So you have a new kitten — congratulations! You’re about to embark on a pet ownership journey that could span several decades. But if you’ve never owned a cat or kitten before, you may have questions about how to keep your kitten healthy and thriving. Use our guide to get started, and welcome to pet parenthood.
Choose a Veterinarian
When you choose a veterinarian, you’re choosing a partner in your kitten’s health care. Scheduled vaccinations and yearly examinations mean that you’ll see your veterinarian on a regular basis, so choose wisely. When researching veterinary clinics for your cat, make sure to do the following:
- Get recommendations from friends, co-workers and other cat owners, and compile an initial list of clinics. Ask them what they like about each one.
- Visit each clinic, introduce yourself as a potential client and ask for a tour.
- Look for a clean, sterile hospital with up-to-date equipment.
- Ask about emergency care, hours and any equipment or terms you don’t understand.
- Ask about the fees for basic shots and exams.
Get Your Kitten Spayed or Neutered
Owners should have their cats spayed or neutered unless they plan to show or breed them. Veterinarians advise spaying or neutering by at least 6 months of age. Consider the following:
What Is Spaying or Neutering?
- “Fixing” is the common term for feline surgical sterilization or male neutering.
- In females, removal of the uterus and ovaries is called spaying.
- In males, removal of the testicles is called neutering or castration.
Why Should You Spay or Neuter?
Each year, millions of cats are euthanized because the new cat population far exceeds the number of homes that can be found for them. Here’s why you should consider spaying or neutering your kitten:
- Spaying eliminates behavior associated with heat cycles, such as wailing to attract males or spraying urine.
- Spaying helps prevent potential health problems, including breast tumors and uterine disease, possibly adding years to your cat’s life.
- Spaying or neutering helps prevent the occurrence of unwanted litters.
- Neutering reduces the effects of puberty and hormones. A neutered male is less likely to mark territory by spraying urine and less apt to roam and get lost, and he won’t congregate or fight with other toms over a female in heat.
Learn about Common Cat Health Issues
While we hope your kitten experiences few, if any, health issues over the course of her life, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with common cat ailments. Use our guide to some of the most common medical issues that can affect kitten health. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to notice when your kitten isn’t feeling well.
Most common in warm spring and summer months, these pinhead-size insects can be active all year long. Fleas can jump onto your cat, lay their eggs, breed, and spread to your furniture and to you, looking for blood. In addition to causing discomfort and scratching in many cats, fleas can transmit parasitic or infectious diseases, including tapeworms. A severe flea infestation may, in turn, cause anemia (low red blood cell count) and/or allergic dermatitis, a skin allergy characterized by itching and irritation. Though some cats become irritable and scratch, others have no visible signs of discomfort.
Luckily, flea prevention treatments are numerous and easy to give:
- Flea collars, powders and liquid baths are available in pet stores or from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian also can recommend monthly treatments to prevent fleas.
- Check your cat weekly by rolling her onto her back and looking closely at the belly and around the base of the tail for the small, dark insects, as well as for flea “dirt” — small, dark, pepper-like specks. If the dirt turns red when water is added, your cat has fleas.
- Choose treatments that contain IGRs (insect growth regulators), which interrupt a flea’s life cycle. Without IGRs, flea eggs hatch every 21 days, making repeated treatments necessary.
- Treat your yard and house for eggs, larvae and pupae. If you use a lawn-care company, include flea treatment as part of your maintenance plan.
- Plant marigolds and chrysanthemums in your yard. They contain natural insecticides that may repel fleas.
Hairballs are tube-shaped, brown masses of hair fibers. When cats clean themselves, they swallow fur. Because hair isn’t digestible, it either passes through and ends up in the litter box or it is vomited.
Cats that pass hairballs more than once a week or that pass foul-smelling hairballs may have a serious underlying health problem. See your veterinarian if your cat experiences frequent hairballs.
Here’s how to help prevent hairballs in your kitten or cat:
- Keep your cat well-groomed with regular brushing.
- Brush all of your cats, not just the ones with hairballs, because cats often groom each other.
- Try this easy home remedy: Apply 1 teaspoon of petroleum jelly to the top of each paw. Rub it in before your cat can flick it away. Your cat will lick it off her paws, and it will help ease the hairball through the intestinal tract. Apply jelly for several days.
- When your kitten is fully grown, feed her IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Hairball Care, which helps reduce the likelihood that hairballs will form. It contains a natural fiber system that gently passes ingested hair through the digestive tract.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
Feline lower urinary tract disease is a potentially fatal, painful inflammation of the lower urinary tract that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, diet, decreased water consumption or urine retention.
Symptoms include blood in the urine, difficult and frequent urination (often in small quantities), inappropriate urination, lack of energy and loss of appetite.
You can help your cat maintain proper urinary acidity and magnesium levels through a properly balanced diet that helps promote urinary tract health.
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Confused by the ingredient list on your kitten’s food? You’re not alone. Marketing pet foods that have “human-grade ingredients” is becoming commonplace. While appealing to many pet owners, it is important to be aware that the term “human grade” has no legal definition and is used primarily for marketing purposes.
Foods, typically meats, are labeled either as “edible” or “inedible, not for human consumption.” Once a food leaves the human food chain, even if it is of outstanding quality, it has to be labeled “inedible, not for human consumption.” Therefore, meats used in pet food must be labeled as “inedible,” regardless of the source or quality of the meat. The only way to make a pet food with ingredients deemed “edible” is to never let the meat leave the human food chain and actually manufacture the pet food in a human food facility and transport it using human food trucks. Therefore, advertising a product as containing “human-grade ingredients” is untrue if it is not manufactured in a human food facility. However, just because a pet food isn’t marketed as being “human grade” does not mean that the ingredients are poor quality.
Here are some tips to help understand ingredient labels:
- The ingredient list is not the only method you should use to select a pet food, because it doesn’t provide pet owners with enough information about the quality of the ingredients or the nutritional adequacy of the overall diet.
- Instead of concentrating on ingredients, pet owners and veterinarians should look at the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and the quality control protocols of the manufacturer. For more information, see the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s brochure “Selecting the Best Food for your Pet,” available at
Opens a new windowwww.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit.
- The ingredient list may be arranged to make foods as appealing as possible to consumers by the order of the ingredients (e.g., having lamb first on the ingredient list) or inclusion of seemingly desirable ingredients in the diet, but often in such small amounts that they have little or no nutritional benefits (e.g., artichokes and raspberries listed after the vitamin and mineral supplements).
- Having more ingredients does not make a diet more nutritious.
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