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Kittens: Dr. Jeff’s Recommendations for New Owners

Congratulations on the adoption on your new kitten! Being a cat’s guardian can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it quite a bit of responsibility.

How Should I Introduce My New Kitten to Its Environment?

A cat is naturally inclined to investigate its new surroundings. At first, you should limit the cat’s area of exploration so that these natural tendencies do not create an unmanageable situation. After confining the cat to one room for the first few days, you should slowly allow access to other areas of the home.


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What Type of Playing Should I Expect From a Kitten?

Stimulating play is important during the first week. Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in kittens and have an important role in proper muscular development. If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to seek family members for these activities. The best toys are light light and movable. These include wads of paper and small balls. Kittens should always be supervised when playing with string or ribbons to avoid swallowing them. Any other toy that is small enough to be swallowed should also be avoided.


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Can I Discipline a Kitten?

Disciplining a young kitten may be necessary if its behavior threatens people or property, but harsh punishment should be avoided. Hand clapping and using shaker cans or horns can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior. However, remote punishment is preferred. Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior. Examples include using spray bottles, throwing objects in the direction of the kitten to startle (but not hit) it, and making loud noises. Remote punishment is preferred because the kitten associates punishment with the undesirable act and not with you.


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Should My Kitten Be Vaccinated (and if so, when?)?

I should start this section by saying that I only vaccinate my (indoor) cats as required by law for rabies. However, there are other infectious diseases that can be fatal to cats. Vaccination may prevent some potentially serious diseases. Research shows however, that this protection comes at a price. Incidence of acute diseases may be reduced but chronic diseases like kidney, allergic and other auto-immune diseases will be increased. Even cancer in cats is directly associated with vaccination. Vaccination, as with any other medical decision, should be discussed with your veterinarian.


If you choose to vaccinate your kitten, it is important to first treat any existing diseases. No sick pet should ever be vaccinated. That means no vaccinations if your kitten has a “cold” or is sneezing, has diarrhea, etc.  Studies show that only two vaccinations are protective when given at 12 and 16 weeks of age.  Vaccination one year later will boost the antibody response and is probably protective for life. Research studies to determine duration of immunity are ongoing at this time.


Please read some of the vaccination decisions library articles before you vaccinate.

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Do All Kittens Have Worms?

Intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Kittens can become infected with parasites almost as soon as they are born. For example, the most important source of roundworm infection in kittens is the mother’s milk. The microscopic examination of a stool sample will help me to determine the presence of intestinal parasites. I recommend this exam for all kittens. Please bring one at your earliest convenience. Even if I do not get a stool sample, it is OK to use a deworming product that is safe and effective against several of the common worms of the cat. It is important that deworming be repeated in about 3-4 weeks, because the deworming medication only kills the adult worms. Within 3-4 weeks the larval stages will have become adults and will need to be treated. Cats remain susceptible to reinfection with hookworms and roundworms. Periodic stool analysis and/or deworming throughout the cat’s life may be recommended for cats that go outdoors.


Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasite of cats. Kittens become infected with them when they swallow fleas because the eggs of the tapeworm live inside the flea. When the cat chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, the flea may be swallowed. The flea is digested within the cat’s intestine; the tapeworm hatches and then anchors itself to the intestinal lining. Therefore, exposure to fleas may result in a new infection which can occur in as little as two weeks. Cats may also become infected with tapeworms if they hunt and eat mice.


Cats infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their stool. The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice. They are about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the stool. They may also stick to the hair under the tail. If this occurs, the segments will dry out, shrink to about half their size, and become golden in color. Tapeworm segments do not pass every day or in every stool sample; therefore, inspection of several consecutive bowel movements may be needed to find them. I may examine a stool sample and not find them, then you may find them the next day. If you find them at any time, please notify your veterinarian so that he or she may provide the appropriate drug for treatment.


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There Are Lots of Choices of Cat Foods. What Should I Feed My Kitten?

Diet is extremely important in the growing months of a cat’s life. Historically, a food made for kittens was recommended. These foods are higher in protein, fat, and calories. In my practice I advise a high quality food throughout life, not just during kittenhood. In the past, veterinarians have advised not feeding foods without an AAFCO certification. AAFCO is an organization which is supposed to oversee the pet food industry. Certification usually appears on the label. Many AAFCO certified commercial pet foods have been recalled for endangering the lives of many pets over the years. CAVEAT: Before purchasing any pet food, read this: Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food and watch this video from a pet food insider.


Feeding canned cat food is acceptable. Never feed dry cat food. Dry food may be less expensive, but it can also predispose your cat to future medical problems like obesity, diabetes, etc. Small amounts of canned, freeze-dried or dehydrated fresh foods can be left in the cat’s bowl at all times. If given the choice, the average cat will eat a small amount of food about ~12 times per day. Semi-moist foods are high in sugar and should only be used as treats (if at all).


Fresh (unprocessed) foods should be included in your everyday feeding. The easiest way to feed fresh food is to mix in some of your own meats, fish, poultry, etc. in with your cat’s wet food. Human quality fresh food can also be the main part of your cats’ diet. Balance is achieved by using a wide variety of appropriate foods. Please work with your holistic vet to insure that your cat is being fed properly.


Most people enjoy a variety in their diet. However, some cats actually prefer not to change from one food to another unless they are trained to do so by the way you feed them. It is important to offer a wide variety of food early in your cats’ life. Most cats have definite food preferences. If your cat is extremely picky however, this could be an early-warning sign of an internal problem. Please consult your vet.


Commercials for cat food can be very misleading. If you watch carefully you will notice that commercials promote cat food mainly on one basis, taste. Nutrition is rarely mentioned. Most of the “gourmet” foods are marketed to appeal to owners who wants the best for their cats. Unfortunately, these foods are rarely the best ones for your cat. Avoid pet foods produced by multi-national corporations who use cheaper ingredients. Either use a wide variety of fresh or frozen food or buy the canned foods available in pet stores (and online). Please consult the articles in the diet section of this site for much more information about diet.


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How Do I Ensure That My Kitten Is Well-Socialized?

The socialization period for cats is between 2 and 12 weeks of age. During that time, the kitten is very impressionable to social influences. If it has good experiences with men, women, children, dogs, and other animals, it is likely to accept them throughout life. If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, it may become apprehensive or adverse to any of them. Therefore, during the period of socialization, you should expose your cat to as many types of social events and influences as possible.


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What Can Be Done About Fleas on My Kitten?

Many of the flea control products that are considered to be safe on adult cats can kill kittens. Avoid using toxic chemicals. Frequent flea combing and warm water bathing are the best non-toxic forms of on pet flea control. However. fleas do not stay on your kitten all of the time. Occasionally, they will jump off and seek another host and live in the environment. Therefore, it is important to eliminate fleas on your new kitten before they become established in your home. If you already have a flea problem in your home, frequent vacuuming is safe and effective. Consult this article for many more details about natural flea control.


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Can I Trim My Kitten’s Sharp Toenails?

Kittens have very sharp toenails. They can be trimmed with your regular fingernail clippers or with nail trimmers made for dogs and cats. If you trim too much, you will cut into the quick of the nail which will bleed and be painful. If this happens, neither you nor your cat will want to do this again. Therefore, a few points are helpful:


  • If your cat has clear or white nails, you can see the pink of the quick through the nail so it is easy to avoid.
  • If your cat has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick so only cut 1/32″ (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the cat begins to get sensitive. The sensitivity will usually occur before you are into the blood vessel. With black nails, it is likely that you will get too close on at least one nail.
  • If your cat has some clear and some black nails, use the average clear nail as a guide for cutting the black ones.
  • When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick.
  • You should always have styptic powder available. This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, but it will be labeled for use in trimming nails.


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What Are Ear Mites?

Ear mites am tiny insect-like parasites that live in the ear canal of cats (and dogs). The most common sign of ear mite infection is scratching of the ears. Sometimes the ears will appear dirty because of a black material in the ear canal; this material is sometimes shaken out. The instrument used for examining the ear canals, an otoscope, has the necessary magnification to allow the mites to be seen. Sometimes your veterinarian can find the mites by taking a small amount of the black material from the ear canal and examining it with a microscope. Although they may leave the ear canals for short periods of time, they spend the vast majority of their lives within its protection. Transmission generally requires direct ear-to-ear contact. Ear mites are common in litters of kittens if their mother has ear mites.


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Why Should I Have My Female Cat Spayed?

Spaying or ovariohysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries. It offers several advantages:


  • The female’s heat periods result in about 2 weeks of obnoxious behavior. This can be quite annoying if your cat is kept indoors. Male cats are attracted from blocks away and, in fact, seem to come out of the woodwork. They seem to go over, around, and through many doors. Your cat will have a heat period about every 2-3 weeks (Spring-earl Fall) until she is bred.
  • It is conventional wisdom and has been shown in studies that as the female dog gets older, there is a significant incidence of breast cancer and uterine infections if she has not been spayed. Spaying before she has any heat periods will virtually eliminate the chances of either. There is mounting evidence to believe that this is also true of cats. However there also is new clinical and research evidence that early spaying is not advisable. The vet jury is still deliberating.
  • Spaying prevents unplanned litters of kittens.
  • If you do not plan to breed your cat, she should be spayed before her first heat period. This can be done anytime after she is five months old.


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Why Should I Have My Male Cat Neutered?

Neutering or castration offers several advantages. Some male cats go through a significant personality change when they mature. They become very possessive of their territory and mark it with their urine to ward off other cats. The tom cat’s urine develops a very strong odor that is very difficult to remove from your home (use Zero Odor for help with this). If your male cat is allowed to wander outside,he may also try to constantly enlarge and defend his territory. This often leads to one fight after another. Fighting results in severe infections and abscesses and often engenders rage in your neighbors. I strongly urge you to have your cat neutered at about 6 to 9 months of age. If he should begin to spray his urine before that time, he should be neutered immediately. The longer he sprays or fights, the less likely neutering will stop it. Of course, keeping your cat inside is the best way to prevent cat fights and increases longevity.


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If I Choose to Breed My Cat, When Should That Be Done?

If you have adopted a valuable breeding kitten and therefore plan to breed your cat, she should have at least one or two heat periods first. This allows her to mature physically and she will be a better mother without so much physical drain. Breeding after five years of age is not recommended unless she has been bred prior to that. Having her first litter after five years of age is more physically draining to her and increases the chances of her having problems during the pregnancy or delivery. Once your cat has had her last litter, she should be spayed to prevent the female problems older cats have. Better yet. Do not breed your cat. There are thousands of kittens that need homes. Click here to start the gratifying cat adoption process.


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My Kitten Is Already Becoming Destructive With Her Nails. What Can Be Done?

There are three options that you should consider: frequent nail clipping, using appropriate scratching posts and nail shields. Please only consider surgical declawing if you have already tried everything else.


The nails may be clipped according to the instructions above. However, your cat’s nails will regrow and become sharp again in about 4-7 days. Therefore, to keep them blunt, it will be necessary to clip them one to two times per week.


Use of a tall and stable scratching post can be extremely effective. Read more here about cat nails and scratching posts. Another very helpful product are cat nail caps (available at the previous link). These are generally made of smooth plastic and attach to the end of the nail with a special glue. The nails are still present, but the caps prevent them from causing physical harm. After 2-4 weeks, you should be prepared to replace them.


Surgical declawing is the last resort. It is the removal of the nail at its base. This is done under general anesthesia. This surgery can be done as early as 12 weeks of age. Please read this before declawing. Once declawed, your cat should always live indoors since its ability to defend itself is compromised.