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Kitten Care - How to Raise a Healthy and Happy Kitten

What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

They need a lot of love! They are a new member of your family, and you need to make sure that you care for them. You need to feed them and keep them safe. Make sure your kids (if you have them) are not going to pick them up roughly. Don’t let them jump off things and hurt themselves. When you get a new pet, take them into the vet, and they will give you advice on what to feed them, the vaccinations to keep them safe, getting them spayed or neutered, and other things to watch out for.

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

The mother cat will pick them up by the scruff but, as they get heavier, that's going to be uncomfortable. So we generally don't pick them up like this. You can just put one hand straight underneath their chest, supporting all of their weight. If they're a bit bigger, you can put a hand under the hind end and cuddle them to you. When we're examining them, we're just making sure that we're not holding them up by a leg or other appendage—it's just common sense. Make them comfortable and happy.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

If your kitten is happy and healthy, you would expect them to be eating well, having regular bowel movements, urinating, playing a lot, and doing a lot of stalking and playing. If they have a normal stool and they play with you, and they're happy, clean, and they don't smell bad, then they should be fine.

How should I feed my kitten?

When they're young, they start off getting milk and, by about six weeks, they'll start to take solid food— either feeding them a soft pouch or dry food by wetting it to help release some of the smell. If they're very sick, then you're going to need to keep bringing it to them and give them fresh options. Some breeders will feed raw diets, leading them to get several infections, so we strongly do not recommend feeding raw food. There's nasty stuff that you can protect yourself or your pets from by cooking food.

Homemade diets are okay but, even better, buy a premade can or bag of food from the pet store or your vet. The three companies that I strongly advocate for are Royal Canin, Hills, and Purina, but the one that we carry is a brand called Royal Canin, and I think they're excellent.

What are some products I might need for my kitten?

They'll need a litter tray and cat litter to go in the litter tray. You're going to need the carrier so that you can take him to the vet for his office exam. And then you might consider plenty of blankets and some other things such as collars, scratching posts, and cat beds.

How soon should I bring my new kitten to see the veterinarian?

You usually will not get your kitten before eight or nine weeks of age, and they should be dewormed at two weeks, four weeks, and six weeks. And they'll get their first round of vaccines at about eight or nine weeks of age. If you have a found kitten, we want to see them sooner to give you a dewormer—call the office, and they'll let you know.

How can I get the most out of my first veterinary visit with my new kitten?

It's best to be prepared. The fact that you're watching this video, you're already more informed than most pet owners, so come with a list of questions. The vet is going to hopefully ask you everything necessary—previous medications you've given them, any previous vaccination record, and what you're feeding them.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten care visit?

During part of the office visit, we're going to check their mouth, make sure there are no deformities there, and note whether all the baby teeth are in the right place. We ensure there's no cleft lip. We'll also have a listen to the heart to make sure there's no heart murmur. We’ll check the tummy for a little hernia. On the male pets, we'll check for two testicles. Occasionally we'll find extra digits. We may discover retained membranes on the eyes. Feral pets might have ear mites or other signs of infection. We also want to make sure the coat is shiny and that there's no sign of parasites or fleas.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in your kitten?

The most common thing we see in kittens is an upper respiratory infection. Many of the pets that come from shelters and rescues have exposure to respiratory viruses and bacteria, so they'll be sneezing, have discharge from their eyes, and possibly diarrhea. They may not be eating as much as you would expect and they may be a little skinny.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

Oh, where to start on that one. I'm not a doctor so I don't diagnose my son. Yesterday he had an ear infection, he had a cold, but I took him to the ER, and I let the professionals figure that out before I decided to Google my treatments for him; that would not be a smart idea. You might be right 50% of the time, but there's a lot of the time you're going to do more harm than good. So again, I have an electrician do my wiring and my house. I have my plumber do the plumbing and I have my vet, which is me, look after the pets.

When should my kitten get vaccinations?

We're going to do their first vaccinations at about nine weeks of age. The vaccinations will be repeated until they lose all of the maternal antibodies. At that point, the vaccinations will be around 15 to 16 weeks, depending on your veterinary hospital protocol. We then repeat vaccinations every year and then every three years after that.

What do you need to know about kitten behavior?

Kittens are a lot of fun. They will do a lot of sleeping when they are babies. Kittens have small stomachs, so they're going to need to eat quite frequently. Every time they wake up, you need to take them over to the litter tray, teach them that's where they need to go. They’re going to play and chew on everything, and their teeth can be very sharp, so be careful. Make sure they're not getting bullied by little kids or other pets, as a dog can cause a lot of damage to a cat. As for behaviors, they will play and follow strings, and they often like to sleep on the back of the couch in places that look pretty dangerous. They have good balance, so there’s no need to worry!

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Kitten Care - FAQs

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

How long will it take a kitten to wean from their mother?

Most breeders will not give you a cat before about nine weeks of age. By about six weeks, they can start on solids. And by eight to nine weeks, they'll be perfectly fine without any milk. So it takes about eight or nine weeks for a kitten to wean from their mother.

Do all kittens need to be bottle-fed?

The small ones need to bottle-feed if their mom isn’t able to nurse them. If they can't eat solid food, then they need to get their nutrition from milk. If they are already eating solid food, there's no reason that they would need to have milk. By about nine weeks, kittens generally don't need milk.

How do I bottle feed my kitten?

You typically take kittens, and you would just pop the bottle in the mouth, just like you're feeding a baby. And if they're hungry, they'll drink.

Can I give my kitten regular milk?

It's best to use a kitten replacement milk from the pet store containing more appropriate calories and nutrition for them.

When should my kitten start eating solid food?

Typically, a kitten would start to eat solid food at about six weeks and be fully weaned by nine weeks.

What kind of food should I feed my kitten?

There are so many commercially-made pet foods out there. It's hard to go wrong these days. If you go to the pet store, the main thing is to get kitten food until they're around six months. Beyond six months, they'll eat adult food. At about seven or eight years, they'll get a senior diet. If there are any medical issues, then your vet might recommend prescription food. The brand that I like is this one here called Rawz Canned. Also, Hills is excellent. And there are several store-bought diets that are not bad either.

Do kittens need to drink water?

They do. Every animal needs access to water. You could offer them kitten replacement milk when they're small, but they should also have access to water at all times.

How often do kittens need to eat?

A lot! They have tiny stomachs, so you don't need to restrict how much they're eating. When they're over a year, they can get fat. You'll need to be careful with what you feed them. But as a kitten, they may eat every couple of hours.

How do I know that my kitten is getting enough to eat?

When kittens are getting enough to eat, they’ll get a nice big fat belly. Well-fed kittens won't feel too ribby over the back. If you have food down and the kittens are eating it, your cat will self-regulate. If your kitten is not eating, then you should be worried and take them to the vet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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