Attention all future (and current) cat ladies and cat daddies! In honor of kitten season (my favorite time of the year) and because I recently published a post of my 6 Tips for New Puppy Owners, here are my top 6 tips for new kitten owners:
1. Treat your kitten like a puppy!
They tell us in veterinary school that “cats aren’t small dogs,” which is VERY accurate anatomically. However, kittens are very trainable. In addition to litter box training, you can train your kitten to do basic commands just like you do with puppies. You can even train kittens to walk on a harness! The opportunities are endless. Cats are incredibly intelligent and many are highly food motivated. There are tons of great YouTube videos out there for how to train your cat. Who knows, maybe you will end up with the next cat influencer?!
Remember, socialization is KEY for any young animal. Get your kitten around other cats, dogs, and people. Disclaimer: Make sure your kitten is vaccinated before exposing them to other cats. Ella was raised with dogs and you can tell. I wouldn’t say she loves to cuddle my dog, Apollo, but she isn’t totally against it either.
2. Choose your kitten’s food wisely.
Kittens, like puppies, require omega-3 fatty acids (DHA +/- EPA) in their diet. Here is an excellent summary of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in pet foods. While less is known about kitten omega-3 requirements, it is clear that these nutrients play an essential role in cognitive development. Make sure that your kitten food includes DHA in its formulation. Additionally, it is recommended to feed a “kitten” diet until at least one year of age. As veterinarians, we recommend brands that put extensive research into their diet formulations. Talk to your veterinarian if you would like guidance on selecting a kitten food.
Another pro-tip that will save you a headache later in life is to feed your kitten a variety of textures (dry kibble, pate, morsels and gravy, etc.) Cats are notorious for developing kidney disease later in life. It is exceedingly difficult to get your cat the proper amount of hydration without incorporating wet food. Some cats who have only been fed dry kibble reject wet food. Incorporate a variety of dry and wet food early to help your cat later in life.
3. Keep your kitten inside to extend their life expectancy.
This is controversial, I know. However, the research supports that cats who live exclusively indoors live longer than outdoor cats. Apart from predators (coyotes are big in Georgia), there are also various diseases that cats can acquire outside. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are the main culprits in this regard. Both of these viruses require your cat to come in contact with an infected cat. FIV is typically transmitted from cat-on-cat aggression. Your veterinarian will typically suggest regular testing for these diseases if your cat goes outside. While they can decrease your cat’s life expectancy, it is also possible for infected cats to live mostly normal lives. However, if you have other cats in the home, there is always a risk for transmission.
Other diseases that are transmitted primarily to outdoor cats include Cytauxzoonosis, a lethal tick-borne disease of cats, and heartworm, transmitted via mosquitos. These are both fatal diseases of cats that can be partially be prevented by keeping your cat inside. Keeping your cat on the right preventative products can also help reduce the risk of infection, which brings me to my next point…
4. Keep your cat on preventative products, even if they are indoor only.
Have you ever seen a mosquito in your house? Do you have other pets that go outside? Disease transmission can occur even if your cat is indoor-only. A great resource for choosing a preventative product is the Companion Animal Parasite Council. You can see which parasites are prevalent in your area and determine which preventative products will help protect your cat the best. If you have trouble interpreting the website, ask your veterinarian for help! You can also consult with your veterinarian about what products they recommend.
5. Use enrichment to keep your cat active and happy.
Enrichment is a great way to improve your kitten’s quality of life. Added bonus is that enrichment helps to alleviate some of the guilt many owners feel for keeping their cats inside. Kittens love to play and providing scratching posts, climbing surfaces, and toys can greatly benefit both you and your new kitten. I recommend this cat hammock for people who don’t have enough room for a giant cat tree. Before I even put this hammock together, my cat was trying to climb into it.
I linked the cat hammock below for your convenience. This was seriously one of the best purchases I have made as Ella uses it all the time!
Another way to add enrichment to your kitten’s life is by taking things they do every day and making them more exciting! Cats are notorious for not getting enough water. They are desert animals, so their need for water is significantly less than dogs. However, ensuring your kitten is hydrated is essential for long-term health and can reduce the risk of kidney disease developing later in life. My favorite kitten fountain is the PetSafe Drinkwell that I linked below. As soon as I introduced this fountain to my cats, I saw their water intake increase dramatically. They also love playing with the water that comes out of the fountain.
Active play is also an important part of enrichment. You can use a variety of toys to encourage your kitten to move and stay fit. I linked two options below that my cats enjoy, but there are so many options out there! My best advice is to keep it simple and see what your kitten likes best!
6. Vaccinate your kitten!
One of the first things on your “To Do” list as a new kitten owner is to take your kitten to the vet! Depending on age, the veterinarian will deworm and vaccinate your kitten. Most veterinary practices have vaccine schedules available for owners to take home. Like puppies, kittens have “core” vaccines and “non-core” vaccines. Rabies and FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Panleukopenia) are the two core vaccines your kitten will require. The other vaccine commonly offered to cats is the Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine, although this is considered optional. Most practices suggest this vaccine if your cat goes outside. Please follow your veterinarian’s guidelines and schedules for deworming and vaccinating.
SUmmary – 6 tips for new kitten owners
- Treat your kitten like a puppy!
- Choose your kitten’s food wisely.
- Keep your kitten inside to extend their life expectancy.
- Keep your kitten on preventative products, even if they are indoor only.
- Use enrichment to keep your cat active and happy.
- Vaccinate your kitten!
While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope you find these tips helpful when you welcome a new kitten into your household! Please don’t forget to listen to your veterinarian’s advice about spaying/neutering your kitten. This is such an important topic that I plan to write an entire blog post dedicated to WHY we spay/neuter cats. Nevertheless, I have loved raising my cats and continue to foster kittens regularly. Cats are truly amazing animals and I love working with them as a veterinarian.
Do you have tips for new kitten owners that you would have included? Let me know in the comments!