Kittens can be a handful. Today our Lakewood vets share with you how you can take care of a kitten and when you should take them to the vet for the first time.
How to Care For a Kitten
Kittens, with their undeniable charm and affectionate nature, make delightful companions within a household. However, it is crucial to recognize and address their distinct requirements in order to ensure their well-being. As they progress through various stages of development, the specific needs of kittens vary, and any negligence or oversight in meeting these needs may have adverse effects on their overall health and lifespan. In this discussion, we will explore the essential measures to properly care for your adorable new addition during their precious kitten years.
Caring for a Newborn Kitten
During the initial 0-4 weeks of a kitten's life, they are classified as newborns and are in the early stages of discovering crucial skills like meowing, walking, and regulating body temperature. If they have a mother, she will handle most of the responsibilities, including feeding. Your primary focus should be ensuring the mother cat's well-being and providing a warm and secure environment for them all. It is recommended to place a blanket on the floor of their crate or designated area and provide a cozy bed for the mother and her kittens.
However, if the kitten is orphaned or separated from its mother, it is vital to seek immediate veterinary attention. A veterinarian will assess the kitten's health status and provide guidance on meeting their specific needs. This professional assessment is essential for the well-being of the young kitten, as it will outline the necessary care and requirements to ensure their healthy development.
Keep Your Newborn Kitten Warm
If the kitten lacks a mother's care, additional measures are required to ensure their warmth and well-being. One option is to utilize a heating disk placed in the crate or a low-heat heating pad placed beneath a blanket in their enclosure. Creating a cozy nest out of blankets for the kitten to rest in provides added comfort. However, it is crucial to ensure that the heating pad is not excessively hot, which can be determined by checking its temperature with your hands. It is also important to provide a separate area in the kitten's enclosure that does not have a heating element, allowing them to retreat to a cooler spot if needed.
Maintaining an appropriate temperature is vital until the kitten reaches around 6 weeks of age, as they are susceptible to hypothermia if exposed to cold conditions. Aim to keep their environment at approximately 85°F or 29°C to provide optimal warmth and safeguard their well-being.
Feeding Your Newborn Kitten
When caring for a newborn kitten without a mother, providing proper nutrition becomes crucial. You will need to bottle-feed the kitten using a specialized kitten formula every 2-4 hours. It's important to note that each kitten is unique, so consulting with a veterinarian is essential to determine the most suitable formula, feeding amounts, and frequency.
To ensure healthy growth, kittens should aim to gain around ½ ounce (14 grams) per day or approximately 4 ounces (113 grams) per week. Avoid giving cow's milk to the kitten, as it is not suitable for their nutritional needs. It is essential to stick to the recommended formula and refrain from switching abruptly.
Additionally, maintaining a warm environment is vital for proper digestion in kittens. They require warmth to digest their food effectively, so ensuring their temperature needs are met is essential for their overall health.
As Your Kitten Grows Older
When a kitten reaches the age of around 5/6 to 10 weeks, they should gradually transition from bottle feeding or nursing from their mother to consuming high-protein meals. It is recommended to feed them about 3 to 4 times a day. To facilitate this transition, you can pour the formula into a food bowl and introduce softened hard food or canned soft food to help them adjust to solid food. As their motor skills improve during this stage, kittens will become more adventurous, requiring close supervision to prevent them from getting into potentially hazardous situations. It is essential to provide them with ample supervision and engage in interactive playtime to foster bonding between 2-4 months of age.
At around 4-6 months old, kittens enter their adolescent phase, characterized by increased mischievous behavior. This may necessitate behavioral modifications and training. It is also an appropriate time to consider spaying or neutering your kitten before they reach the 6-8 month mark, which helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and certain health issues associated with intact cats. Consulting with a veterinarian is advised to determine the optimal timing for this procedure.
Preventive Care For Your Kitten
No matter how old your kitten is you should take them for their first veterinary appointment during the first week they are in your care. Your veterinarian will evaluate the health of your kitten as well as inform you of their dietary needs. This also provides you with the opportunity to ask any questions you may have in regards to the care of your new family member.
Making sure your kitten gets routine preventive care is essential, including wellness exams, routine vaccinations, and parasite prevention.
Regular wellness exams give your vet the opportunity to assess the overall health and well-being of your kitten including their dietary requirements. Your vet will also be able to detect any diseases early before they become severe when they are easier and more affordable to treat.
You also need to make sure your kitten gets all of its vaccinations and parasite prevention on schedule. Your kitten should come in for their first round of shots when they are 6 to 8 weeks old, and you should have them spayed or neutered when they are 5 to 6 months old. This prevents any serious diseases or conditions from arising in the first place.
What Can Go Wrong?
When caring for a kitten there are many things you need to keep an eye out for in every stage of your kitten's life, which could indicate a problem or even a veterinary emergency. If you see your kitten displaying any of the following signs call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment.
Here is what you need to keep an eye out in a newborn kitten:
- Delays or difficulties in motor skills or coordination
- Refusing food (especially if being bottle-fed)
When your kitten is 4 weeks old or older you still need to keep an eye out for the signs above in addition to these behavioral signs:
- Litter box usage/ not using the litter box
- Fears and other concerning behaviors that should be managed when they are still young
- Signs of play biting or aggression