So, you’ve recently added a kitten to the family? Congratulations! Few things in life are as satisfying as the loving companionship a new pet can provide. We also would like to congratulate you for wanting to know more about protecting the health of your kitten. Taking the time to learn all you can about what’s best for your pet is the first important step toward a long, rewarding and healthy relationship. Most importantly, it shows your commitment to be a responsible pet owner.
At no time is this relationship more interesting, challenging and rewarding than during the first year of your cat’s life. It is a time when your cat will experience rapid behavioral, physical and physiological change. From age 3 to 12 weeks, your new friend will begin to assume adult -characteristics and learn to respond to its environment. It is the first time your kitten is capable of learning specific lessons and a perfect time to establish good litterbox habits, control furniture clawing and urine spraying, and to introduce other household pets. Learning is easy for kittens at this age and with positive reinforcement, their lessons will quickly become committed to memory.
Many other changes occur as your kitten grows. For instance, the antibodies received from its mother to help protect against disease are soon replaced by the kitty’s own antibodies. For the immune system to develop correctly, and for proper growth and development of muscles, bones and internal organs, proper nutrition and veterinary care are required.
RISK FACTOR MANAGEMENT
Veterinary care should begin as soon as you get your new kitten. During your first appointment, the veterinary health care team will plan a management program to promote wellness throughout your kitten’s life, and to identify and modify any risks to its health. This is called Risk Factor Management.
A risk factor is a condition or characteristic that can cause illness or injury to your pet. Some risk factors, like the inherited tendency of some breeds to acquire certain diseases, cannot be eliminated but can be minimized by preventive planning. Others, like overfeeding, which leads to too-rapid growth, obesity and many other health problems, can be modified or avoided all together. How well these controllable risk factors are managed will help determine the length and quality of your kitten’s life.
Managing risk factors for pets is very much the same in the field of human medicine. To reduce your own risk of heart disease, for example, and to help you live longer, your doctor might recommend that you lower your level of stress, quit smoking, exercise more and pay closer attention to your diet. Similar situations hold true for your pet.
Your veterinarian will be able to discuss the risk factors for your kitten based on information that you provide, the results of physical examinations and diagnostic studies, and on basic knowledge of disorders that commonly affect kittens of the same age, breed and sex.
Your role is just as important. In fact, each member of the family needs to follow your veterinarian’s advice every day to keep your kitten in good health.
IDENTIFYING AND MANAGING THE RISKS
Although your veterinarian can identify any risk factors that are unique to your kitten, the risks listed here call affect most or all kittens. What you do at home, alone, with the help of your veterinary heath care teamwill preserve your kitten’s wellness and create the potential for a long, healthy life.
- Infectious diseases are a serious threat to the health of your kitten. Although most kittens are born with antibodies against certain diseases or receive them in their mother’s milk, these antibodies disappear after a few weeks. Unless the kitten is protected by vaccinations, it will be susceptible to various infectious diseases. Upper-respiratory disease, feline panleukopenia, rabies and feline leukemia are some common examples. Several of these can be fatal. To reduce the risks of infectious disease, follow your veterinarian’s advice for vaccinations. Typically, these include several in a series when your kitten is between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks.
- Internal parasites often cause digestive disease in young cats. Some common specific parasites are roundworms (ascarids), hookworms, Giardia, coccidia. and tapeworms. These parasites can debilitate your kitten, causing diarrhea, a pot belly and vomiting. Your veterinarian can advise you about control and prevention of internal parasites.
- External parasites in kittens include fleas, ticks, ear mites and certain fungi can cause “ringworm” (even though it isn’t a “worm” at all). As you pet your kitten, carefully check its skin for evidence of parasite infestation. Fleas often cause skin disease marked by scratching, hair loss, and small raised crusts on your cat’s skin. Finding fleas, flea debris (“Flea Dirt” – flea feces, which look like black pepper), or tapeworm segments (shaped like sesame seeds) on your pet’s coat are signs of flea infestation.
- Ticks appear as brown or white parasites attached to a pet’s skin. Mites are microscopic and they cause ear disease and skin irritation. Ringworm fungus causes a circular patch of hair loss almost anywhere on the body. Your veterinarian call diagnose skin disease and use safe insecticides and fungicides to rid your kitten’s body of external parasites and reduce the number in the environment. Your veterinarian also has brochures that will help you understand and control the life cycle of these parasites.
- Grooming is an important part of your pet’s health. A poorly groomed coat is a risk factor for external parasites and skin problems. Because cats like to groom themselves by licking, loose hair also contributes to hairball formation. Just a few minutes each day will reduce these risks before they become serious, and your pet will love the extra attention.
- Neutering at an early age prevents unwanted pregnancies and protects your pet against tumors of the reproductive organs. Early neutering also improves behavior by reducing roaming, urine marking, and aggression between male animals. Because neutered pets generally live longer than non-neutered pets, failing to neuter is an important risk factor that can greatly affect the quality and length of your pet’s life.
- Environmental conditions can increase or decrease your kitten’s health risks. Outdoor animals not properly socialized to their environments tend to disregard yard boundaries and the hazards of motor vehicles. They also are exposed to extreme weather conditions, infectious disease, internal and external parasites, accidental poisoning from plants or chemicals, and injury from people or from other animals.
- As a responsible pet owner, there are certain good habits you need to develop. Keep your kitten’s living and sleeping areas comfortable and dry at all times, and make plenty of fresh drinking water available each day. To help avoid obesity, encourage playful exercise with safe, enjoyable toys. Provide each cat in your household with its own litterbox, and remove soiled litter daily to reduce the risk of internal parasite reinfection or transmission.
- Inappropriate behavior is an important risk factor because it produces undesirable pets and is the primary reason for euthanasia of pets. Look to your veterinary health care team to help solve your kitten’s behavioral problems before they become unmanageable.
THE ROLE OF PROPER NUTRITION
Throughout life, your pet should be fed a nutritionally balanced, highly digestible food specifically formulated for its age and life style. Feeding kittens poor-quality foods of low digestibility may slow their growth rate, cause poor muscle and bone development, and decrease resistance to infectious disease. Table scraps and some pet foods may also contain excesses of nutrients that could harm your pet over time.
Proper nutrition, led in appropriate quantities, is crucial to the healthy development of your kitten. Excessive amounts of dietary minerals and foods that produce an abnormal urine pH may increase the risk of urinary tract disease. Never supplement a good kitten food with table scraps or other food. Meat, fish, kidney and liver supplements can create dietary imbalances and addiction to the wrong kinds of food. Long term feeding of these supplements can cause severe skeletal disease.
The right diet is important at every stage of a cat’s life, but optimal nutrition for kittens helps establish a pattern of wellness that will affect all the stages that follow.
Optimal nutrition means providing the right levels – no more and no less – of the nutrients that enable your cat’s vital organ systems to grow, especially the immune and musculoskeletal systems. This requires the right balance of high-quality proteins, calories, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and taurine. Just as important is the control of nutrient excesses. Too much calcium and magnesium, for example, can cause signs of urinary tract disease, and too many calories can cause your cat to become overweight.
The idea of precisely balanced nutrient levels from high-quality protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals distinguishes Hill’s HealthBlend “Kitten” brand kitten food as one of the best foods available for healthy kittens. HealthBlend “Kitten” was developed by veterinary nutritionists who understand the needs of healthy kittens better than anyone. They also understand the harm that nutrient excesses can cause. You have their assurance that HealthBlend “Kitten” is not only an optimal food for kittens in respect to growth, but also one that helps manage the long-term risks to your kitten’s health.
Preserving wellness is a goal all of us at All Creatures share with you. Your veterinarian understands the risks to your kitten’s health and how these risks can be reduced or eliminated. Keeping your kitten healthy begins by identifying those risks and then managing them. Regular checkups, professional health care, routine exercise, and your own involvement through home care are vitally important to your new pet’s health. And so is nutrition designed for your kitten’s changing needs.