Adopting a New Kitten
Are you thinking about getting a kitten, or are you about to welcome a new kitten into your family? In this jam-packed article all about kittens, you’ll find answers to the common questions that owners ask our vets, including information on Vaccinations, Deworming, Flea Treatment, Pet Insurance, Microchipping, Spay and Neuter, Feeding, Teething, and Training!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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At what age can kittens be adopted?
If possible, kittens should stay with their mother until about 8-12 weeks of age. This allows them to learn important social skills and become self-confident before leaving their mother and siblings. Kittens should also be eating solid food and drinking water by this age. Most kittens have been weaned by 6-8 weeks of age.
What vaccinations should my kitten have?
There are 3 cat vaccines available that are recommended to help prevent serious illness and spread of disease to other cats and people:
1. Feline Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia vaccine (also called FVRCP)
The FVRCP vaccine helps protect kittens and cats from severe and often debilitating upper respiratory tract infections as well as severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhea that can lead to death. These viruses can be spread easily through the air or by direct contact with an infected cat. Kittens can acquire infection from their mother before birth.
2. Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine (also called FeLV)
The FeLV vaccine helps protect kittens and cats from a disease that can lead to immune suppression, anemia, and lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells). This disease can be spread by fighting, mutual grooming, and sharing food/water bowls. Kittens can acquire this infection from their mother before birth. It’s recommended that cats and kittens be tested for FeLV before receiving their first FeLV vaccine.
3. Rabies vaccine
The rabies vaccine protects kittens and cats from a life-threatening, untreatable neurologic illness that can be spread to humans. This disease is spread through bite wounds from an animal infected with the rabies virus.
When should a kitten receive its first vaccination?
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that kittens receive their first vaccine between 6-8 weeks of age. Kittens should then receive their second vaccine 3-4 weeks after receiving the first vaccine. Depending on your kitten’s age, your vet may recommend continuing her boosters every 3-4 weeks until she is 16-18 weeks old. Cats may then receive annual (yearly) vaccinations, depending on their lifestyle. For more information on feline vaccines, check out our article!
Will my kitten need any other vaccines?
The AAFP’s vaccination guidelines recommend that kittens receive all 3 of the above vaccines. Once your kitten has become an adult, your vet will discuss how often your cat should be vaccinated and tailor the vaccines for your cat's lifestyle and risk. Make an appointment with one of our FirstVet vets for answers to your questions about vaccinating your kitten.
Is my kitten old enough for flea and tick treatments? Are all products safe for my kitten?
While there are many flea and tick control products available over the counter, not all of these products are safe for your kitten. Some over the counter products contain pesticides that kittens and cats can be quite sensitive to, causing tremors, seizures, and even lead to death. Your vet can discuss which product your kitten needs and determine if your kitten is old enough and big enough to safely be treated with the product.
Always check that the product is labeled for kittens before giving flea/tick control medication to your kitten. Flea and tick products labeled for dogs should NEVER be given to cats! They contain ingredients that are highly toxic to cats and can cause seizures and death.
You may think that fleas live on our pets, but 90% of fleas actually live in the environment. This means your carpet, floorboards, under the bed, and your yard are common hiding spots for fleas. They may only visit your pet to feed. Therefore, it’s important to give your kitten regularly scheduled flea and tick treatments to provide good parasite control, prevent a household infestation, and prevent flea allergies and other illnesses caused by fleas and ticks. Continue reading to learn more about How to Manage Fleas in Cats.
When should I deworm my kitten?
Not all intestinal worms can be seen in the stool by the naked eye. Intestinal worms can infect kittens through the mother’s milk which is why kittens should receive deworming medication every 2 weeks, from about 3 weeks until 12 weeks of age. Other intestinal worms, such as tapeworms, are spread when kittens and cats eat fleas, mice, or other rodents. You should discuss continued deworming with your vet as your kitten grows into adulthood.
Should I get insurance for my kitten?
One of the most common barriers to pet care during emergencies is a lack of financial ability to pay for medical services. Unfortunately, most pets don’t have insurance. Pet industry professionals in the US are trying to improve this trend because we know that having a pet insurance policy can greatly reduce the cost of care to owners throughout an animal’s life.
Many different companies exist that provide varying tiers of coverage (just like in human medicine!) Coverage is the most affordable and comprehensive if purchased in a young, healthy kitten. If it’s feasible, every owner should have a pet insurance policy to ensure they’re always able to provide the care needed for their furry family member, whether it’s unexpected or not.
Curious about pet insurance? Pawlicy Advisor is a great resource for comparing and shopping for the perfect insurance policy for your best friend!
Why should my kitten be microchipped? When can I microchip my kitten?
A microchip is a small electronic chip about the size of a grain of rice which contains a unique ID number. It’s inserted under the kitten’s skin by a vet or other trained veterinary medical professional. Using a microchip reader, it can be read, identified, and matched to the owner’s contact information, should the need arise.
It’s important to microchip your kitten if you need to travel, especially outside of the United States. If your kitten or cat accidentally escapes from your home or while you’re traveling and is found, most veterinary hospitals, clinics, and animal control locations have universal microchip readers which identify and link your pet directly to your contact information. This helps to ensure that you can quickly be reunited with your pet.
Microchipping is often done when kittens are being spayed or neutered (under anesthesia) or receiving their vaccinations. It’s important to keep your information up to date on the registration database. Remember to update your information if you move or change your phone number.
When is my kitten old enough to be spayed or neutered?
The AAFP recommends the following guidelines: early spaying and castration (neutering), also called prepubertal gonadectomy, is defined as surgical sterilization of sexually immature animals 6–14 weeks of age. The AAFP supports neutering early in life as a safe and effective method of decreasing cat overpopulation, and one which confers long-term medical and behavioral benefits to the individual cat.
Read more about early spay/neuter here!
Kittens reach sexual maturity before turning 6 months old. Therefore, it's recommended to have your kitten spayed or neutered around 4 months of age, as long as they weigh at least 2 pounds. Following these guidelines can help prevent the following:
- Urine marking
- Females vocalizing when in heat
- Spread of life-threatening feline diseases
- Unwanted litters of kittens
- Unexpected emergency room visits due to pregnant cats unable to give birth normally
And for even more information on spaying or neutering your cat, check out our related article!
What should I feed my kitten?
It’s recommended that you continue to feed your kitten the same food she’s been eating when you adopted her from a rescue, animal control, or private individual. You should continue feeding this diet for at least the first week after bringing the kitten home before weaning her onto the complete diet of your choice. Slowly introduce an increased amount of the new food by mixing it in gradually over 7-10 days. Any abrupt diet change (especially in kittens!) can cause an upset stomach, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Many pet food companies provide a good-quality complete food for your kitten. Kittens and adult cats have unique and special dietary requirements. Therefore, it’s not recommended to feed your new pet homemade foods. It’s extremely difficult to provide a well-balanced diet with homemade foods. Feeding a good quality commercial kitten/cat food recommended by your vet is preferable.
Dog food should never be fed to cats because it doesn’t contain the essential nutrients that cats need. Apart from kittens, most cats can’t digest milk and don’t need milk as an essential part of their daily diet. Cats often develop diarrhea from drinking cow’s milk.
How often should I feed my kitten?
Kittens have small stomachs so feed them small amounts at regular intervals. Until about four months of age, a kitten should be fed at least three to four meals a day. Reduce feedings to two to three meals a day until six months of age. Thereafter, feed two meals a day.
Under natural circumstances, cats hunt and eat their prey throughout the day, therefore, some domestic cats will prefer to ‘graze’ throughout the day. This can make it hard to control how much they eat, so it’s best to measure out their food each morning. You can then divide the food into several small meals and, especially if using dry food, this can be hidden in 'feeding puzzles' or hidden to provide your kitten with some interesting and fun ways to track down and find their food. This will also help to reduce the risk of obesity in your cat as he gets older.
You can learn more about feeding guidelines and preventing obesity here:
Kittens often prefer to eat from shallow bowls. This allows them to look around at the same time as eating and also prevents their whiskers from brushing against the sides of the bowl. It’s also better to feed them from a glass or ceramic bowl. Plastic bowls can pick up odors and metal bowls can be noisy if the cat is wearing a collar or tag. Cats often prefer rainwater or running water to drink. You can easily collect rainwater or provide a small water fountain in the house. Please wash your kitten’s bowls and change their water frequently.
When do kittens get their adult teeth?
Kittens lose their baby teeth between 3 and 6 months of age. Kittens can be mouthy at this age, so provide lots of safe toys that are no harder than their teeth, and safe from the risk of being swallowed or accidentally ingested.
Getting your kitten used to the handling of his teeth and mouth are key skills to teach him as he grows! As a young kitten, it’s a great idea to get your pet used to brushing his teeth. Pet toothbrushes and tasty-flavored toothpaste can be a treat for your pet and will help slow the progression of dental disease as he ages! Never use human toothpaste, as it can cause stomach upset if swallowed.
Most cats will have all of their adult teeth by 6 months. Be sure to monitor for signs of missing teeth, bad breath, or signs that their teeth may be causing them pain. If you have any concerns, contact a vet right away.
Do I need to train my kitten to use the litterbox?
Kittens and cats like to be clean and can easily be trained to use a litterbox. You should always provide 1 more litterbox than the number of cats living in the house. For example, provide 3 litterboxes if you have 2 cats.
Kittens and cats appreciate privacy when using the litterbox so make sure they’re tucked away but also easily accessible. Avoid placing litterboxes in areas of high traffic and loud noises such as entryways from the mudroom, garage, laundry room, etc. Make sure that the litterbox is large enough for your cat to turn around in. The recommended length is 1.5 times the length of your cat.
It’s important to scoop the litterbox(es) frequently and clean them regularly to encourage cats to use their litterbox and prevent them from urinating/having stools outside the litter box.
For more litterbox tips, check out the Indoor Pet Initiative website!
How can I help my kitten feel comfortable in her new home?
Let your kitten decide how quickly or slowly the relationship develops with your family, and always let them make the first move. Respect their space and don’t disturb your kitten when she’s asleep or resting. Ignore your kitten if she’s perched on a high place, like a shelf or cupboard. This gives your kitten a chance to watch without being seen.
Less is more in the cat world; don’t overdo the petting. Try not to stare at your kitten when it comes into the room - most kittens like to feel that they can move around without always being the center of attention.
Make the cat carrier a place of solitude and not a thing to be scared of when traveling or going to the vet. Spray the inside with Feliway (a calming pheromone), and then wait a few minutes before putting the cat in the carrier. Make sure to put a familiar blanket inside the carrier for your cat to sit on or hide under. Ideally, leave the carrier out somewhere in the house for them to investigate, use, or sleep in regularly.
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