So, you’ve adopted a kitten! While you definitely know how cute and fluffy they are, and you’re adamant about which treats and accessories you want to buy them, you may not be so sure on where to start with their healthcare. Luckily, we’ve compiled a guide with all you need to know about vaccinations, flea and worm treatments, nutrition, microchipping and toilet training.
Most core cat vaccinations aim to help prevent at least three diseases in kittens and cats: Feline Panleukopenia (FPV), Feline Herpesvirus 1 (FSV1), and Feline Calicivirus (FCV).
Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV, also called Feline Distemper or Feline Enteritis) is a highly contagious virus of the parvovirus group, with a high mortality rate. It is easily transmitted through contact, either from cat-to-cat or by human-to-cat. Clinical signs of Feline Panleukopenia can include sudden onset fever, loss of appetite, dehydration, depression, vomiting and/or a “hunched” appearance.
Feline Herpesvirus 1 and Feline Calicivirus are the most common causes of Feline Respiratory Disease (FRD), often called “cat flu” or “cat snuffles”. The most common symptoms of FRD are sneezing, discharge from the eyes and/or nose and loss of appetite. FRD is spread in a similar way to Feline Panleukopenia Virus. When cats are infected with the virus, they do not always show signs of illness, but can still be infectious to other cats, sometimes becoming ‘carriers’ of the disease. Stress factors such as illness or trauma, change of home, breeding, travelling, attending cat shows, house renovations, or a new person or pet in the household can be enough to trigger an episode of disease in a carrier cat.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is transmitted during a cat fight through biting. Every time your cat goes outside it may be potentially at risk of being bitten by an already infected cat. If bitten, the virus remains with your cat for life and gradually reduces decreases its immunity. This progression, known as Feline AIDS, can lead to an increase in infections and some types of cancer. Cats that develop disease caused by infection with FIV have a vastly decreased quality of life over time.
So, when do I vaccinate?
8 weeks of age – first vaccination
12 weeks of age – second vaccination
16 weeks of age – third vaccination
Then vaccinated throughout life depending on risk factors will be annually or three yearly on your vet’s recommendation.
Why do I need to get my cat vaccinated?
While kittens are suckling from their mother, they receive a temporary form of immunity from disease primarily through the mother’s colostrum. This immunity is in the form of proteins called antibodies and for the first 12-24 hours after birth, the kitten’s intestine allows the absorption of these antibodies directly into the blood stream.
This maternal immunity is only of benefit during the first few weeks of life and, at some point, the level of immunity falls and the kitten must begin to produce its own long-lasting protection against disease – vaccines are used for this purpose. As long as the mother’s antibodies are present, vaccinations do not have such a good chance to stimulate the kitten’s immune system, which is why we wait until at least 6 weeks of age to begin the vaccination course.
Cats and kittens should be treated for worms from two weeks of age; every two weeks until three months old, then monthly until six months old, then three monthly thereafter, for life.
There are three different types of worms that affect cats, which is why it is important to ensure you treat with a broad-spectrum product. The different worms are:
- Tapeworm (praziquantel is the only active ingredient that can eradicate tapeworm)
How do I know if my pet has worms?
Internal parasites are not always easy to detect, but some common clinical signs include:
- Pale gums (instead of the normal rosy pink)
- A pot-bellied appearance (especially in kittens)
- Weight loss
- White segments resembling grains of rice in the faeces (these are tapeworm segments)
- An irritated bottom (licking a lot)
The importance of prevention in the control of intestinal parasites should not be underestimated. Some worms that affect dogs and cats can also pose a significant risk to human health. Children who are often closest to family pets are most at risk. Infections in humans can originate from the ingestion of eggs by not washing hands after playing with pets, the ingestion of eggs by small children ingesting soil contaminated with pet faeces or by the penetration of larvae through human skin.
Ensure maximum protection:
- Treat your pets for worms regularly and treat all pets in the household at the same time.
- Always wash your hands after playing with your dog or cat and try to prevent your dog from licking your face.
- Ensure that your pet’s bedding and sleeping areas are cleaned regularly and that they are free from fleas, old food scraps and faeces.
- Avoid placing your pet’s bedding on bare earth.
Many flea control preparations for adult cats are not always suitable for use on kittens – so be sure to read the product guidelines before purchasing a product.
Three key points for successful flea control:
- Use an integrated approach with the combination of an adulticide to kill adult fleas and an insect growth regulator to control the environmental stages of the flea lifecycle.
- Treat every pet in the household (cats AND dogs) at the same time, year-round.
- Always use a product as directed on the package labelling, being sure to follow the treatment interval guidelines.
Environmental factors to consider:
- Immature flea life-stages in the environment make up a whopping 95% of the flea population, and these are almost invisible to the human eye. Adult fleas are just the tip of the iceberg!
- Try to avoid giving your pet access to under the house, as this dark, damp, moist environment is PERFECT for flea breeding.
- Wash and/or clean your pet’s sleeping area and bedding regularly, and vacuum regularly if you have an inside pet – pets can carry flea eggs inside the house and drop them onto the carpet.
Did you know?
- One adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day!
- By the time you see fleas on your pet, an environmental infestation has already begun.
- In winter the flea lifecycle may slow down, but it never stops – which is why year-round treatment is important.
- Once a flea infestation is present in the home, it can take up to three months to resolve.
- Pets pick up fleas from the environment more often than from contact with a flea infested animal.
There is a large variety of flea control products on the market; both topical and oral. Be sure to talk to us about the best control program for your situation.
The what’s what of feline nutrition
- First things first – cats are OBLIGATE CARNIVORES. This means that they MUST be fed meat! Cats have evolved to be dependent on a meat-based diet and CANNOT survive as vegetarians. This is because:
- Cats require higher amounts of protein in their diet than dogs, and kittens require even higher amounts again.
- Cats find carbohydrates difficult to digest because they have a shorter digestive tract than dogs. Because of this they get their energy from fats and proteins.
- There are essential amino acids that cats require, many of which can only be provided in the diet. Cats require one extra amino acid to dogs, which is called taurine. Taurine can only be provided by animal proteins (i.e. meat, eggs or fish) and is required for both eye and heart health, and a healthy reproductive system.
- Cats also require Vitamin A to be provided in the diet. Dogs can make their own Vitamin A, but cats cannot. Vitamin A must be provided in the diet and is ONLY found in animal tissues.
Other important points:
- Always feed a good quality COMPLETE AND BALANCED food that is life-stage specific (kitten, adult or senior).
- Although cats need a meat-based diet, they cannot survive well on meat ALONE.
Make sure the food is for cats only – there is no such thing as a food that is ‘suitable for cats and dogs’.
- Kittens require larger amounts of energy – approximately two to three times the amount that an adult cat requires on a “per kilogram of body weight” basis. They require 30% of their total energy from protein until they reach physical maturity (at around one year of age).
- Cats are grazers and can consume up to 16 small meals per day when fed ad lib.
- Remember cats do not actually need milk. The only time animals are exposed to lactose is in their mother’s milk when they are babies. As they get older, they lose the ability to digest this and the result may eventually be lactose intolerance – this may cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
Toilet training – mastering the litter tray!
Most kittens are very easy to litter train and may already have learnt by watching their mother by the time you get them home. However, there are a few simple steps which will ensure your new kitten is using their litter tray in no time.
- Show the kitten where the litter tray is by placing them in it and letting them have a sniff and a scratch around.
- Put your kitten in the tray regularly, particularly after meals or when they wake up.
- Make sure the tray is always kept clean. Cats are very clean animals and will refuse to use their tray if it is dirty. However, do not use strong chemicals or detergents as these will also deter the cat.
- Put the tray in a quiet spot in the house. Much like humans, cats don’t like being watched or disturbed when they’re doing their ‘business’.
- Never punish your kitten if they have an accident outside the tray. Don’t rub their nose in it or smack them. If you catch them in the act, simply say ‘NO’ in a firm voice and then pop them into the tray and praise them while they’re in there. The kitten will soon associate their litter tray with praise and will want to go in there.
- Choose a litter box that is easy for your kitten to use. If necessary, improvise for the first few weeks with a shallow, disposable container.
- Supply at least one box, plus one for every cat in your household. Place each one in a quiet, low-traffic corner with easy access.
- Keep the litter tray away from your cat’s food, in an easily accessible but private area. Avoid damp, dark basements, distant bedrooms, or areas with noisy washing machines, close to traffic etc.
- Choose a litter tray that is deep enough to keep cats from scattering litter when they dig, and large enough so they can make a complete turn.
- You can use an open tray but, for cats who want more privacy, choose a hooded litter tray with a carbon filter to minimise unpleasant smells and litter spill.
- Cats prefer clumping, ‘scoopable’ litters to other types. Remove the soiled litter with a scoop, leaving the rest of the litter fresh and dry.
- If your cat has come to you from another home, find out what litter they used there. Some cats refuse to use a litter type they don’t like.
- Fill the tray to the depth recommended by the manufacturers of the litter and place the litter tray on an easy clean surface. If you change from one type of litter to another, recheck the depth recommendation as it varies between the different types.
- Never leave your cat indoors without a litter tray. If your cat holds their urine in for long periods, bacteria will breed in the bladder, causing cystitis.
- House soiling can also be due to a physical problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), a painful and potentially fatal problem if the flow of urine is blocked.
- Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. People become infected with toxoplasmosis only if they ingest the parasite. This could happen when being exposed to contaminated cat faeces and most likely when cleaning out a litter box without washing your hands afterward. Pregnant women have an increased risk of passing toxoplasmosis to their unborn child in this manner. For this reason, you should ask someone else to take care of the cat litter box during your pregnancy. If you absolutely must clean out the box yourself, protect yourself with gloves and change the cat litter box daily. The parasite isn’t infectious until one to five days after it’s shed.
Microchipping cats is becoming more and more popular. There are many benefits to having your cat microchipped, such as your pet being able to be tracked back to you if lost or stolen. Microchips are very useful in another unique way for cats. A cat door can be purchased which can be programmed with your cat’s microchip number and only allow your cat in! What a great use of technology. This is so helpful if you are having a problem with stray cats coming in and bothering your cat or stealing their food.
The microchip is a small transponder that, when scanned, emits a unique identification code. The microchip we use at our clinics is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected over the shoulder blades. The needle is much smaller than it used to be and generally tolerated very well by our furry friends. We try distracting your pet as the needle goes in and often they don’t even notice.
Once your pet is microchipped we will record the number in our patient records.
For an additional fee, we recommend registering your cat’s microchip details to the New Zealand Companion Animal Register. This company is independent of the regional councils and holds microchip information for companion animals nationwide. It is ideal as an ‘extra back-up’ for the storage of microchip details.
Even though there is no legal requirement to register cats in New Zealand, we strongly recommend microchipping.
We hope this guide has given you confidence in providing the healthiest and happiest of homes for your new kitten. And if you’re still not fully set up to welcome them home, we have a range of products available at the clinic including treats, food, cat doors, bowls, grooming tools, litter trays and more. We can’t wait to see your kitten in the clinic when they come in for their vaccinations!