering. Generally this first visit is at about 8 weeks, but in younger kittens it can be much earlier. We do recommend that, whenever possible, kittens stay with their mom and litter mates until 8 weeks to allow the greatest chance of normal psychological and behavioral development.
At 8 weeks:
FVRCP-C #1 - first in series of three distemper/upper respiratory preventive vaccinations
Parasite control - flea control and internal parasite treatment as indicated - typically we administer an oral dewormer and outline what external parasite control you should be using, depending on individual circumstances.
Basic physical examination - eyes, ears, skin, mouth, heart/lungs, abdominal palpation
Q&A - be sure to come with a list of questions to ask the doctor because that's one of the most important parts of the visit
At 12 weeks:
FVRCP-C #2 - second in series
FeLV #1 - first in series of two feline leukemia preventive vaccinations
Parasite control - another oral deworming
Physical examination - just like the first time, but looking for normal weight gain and growth and development of any abnormalities or signs of illness
This is the earliest possible date to do FeLV/FIV testing, but obtaining a blood sample at this age is difficult so we usually defer it unless the kitten looks suspicious.
Q&A - ask away
At 16 weeks:
FVRCP-C #3 - final in the series (boosters annually or every three years depending on brand)
FeLV #2 - final in the series (boosters every 1 or 2 years depending on brand)
Rabies - not part of a series (booster in one year, then every 1 or 3 years depending on brand)
Physical examination - weighing again and looking over to make sure all appears normal
FeLV/FIV test if kitten cooperative.
Q&A - keep asking - we're here to answer
We recommend spaying females at 6 months of age and males at 8 months. Yes, it can physically be done earlier, but we feel that it is not in the cat's best long-term medical interests to jump the gun. It is rare for females to come into heat before even 5 months, and if she goes into heat it doesn't need to change our plans for surgery - it just costs a little more. We do NOT wait until she goes out of heat because that takes months and is unwarranted. Just be sure to keep her indoors 100% of the time until she has been spayed.
As for males, we especially do not want to do surgery prematurely as this has been associated with hip fractures in young males, and in our experience it also increases the risk of obesity and urinary obstruction down the road. It is quite rare for males to spray prior to 1 year of age, and if the stinky urine odor from hormones kicks in and bothers you too much, we can move the date up 2-4 weeks to keep you from going crazy.
We most commonly get our blood samples for FeLV and FIV testing at the time of spaying/neutering since the patient is 100% cooperative when anesthetized and we don't have to scare them to get it.
Down the road:
This isn't the end of medical care for kitty - it's just the start. All cats, regardless of lifestyle, breed, or owners' perception of risk, need to see a vet annually for an exam and vaccinations through age 8, and then twice a year after that, at a minimum. Once cats are mature, one calendar year ages them like four years in a human. These annual visits are a great way to discuss any concerns you have about ongoing minor concerns.