9539 Liberty Road, Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: 301-898-4009 ~ Fax: 240-668-3664
Gentle, complete veterinary care for the felines in your family
Link map for Frederick Cat Vet for directions, hours, bio of the veterinarian and staff, veterinary services offered and a tour of the veterinary practice

Your Kitten's First Year

Everyone loves kittens! They are so tiny, so adorable and so playful! But, as with human babies, kittens require a lot of care during their first year. Care for your kitten in the first year of his life is critical as part of a long-term wellness plan for your pet. We suggest the following tips, preventative treatments, vaccines and surgical procedures for your kitten's start on a healthy path to adulthood:

Kittens should stay with their mothers for as long as possible. Typically, kittens nurse from their mother for anywhere between eight and twelve weeks of age. This time with mother and siblings is essential for good social interaction with other cats. Kittens should also get used to human interaction, since many learned behaviors adapt well to life with a human family. Kittens separated early may miss out on important feline lessons.
Kittens can begin to eat solid food at four weeks old and will gradually nurse less after that. A diet formulated for kittens has more calories than adult foods and will give your young cat a healthy start. A highly palatable diet with excellent protein sources and no by-products or preservatives like Wellness brand is a good choice.

Kitten-Proofing Your Home
Some simple precautions will also need to be taken to make sure your curious kitten stays safe while exploring and playing. Kitten-proofing your home should include ensuring that:

  • there are no loose strings (ribbon, drapery cord, etc.) lying around that he could swallow
  • electrical cords are not being chewed on (these can be coated with dish soap to prevent this)
  • small, loose items (coins, buttons, marbles, etc.) are not in easily accessible places as these also pose as choking hazards, just like with toddlers
  • your home does not have toxic plants that will tempt him to chew

Examine Your Cat
Young kittens should be gently handled a lot. This attention quickly teaches them that being examined is routine, and they usually enjoy this quality time with you. Examining their toes and nails, inspecting their coat and turning them upside-down to rub their belly are great ways to transition them to veterinary exams at our clinic. It is easier for us to do a thorough examination when your cat allows or enjoys this activity, and this, in turn, allows us to best detect any problems during your catā³ life.

Cats that get plenty of attention are often friendlier to people that visit your home and are less nervous about excitement and change. It is essential that kittens be exposed to a wide variety of sounds, people and situations so that they can be well-socialized and not fearful in the coming years. If a home is too quiet, a kitten can grow up to be fearful of the occasional unexpected noise (traffic, storms, children, etc). The chance for aggression is greatly reduced if they experience some excitement and noise occasionally.

Medical Needs for Your Kitten
A comprehensive medical examination can reveal a number of specific problems that need to be addressed. It is during the kittens first exam that ear mites and fleas are most commonly seen.
There are a number of immunizations, treatments and tests that every kitten will need:

Regardless of where you adopted your kitten, there is a good chance that they have intestinal parasites. Two treatments given three weeks apart kill the two most common parasites, roundworms and hookworms, which are of particular concern because they are zoonotic, which means people can be infected. The mother cat may test negative but may have these parasites encysted in muscles, which become active during nursing and are passed to the kittens through her milk. There are number of other intestinal parasites that cats may carry, so it is important for us to check a fecal sample in our laboratory for the presence of these.

Vaccine Protocol
All vaccines have the potential to cause side effects, ranging from temporary drowsiness to an injection site sarcoma. This tumor is seen in approximately once in every 5,000 to 10,000 vaccine injections, and there is an aggressive national plan to identify the cause and reduce the occurrence. These vaccinations prevent fatal diseases so it is important they receive them, but we will tailor the protocol to your cat's specific needs.

  • Upper respiratory (FVRCP, sometimes called 'distemper'- depending on the age of the kitten, we typically give 2-3 vaccines that prevent contagious upper respiratory disease. We alternate between an injectable form and an intranasal form (A "shot" versus a nasal drop). These are started as young as 7 weeks of age. This is done one year after the initial series is given and then once every three years.

  • Feline Leukemia Vaccine- We give a series of two vaccinations to kittens to prevent contraction of the feline leukemia virus, a debilitating and eventually fatal immunosuppressive disease. We give the first vaccine at 13 weeks and the second at the 16 week visit. This is given to at-risk cats: kittens with less developed immune systems, and any cat that goes outside with the potential for interaction with stray cats. It is transmitted through direct contact, primarily through saliva (bite wounds, grooming, sharing bowls). After the initial series, this is done annually.

  • Rabies Vaccine- The rabies vaccination is given at 12 weeks of age, and then annually thereafter. There is a three-year vaccination, but the chance of tumor is considerably higher, so it is best avoided.

Surgical Sterilization
We recommend spaying (females) and neutering (males) at four months of age. This is an ideal age for several reasons. Usually, their vaccinations and parasite treatments are completed, and they have grown considerably (typically over four pounds at four months). We require a pre-anesthetic blood profile prior to the surgery which evaluates the kidneys, liver, glucose, electrolytes, blood clotting function and complete red and white cell count. Older cats have a slightly longer surgery and require more pain medication to keep them comfortable. The longer you wait to spay a female, the more heat cycles she will have and these increase her chances of mammary cancer later in life. When the spay surgery is done prior to the first heat cycle, this cancer is extremely rare. For males, marking their territory (spraying urine on vertical surfaces) is a common behavior associated with reaching sexual maturity. Neutering males before reaching sexual maturity typically reduces aggressive behaviors as well. Sexually mature kittens (6-9 months old) are also very anxious to get outside to find a mate, so this behavior can be avoided. This surgery does not affect their personality. They return home the same day and typically recover extremely quickly.

Mike Karg, DVM