Cats may have nine lives, but they’re only card-carrying “Kitten Club” members for 12 months. The time and attention you invest in their health, behavior, and wellbeing during this time can make an enormous difference in their longevity and quality of life. Learn how to make the best of their first year, and many more, with this helpful checklist from Columbia Pike Animal Hospital.

Visit the veterinarian for kitten care

After welcoming your kitten home, you’ll want to ensure they are healthy, and to protect them from illness. Establishing your kitten’s veterinary care at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital includes a whiskers-to-tail exam to identify any inherited abnormalities, illness, parasites, or infection. Healthy kittens can begin their feline distemper vaccination series between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Kitten visits are a great time to discuss important topics, including nutrition, behavior, litter box training, exercise, and  parasite prevention.

Power up your kitten’s immune system

KIttens are vulnerable to a number of dangerous, potentially deadly viruses. The inherited maternal immunity that protects them initially fades naturally, and must be replaced with active immunity through vaccines. Our kitten vaccination protocol protects your kitten from the most common viral threats, including:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Calicivirus
  • Panleukopenia
  • Rabies

After the initial kitten series, your cat’s adult immune system will need an occasional reminder to ensure an adequate response—this is performed with booster vaccines every one to three years.

Screen your kitten for intestinal parasites

Roundworms and hookworms are common in kittens, since a dormant infection can be passed from their mother. Kittens can also suffer from coccidia, giardia, and tapeworms. These parasites can cause gastrointestinal issues, rob your kitten of nutrition, and be transmitted to humans through close contact. 

Bring your kitten’s stool sample when you first visit  our hospital. We will analyze the stool microscopically for parasites, and initiate treatment, if necessary, to protect your kitten and your family. Parasitic infection treatment is easy and effective.

Schedule your kitten’s spay or neuter surgery

Kittens reach sexual maturity quickly, and females can begin their heat cycle between 4 and 6 months of age. Spaying female kittens and neutering males not only reduces unwanted litters, but also reduces territorial and mate-seeking behaviors (e.g., urine spraying, roaming, vocalizing, and fighting) and mammary cancer. 

At Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, we take extra steps to ensure your pet’s safety and comfort before, during, and after their surgery. Kittens typically make a quick surgical recovery and return to their normal antics in 7 to 10 days.

Design a kitten-safe environment

An indoor life is the safest option for your kitten, but can leave cats with limited opportunities to express natural behaviors—the reason why they shred your curtains or climb on furniture. Create a safe, but engaging, environment with these easy steps:

  • Kitten-proof the space — Ensure your kitten’s area is free from hazards, including electrical cords, toxic plants, and breakable items. Supervise your kitten at all times when they are outside this area.
  • Encourage appropriate scratching — Scratching is a healthy and natural behavior. Train your kitten to scratch a designated place by introducing scratching posts or mats, and using an attractant such as Feliscratch.
  • Create safe exploration opportunities — Kittens and cats love to hide, stalk, climb, and pounce. Provide them with safe perches, posts, hiding boxes, tunnels, interactive toys, and cozy beds.

Acclimate your kitten to gentle handling

Your kitten will be handled throughout their life for veterinary care, grooming, and medicating. Help your kitten learn that touch and gentle handling are positive experiences, by always pairing touch with tasty treats. Practice in short sessions—ideally less than a minute—and focus on one skill or body area at a time. Handling should include:

  • Lifting and carrying
  • Holding them in one place (e.g., on a table)
  • Holding their paws
  • Tolerating a basic exam (i.e.,  their mouth, ears, and gentle body palpation)

Socialize your kitten

Introducing your kitten to new people, objects, and experiences can prevent them from becoming fearful or reacting defensively (e.g., scratching, biting) in unfamiliar situations. Limit socialization to one new thing at a time to prevent your kitten being overwhelmed, and keep sessions short. These experiences will ensure your kitten grows into an adult cat who is easy to care for, handle, and transport. Socialization experiences should include: 

  • Carrier training
  • Riding in the car
  • Meeting new people
  • Being familiar with different noises (i.e., thunder, fireworks, construction) 

Free pet desensitization recordings are available online.

Start a dental care routine with your kitten

By age 3, 70% of cats suffer from dental disease. Prevent dangerous plaque and tartar buildup with daily toothbrushing. Entice your kitten with a pet-safe toothpaste—meat-flavored products are available—and a finger brush. For step-by-step instructions, check out our blog post on successful toothbrushing.

Beyond the first year—maintain annual veterinary care visits

Yearly feline wellness care at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital is the best way to ensure your kitten’s wellbeing throughout their life. Unfortunately, only half the pet cat population receives regular veterinary care. You may be tempted to postpone an annual exam because your feline friend seems perfectly healthy, but cats are masters at hiding pain and illness, and wellness visits allow us to detect subtle changes before they become serious problems. 

Your kitten’s first year may seem a bit busy, but watching your cat enjoy nine lives of health and happiness will make all your efforts worthwhile. If you need assistance with any item on our kitten checklist, contact Columbia Pike Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.