Most cats (short haired) are classified as a low maintenance animal – this means that they tend to look after themselves and you get to enjoy their company without the hassles of having to take them for a walk, without having to groom them regularly (long haired cats do need constant grooming) and they are not as prone to skin and ear problems that dogs are.
But because cats have very large territories if they are allowed to roam it is important that your restrict your cat to the boundaries of your yard. Most cats hunt at night – especially in the late evening and the early morning, so for the sake of living in harmony with our environment and with your neighbours it is also important that cats are restricted in their movements between 6.00pm to 7.am. It is our recommendation that cats are kept inside their house or in their cat run between these times.
Cats are sedentary animals and are more than content to be well fed and well housed. They do not need lots of area for movement and usually more content to stay at home and occasionally go outside to lie in the sun. A well constructed cat run that is fully enclosed allows them to exercise as well as keeping them safe.
To care for a cat you will need to:
- Provide regular, suitable meals with a constant supply of fresh water
- Provide a clean and comfortable bed
- Provide the cat with outdoor access or be prepared to empty and clean a litter tray on a daily basis
- Longhaired cats require daily grooming
- Have it neutered at 6 months old
- Vaccinate against the major feline diseases regularly
- Worm regularly and provide treatment for fleas
- Take the cat to the vet when it shows any sign of illness – pet insurance can help offset the cost of veterinary treatment
Introduction of the kitten to your home
This is a stressful time for the kitten – it has left its familiar surroundings behind and is now in a new environment. This is a time for reassurance and the kitten will need tome to adjust. This is NOT a good time to introduce the kitten to other animals. This is a time of settling in to the house before introductions. Make sure the kitten knows where the bed is, the litter try, water and food bowls. It may pay to make sure windows and doors are kept closed to minimize the animal’s attempt to escape (when cats are stressed they tend to move away from the stressful environment and seek dark and secluded areas).
The kittens’ bed should be a refuge to retreat to if things become too stressful. It needs to be warm, dry, comfortable and draught free. You can buy a bed from the pet shop but we find using a strong dry cardboard box with a hole cut in the side to work wonderfully well. if the weather is cool then put a warm water bottle in the box will help settle the kitten in.
For the first few days it is best to feed the same food the kitten is used to (as long as the food it is getting is not harmful – e.g. cows milk can cause intestinal upsets). The gradually change the diet to the food that you want to feed.
Kittens only have small stomachs and do not need huge quantities of food. It is best to feed small and often – we recommend that cats at 6 weeks of age should be fed 6 to 8 times a day, by the time they are at 8 weeks they need food at least 4 times a day, at 12 weeks we recommend minimium of 3 meals a day and from 6 months onwards we recommend twice a day.
Home based diets are complicated and messy so we recommend the owner uses canned food or dry food (or mixture of both). We recommend that dry food is NOT left with the kitten and is only fed as a meal. We recommend that the cat gets at least 6 meals a week involving canned foods.
The dry food we recommend is Royal Canin cat food (available at our animal hospital) and we are happy with most of the commercially available canned foods. It is best to feed kitten food until they are 9 months of age – the kitten is still developing until 9 months and therefore needs different nutrients than the adult cat.
Do not give your kitten cow’s milk as it can cause diarrhoea. If you wish to feed milk use one that is specially formulated for cats. Diarrhoea that persists for more than 24 hours requires veterinary attention. Fresh drinking water should be available at all times.
Introducing your kitten to children (and other animals)
Introduction to other household residents should be gradual, gentle and very quiet. Excited children can easily injure a kitten unintentionally so always supervise play and do not allow the kitten to be picked up unnecessarily. Children should be encouraged to sit on the floor and wait for the kitten to explore them. Make sure that the kitten is allowed to stop playing when it wants to and is not treated like a toy. Kittens, like many young animals, will need a lot of sleep and should be allowed time to rest.
Introducing a kitten to a dog or cat needs to be undertaken carefully to avoid conflict. A bad experience can be difficult to overcome. If you have a large mesh pen in which the kitten can sit safely while the resident cat or dog can gradually get used to it, this is an ideal way to make introductions. Some dogs, especially those not used to cats or of an excitable or aggressive disposition, need extra special care for introductions. They should be kept as calm as possible on the lead and made to sit quietly. The new kitten should be given a safe position in the room and allowed to get used to the dog and approach if it wants. This may take quite some time and requires patience and rewards for the dog if it behaves well. For quieter dogs or those used to cats, introductions can be made using a strong cat carrier. Keep the dog on a lead initially, place the carrier on a high surface and allow controlled introductions which are short and frequent. Most dogs will soon calm down when they realise the newcomer is not actually very interesting. Progress to meetings with the dog on a lead initially for safety. Do not leave the kitten alone with resident dogs or cats until it is well established.
If vaccinations are started before 8 weeks of age then the kitten needs 3 vaccinations – at 6 weeks, at 12 weeks and at 16 weeks. If the kitten has its first vaccination at 8 weeks then it only needs two vaccinations – at 8 weeks and 12 weeks.
At our hospital we recommend the normal cat is vaccinated with a F4 – this vaccination prevents Feline Enteritis, Feline Herpes virus, Feline Calicivirus and Chlamydia.
The kitten then only needs to be vaccinated once a year after the second vaccination.
|First vaccination||2nd vaccination||3rd vaccination||Yearly vaccination|
|6 weeks||12 weeks||16 weeks||15 months|
|8 weeks||12 weeks||no vaccination||15 months|
Kittens need to wormed every 2 weeks until the age of 12 weeks and then monthly until the age of 12 months and then every 3 months for life. Until the age of 12 weeks we recommend a medication called Popantel that kills all intestinal worms that the kitten may be affected with.
After the age of 12 weeks we recommend cats are wormed with a medication called Popantel as well as 2 tablets called Praziquantel (this kills tapeworms that the cat can get from eating lizards and geckos).
Heartworm in cats
Cats can get heartworm from mosquitoes (same as dogs) but the cat is very resistant to the development of the adult heartworm. It is only very small percentages of cats who get bitten by the mosquito with the larval stage of the heartworm who then develop clinical symptoms of heartworm disease.
You can get monthly tablets that prevent heartworm in cats but the cost and the difficulty involved with giving these tablets does not warrant the prevention.
In our animal hospital we have diagnosed only 5 cases of feline heartworm in the last 12 years and all of these cases responded well to treatment
It is our recommendation NOT to use the commercially available monthly tablets to prevent heartworm in cats.
Should a commercial yearly injection become available (there is a yearly injection for dogs) then we would then change this recommendation.
Cats are very fussy about where they will go to the toilet and they may need to be shown where the litter tray is and encouraged to use the litter tray at all times. If the kitten was born into a litter that was raised inside a house then it may already have learnt about using a litter tray from its mother. But if the kitten was raised outside an enclosure then the kitten will have to learn about a litter tray.
You may need to place the kitten in the tray when you feel the kitten needs (or wants) to go to the toilet – for example put the kitten in the litter tray when it wakes up from a sleep, when you see the kitten sniffing or scratching on the floor or chair etc.
There are a range of commercially available litter trays and there is a wide range of cat litter to go into the tray.The tray should be placed on newspaper to catch any litter pushed over the side during digging – a large tray will prevent such problems.
Place the tray in a quiet accessible corner where your kitten will not be disturbed. Make sure that the litter tray is not next to food and water bowls. The kitten may be reluctant to use the litter tray if it is too close to its food.
The litter tray must be kept clean and emptied regularly. Some disinfectants and some detergents are toxic to cats or create irritation to the animal or to its nose so please rinse the litter tray out well with warm water before putting it back into position.
The kitten may be reluctant to use the tray – here are some of the common reasons
- It is not clean enough – empty it more often
- It is not big enough – it should be big enough for an adult cat to turn around in and to use more than once without getting dirty
- You have cleaned it out with a chemical that is too strong smelling
- It is too near the bed or food bowls
- The kitten does not like the texture of the litter you have chosen
It is a good idea to accustom your kitten to being groomed from an early age, particularly if it has a long coat. A long-haired cat needs daily attention to keep fur free of tangles. Grooming removes excess loose hairs which can cause fur balls to build up in the stomach. Combing and brushing will help remove these hairs and it is usually appreciated by the cat, provided it has been accustomed to grooming early in life. Grooming also gives you a chance to keep a close eye on your cat, asses its health and help to develop the bond between you. Always be gentle and make grooming a rewarding and pleasant experience.
Fleas are a parasite of cats and dogs (they can happily live on both species) and they can cause intense irritation as well as suck blood and spread some worms (flea tapeworm). They breed on the animal but develop to an adult off the animal. Kittens usually allow a few fleas to live on their skin without showing signs of problems but even this small number can contaminate your house and environment easily within a month or so.
Because there may be only a few fleas on your kitten – they may be hard to find. Sometimes it is easier to find the flea dirt (this is the faecal droppings of the fleas) using a flea comb – you can get a flea comb at our animal hospital. Flea dirt can usually be seen as small brown specks particularly around the neck and base of the tail. When placed on damp cotton wool ‘flea dirt’ slowly dissolves producing bloody streaks.
To control fleas in your environment it is important to kill the fleas on your kitten before they start to breed. When the kitten is under the age of 3 months we recommend daily combing using a Flea Comb. We do NOT recommend any product for kittens under the age of 12 weeks.
Once the kitten has reached the age of 12 weeks – there are three (3) products that we recommend to control fleas on your kitten.
- Advantage – it is a spot-on that is applied once a month to the neck of the kitten.
- Revolution – it is a spot-on that is applied once a month to the neck of the kitten.
- Program injection – this product works for 6 months and, even though it does not kill fleas, it stops them from breeding
Under NO circumstance do we recommend any other product to kill fleas.
Other animals in the house will also have to be treated. We recommend that the house is vacuumed regularly and the cat’s bedding should be washed or replaced.
There is no product available that we consider safe to prevent or kill ticks. Our recommendation is to remove the ticks manually and then destroy the tick using methylated spirits or by squashing the tick.
Toys and games
Kittens are very playful. Give them an assortment of toys to keep them occupied and exercised – these need not be expensive – every kitten loves a cardboard box to play in. Play is also a good way for you to get to know and trust each other. Provide your kitten with a scratching post.
We recommend all cats, no matter what the age, be microchipped. This aids in identification of the owner should the kitten be lost or injured. We recommend kittens are microchipped by the age of 12 weeks – usually done at vaccination time.
Desexing male and female kittens
We recommend all male and female cats are desexed at 6 months of age unless the owner has a good reason to breed from the kitten.
Neutering the male will reduce the likelihood that he will spray indoors to mark his territory. He will also spend less time roaming in search of mates and thus has less of a chance of being run over by a car or getting into fights. Cats which are bitten and scratched in fights are more likely to be at risk from infectious diseases.
A female kitten needs to be spayed to prevent unwanted kittens. We recommend that the female kitten does not have a litter before she is speyed. Speying has no harmful effects and removes the stress on both you and your cat brought on by calling (the loud mewing which female cats make to attract a mate), pregnancy, birth and the care and rehoming of kittens.