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Kitten Basics: How to Keep Your Kitten in Good Health

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Kitten Basics: How to Keep Your Kitten in Good Health

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.

 

Fleas

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

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.

Kitten Basics: How to Keep Your Kitten in Good Health
Kitten Basics: How to Keep Your Kitten in Good Health
  • Does Your Cat Have Tummy Troubles?
    Does Your Cat Have Tummy Troubles?

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    Does Your Cat Have Tummy Troubles?

    An upset stomach is more common in cats than you might think. But how can you tell if it's a serious problem?

    Every cat owner recognizes the warning signs of an upset feline stomach: the mournful meow, gagging, and heaving retch. But in a flash, the cat seems to snap back to good health while you're left scrubbing the carpet.

    The scenario is a familiar one for Cynthia Bowen of Cleveland, Ohio. As the owner of four Maine Coons, Bowen has cleaned her share of messes. "It would happen every couple of months or so," she says. "Otherwise, they were perfectly healthy."

    Although it's not a pleasant subject, vomiting is something cats seem to do almost on cue. Many cat owners accept this as a natural part of owning a pet, but it doesn't have to be that way. Knowing what triggers an upset stomach and what you can do about it will make for a better relationship with your cat.

     

    Cause for Alarm?

    Repeated cat vomiting should never be ignored because it can lead to dehydration. But, because vomiting is common in cats, how do you know what's normal? "A general guideline is that if the cat is vomiting one to three times a month, we consider this 'normal,'" says Dr. William Folger, a DVM from Houston.

    He considers it serious if the vomiting occurs twice daily for two or three days. If your cat stops eating, seems to have stomach pain, or retches continuously, or if there's blood in the vomit, take her to a veterinarian. And, as always, if you're suspicious that a lingering problem could be harmful to your pet, call your veterinarian. A visit to the office can help relieve your cat's discomfort and your worries as well.

     

    Why Cats Vomit

    Many owners attribute their cat's vomiting to hairballs, but that's not the only culprit. "It's careless to assume that most cases of vomiting in cats are due to hairballs," says Dr. Folger. Two other frequent causes of an upset stomach are:

    • Eating too fast. Cats sometimes eat too much, too fast. When the stomach wall expands too quickly, a signal is sent to the brain to cause regurgitation. In these cases, the mess on your floor is from regurgitation, not actual vomiting. When a cat regurgitates, he brings up fluid and food from his esophagus by opening his mouth–unlike vomiting, where there's gagging and retching. Regurgitated food is still formed, and may smell fermented. "Cats that eat too quickly because they are gluttonous or stressed by food bowl competition can regurgitate right after eating," says Dr. Sara Stephens, a DVM from Montana. But don't assume regurgitation is always a case of eating too fast. It could be caused by esophageal problems, obstruction of the digestive tract, hairballs, or dehydration. If you've forced your cat to eat slowly and he still has problems, contact a veterinarian.
       
    • Curiosity. Grass, carpet, and toilet paper are just a few things cats may digest and later vomit. The vomiting is a protective mechanism–nature's way of cleansing your cat’s system. Sometimes, though, curiosity can lead to more serious problems. String, toy parts, and feathers are favorites of playful felines and can lodge in the stomach or intestine, causing repeated vomiting and severe distress. If your cat exhibits these symptoms, take her to a veterinarian immediately; surgery is often necessary to remove the object.

     

    Preventative Measures

    Often, owners accept their pet's vomiting as a natural part of their behavior, but just because cats seem to have more than their fair share of tummy troubles doesn't mean you have to sit idly by.

    One simple preventative measure is to get your fast-eating cat to slow down or to simply eat less. Stephens recommends smaller portions, elevating your cat's food dish slightly, or putting an object, such as a ball, into the dish. The cat will be forced to eat around the ball, and thus her intake will be slowed. If you do this, make sure the ball isn't small enough to swallow. And you may need to feed cats in a multiple-cat household at different times and places to reduce competitive eating.

    If simple solutions don't work, watch your cat's eating behavior and reactions. Bowen, for example, tried changing her cats' diets. "Since switching to IAMS®, they rarely throw up," Bowen says.

     

    "Usually, when you change to a higher-quality diet, there is no problem," Stephens says. Here are some tips for helping make sure your cat's change is as successful and comfortable as possible:

    • Go slowly. Make the transition gradually to allow your cat time to adjust. "Make sure the cat eats something every day," Stephens advises. "A cat that quits eating suddenly can develop liver problems."
       
    • Add appeal. Switching from wet to dry or vice versa should also be done gradually. Many cats find canned food more palatable. If you switch to dry, add water and warm it slightly for more appeal. Discard uneaten food after 20 minutes to prevent spoilage.
       
    • Measure up. How much should you feed? Your cat's age, sex, breed, activity level, and overall health need to be taken into consideration. Talk with your veterinarian, then read the manufacturer's recommendations. Premium foods like IAMS cat foods are more nutrient-dense than many non-premium diets, so don't be surprised if the recommended amounts seem low.
       
    • Pay attention. Beyond careful measuring, also regularly weigh your cat and adjust the feeding amount accordingly after switching to a premium food. Your cat may appear happy if you overfeed him. But over time, he may become overweight. Tummy troubles can be in the past with your veterinarian’s help and a little effort on your part.

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