Cat Owner's Guide

Special section: Caring for a kitten

Before you decided to adopt or bring home a kitten, ask yourself if you are able to commit to this new responsibility. Kittens are just like children and taking care of them requires time, effort and energy.

Moving to a new home

Moving to a new home is stressful for a kitten. Give him assurance and time to adjust to the surroundings before introducing the kitten to other animals in the household, if any. Show the kitten where the bed, litter tray and food bowls are; carry them to the litter tray when you sense they need to urinate, likewise bring them to their eating area when its meal time. They will be able to grasp the routine soon.

Diet

Kittens usually start on solid food at around four weeks of age and have to be fed four times daily. From 12 weeks of age to six months, three times a day for feeding will suffice. Ready-made cat foods that can be bought in the supermarket usually contain a balanced diet for your kitten. There are many brands to choose from and many manufacturers make specific kitten food. Cat food can be bought in cans, rolls and packets in supermarkets, pet shops and provision shops.

You may wish to add in chopped or minced fresh meat, fish or chicken but remember, fresh meat or fish alone will not give your cat the essential nutrients needed.

Kittens may not drink a lot but fresh water should be available at all times. Drinking bowls have to be washed daily. Cow's milk is not recommended as some cats are lactose intolerant and they can get diarrhoea.

Throw away unfinished food. Don't put it back in the fridge as it could be contaminated by bacteria.

Dry food can be left aside for kittens to nibble throughout the day and night.

Litter training

Once your kitten knows where to pee, you won't have to worry about stained carpets or beds. A kitten will more readily eliminate in a tray that is dry and clean. Scooping and cleaning the litter box daily will also allow you to check on your cat's stool consistency and the amount of urine. It could be a sign of danger if there is any change in the colour or amount of urine and sign of runny stool.

Playtime

Kittens are very playful. Give them different toys to keep them occupied; these need not be expensive, sometimes, a cardboard box will suffice. There are many toys you can find at home. Ping pong balls, feathers or even a handmade "fishing rods" can be fixed with a sturdy string, small plush toy and a stick. Playtime is also a good opportunity for you to know your kitten better and develop a closer relationship.

Grooming and cleaning

It is recommended to start grooming young so the kittens won't be resistant to it as they get older. Basic grooming supplies are a necessity and they differ from short to long-haired cats. Long-haired cat needs daily grooming to keep their fur tangle and mat free. Once the fur is smooth, you can use a brush to remove excess loose hairs which can cause fur balls to accumulate. Brushing your kitten's fur on a regular basis helps to keep their coat shiny and healthy looking. Grooming also gives you the opportunity to check on your kitten's health and develop a closer bond. You may want to give your kitten a treat after a long day of grooming to make it a pleasant experience.

Basic grooming tools:

  • Shampoo and/or conditioner
  • Brush or comb
  • Nail Clippers
  • Cotton balls
  • Dryer for longhaired cats

Vaccinations

Kittens have to be vaccinated at around the age of eight to nine weeks old for the first injection and a second at about 12 weeks old. Your vet will tailor a vaccination program to be done annually for your kitten. It is important to know that some viruses and diseases are airborne and no matter how clean your home is, your kitten is easily exposed to infection. Vaccines are not 100% effective, but will give a certain degree of protection and prevention against feline diseases and viruses.

What diseases can I vaccinate my kitten against?

  • Feline panleukopenia virus (feline infectious enteritis; feline parvovirus)
  • Feline herpesvirus (cat flu)
  • Feline calicivirus (cat flu)
  • Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)
  • Chlamydophila felis (A type of bacterium; formerly known as Chlamydia psittaci var felis)
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Rabies

Worms, fleas and ear mites

Kittens are more susceptible to worms and require prompt treatment if diagnosed. Worms can cause serious health problems if not removed early, especially in kittens and young cats. They thrive in the intestines of kittens and weaken their immune system. Tape worms, round worms and hook worms are most commonly seen.

Signs

  • Weight loss
  • Poor coat condition
  • Kitten appears to have a pot belly
  • Diarrhoea or blood in the stool
  • Vomiting
  • Anaemia
  • Segments of worm at the kitten's anus (tapeworm looks like long grains of rice)
  • Worms in faeces.

Types of worms:

Tape worm
Tapeworms are long flat worms made up of many segments that are found in the intestine of a kitten or cat. These worms resemble grains of rice in appearance and can sometimes be seen on the hair around the cat's anus, in the faeces and on the cat's bed.

The most common types of tapeworm that infect cats are called Dipylidium caninum and are transmitted to cats by fleas. Immature fleas (larvae) begin the cycle by swallowing the eggs of the worm and infection is passed on to a cat when it eats an infected flea during grooming.

Hookworms
Hookworms are very small worms that have teeth-like mouth parts that attach themselves onto the cat's intestinal wall and feed on the cat's blood. They can cause anaemia, bloody diarrhoea, intestinal bleeding and sometimes death in kittens. They are often found in humid tropical areas.

Roundworms
Cats can become infected with roundworms by mainly three ways: ingesting roundworm eggs from the environment such as soil, nursing from a mother cat who was already infected before she gave birth and eating prey animals usually rodents; infected lizards, mice, birds and bugs.

Fleas
Fleas are external parasites that thrive in warm climates and can be fatal if left ignored. They are carriers of bacteria and parasites such as tapeworm, and can cause anaemia. Your kitten may start to lick, scratch or even bite themselves which will eventually lead to noticeable bald patches, thinning of the fur and irritated, inflamed skin. Fleas move quickly but you may see tiny brown flecks among the fur at times. Part the fur gently and look at the skin beneath to check for flea dirt, which is one of the effective ways to check for fleas. To further confirm, run a comb through the fur. If your kitten has flea, dark flecks will show on the teeth.

See the veterinarian for the best appropriate treatment for your kitten. There are safe and effective products for eliminating fleas and your veterinarian can also recommend ways to clean and maintain your home. You can begin by washing your kitten's bed, blankets, pillows or any areas your kitten have been in contact with in hot water and detergent. Daily cleaning and vacuuming of the floor and carpets will make a great difference. If engaging help from a pest controller, he should be able to use a pet safe spray for your house and garden.

Ear mites
Ear mites are tiny parasites that live in the ear canals but can also stray to other areas such as the face, body and tail. They thrive in the warm moist area where air flow is restricted and dirt accumulates easily. They feed on debris and ear wax, and go deeper into the ear, causing inflammation and irritation. Ear mites can be transmitted from mother to children or from direct contact from other animals. If there is one pet in the household that has it, the rest who has close contact with the infected cat will catch ear mites too.

Signs

  • Scratching of ears
  • Shaking their heads repeatedly
  • Bleeding in ear canals
  • Build up of dark brown, reddish-brown foul smelling substance in the ears
  • Remains of dried blood in the ears

Treatments

  • Ear mite treatments can be purchased from pet stores.
  • Veterinarians will be able to prescribe topical medication to clean the ear canals. It is crucial to follow instructions carefully to eliminate the life cycle of the ear mite.
  • Antibiotics may also be required depending on the severity of the condition.

Depending on the medication used, the ears may need to be treated for two to four weeks until all mites are destroyed. Many ear mites live all over the body, including the feet and tail and should also be treated. Be sure to use products approved for use on other areas too. If you suspect your cat to have ear mites, it is best to visit the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis before using an over-the-counter remedy.

Spaying and neutering

Millions of cats are being put to sleep or left to fend for themselves because there are not enough families to take them. By spaying and neutering your pet, you play a part in minimising this problem.

A neutered male cat will reduce his tendency to urine spraying, lessens their desire to go outside to look for a mate. Neutered males are also less territorial so there is less chance of getting into fights, where injuries might lead to infections.

A female kitten needs to be spayed as early as four to five months of age to prevent unwanted kittens. Spaying has no harmful effects and is essential to avoid them from calling when they want to attract a mate. There is a risk of picking up life threatening infectious diseases from mating with stray cats.

Surgery is painless, performed under general anaesthetic, and is relatively safe procedure. You kitten will be up and about after a day or so of its operation.