Saturday, 7 September 2013

What are the signs of a healthy kitten?

If you were presented with a litter of fluffy kittens, all huddled together around their mother, it would be an almost impossible task to choose one over another. All kittens are charming and adorable little creatures.

However, as with all young animals, kittens are weak and vulnerable, and taking home a sickly kitten could result in a great deal of heartbreak. My first cat Jasmine was given to me by husband as a Christmas present, the first year we were married. She had been abandoned along with her brothers and sisters at what I believe now must have been around 5 weeks old. In other words she had been taken away from her mother far too early. Needless to say I fell in love with her the moment I set eyes on her, but I must be honest there were moments over those first two weeks of owning her that we almost lost her. I remember sitting up with her, wrapped in a blanket, feeding her from a pipette and taking advice from my veterinary over the phone during those early days of her life with us. It wasn't until around two weeks later we knew we had come through the other side, but it could so easily have gone the other way.

This is why you should ideally try and see a kitten with her mother and siblings prior to taking her home, and find out exactly how many weeks old she is. You will instantly be able to make a quick assessment of the kitten’s overall general health and the kind of background she has come from.
A healthy kitten should be lively, alert and quick to respond. Even from a very young age the hunting instinct is noticeable within a cat. Dangling a piece of string on the floor in front of a healthy kitten should provoke an instant reaction.

Throughout the first 12 weeks of a kitten’s life, her best teacher is her mother. Although most kittens are able to eat independently by the time they are 8 weeks old, and they will also have been shown by their mother how to use a litter tray, she continues to teach them social skills until they are 12 weeks old.

You may be very keen to bundle your 6 week old kitten up and take her home with you as soon as you see her, but leaving her with mum for a few more precious weeks will make for a much more contented, and sociable cat in the long term, and will make the transition to your home less traumatic.

A trip to the veterinary is an absolute must for any new kitten, but here are some simple health checks you can carry out yourself before making your final decision about whether or not to take a kitten home with you.

1 - Eyes

A healthy kitten will have bright and clear eyes, with no sign of discharge. You should also check to see if your kitten has a visible “third eyelid”. This is a thin white coloured membrane just underneath the cat’s eyelid which provides protection for their eyes. Usually you cannot see it unless you stroke backwards over the cat’s head and ears, but if it is instantly noticeable in a kitten without stroking, it may be a sign of ill health.

2 – Nose

Look closely at your kitten’s nose – it should be clean and dry.

3 – Ears

A healthy kitten should respond quickly to sound by twitching her ears and adopting an alert expression. Her ears should be clean with no discharge visible.

4 – Coat and skin

The kitten’s skin should feel firm and supple to the touch and her coat should be soft and dry. You should also gently prise back the fur along the kitten’s spine and behind her ears so you can check for traces of fleas. If the kitten is affected, you will notice tiny pieces of black grit stuck to her skin around her spine, tummy and ears. (See below for further details about parasite treatments for kittens.)

5 - Stomach

The kitten should not be thin and her tummy should not be distended. Although a cat’s stomach is a sensitive area, if she reacts too aggressively when you very gently stroke her stomach, it can be a sign of underlying problems.

6 - Tail

The kitten’s tail should be clean and dry, and if you very gently lift her tail there should be no signs of soreness or infection around her anus.

Your Kitten's First Trip To See the Veterinary

Within the first few days of obtaining your kitten - whatever the circumstances - it is advisable to arrange for a veterinary to do a full examination so that if there are any underlying problems you are not aware of these can be dealt with quickly.

Kitten vaccinations

Before you allow your kitten to venture outside you will need to arrange for kitten vaccinations against feline infectious enteritis, feline leukaemia and feline influenza,  This is something your veterinary will discuss with you.

Protecting your kitten against parasites

All cats need to be protected against parasites continuously throughout their entire lives. During your initial visit to the veterinary, you will probably be offered treatment for fleas and worms irrespective of whether your kitten is affected. Blood sucking parasites are a real danger to kittens as they do not have as much blood as an adult cat and have not got the ability to scratch. Even if your kitten is not affected by parasites you would be well advised to treat her regardless.

Parasite treatments prescribed for young kittens work in the same way as those given to adult cats. The only difference is the dosage.

The most popular type of flea treatments come in  liquid form and are usually packaged in a pipette shaped sachet for easy administration to the skin on the back of the kitten’s neck, where it cannot be licked off. Although pet fleas are a problem normally associated with the summer months, with many homes having central heating, your cat can be afflicted by fleas during the colder months too. It is for this reason you will need to treat your cat for fleas once every 4-6 weeks all year round. Before you purchase any type of flea treatment, make sure you check your cat’s weight. You will need this information in order to establish the correct dosage.

Protecting your kitten against worms generally involves sprinkling a small amount of granules on her food once every few months, but you can also buy worming treatments in pipette form that are applied to the back of the cat’s neck in the same way as flea treatments. Worming treatments usually do not need to be given as often as flea treatments (the average time is around once every 3-6 months).

For your cat’s well being it is a good idea to leave two weeks or so between administering flea and worming treatments.

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