When we think about the stages of growth and development that we go through in our lives as humans, it seems only logical that our cats would go through similar stages.
Just like us, cats need different kinds of care at different stages of their lives. Since they sadly don’t live as long as we do, the ages that they reach and pass through these stages of life is very different from a human. If you are owned by a feline, it’s important for you to know approximately what ages these life stages occur and what sorts of health care is best when your cat is going through different periods of development.
Kitten: This is the first stage of life for our kitties and lasts from birth to six months. The most important things in this stage are socialization and getting them started out right from a health perspective. This involves testing for feline leukemia and FIV (a virus similar to HIV but specific to cats) which they can potentially get from an infected mother, deworming, sterilization, and vaccines. Another extremely important factor is getting them started on the right food.
Deworming is important because dormant worms in mother cats are awakened during pregnancy and lactation and can cross the placenta as well as enter the milk, because of this virtually every kitten is guaranteed to come with intestinal parasites as part of the package until they are dewormed.
Sterilization surgery is another important consideration. Shelter kitties are usually spayed or neutered before they are allowed to be adopted out, but if you adopt any cat that is not already sterilized this is an important consideration. The age of sterilization depends on your cat’s lifestyle and health situation, but we recommend no earlier than 6 months and only after your cat has reached at least 5 pounds in weight.
Vaccines are another major decision for your cat’s health that we start working on at this age. Again, most kittens you adopt from a shelter will have had at least their first upper respiratory/panleukopenia (FVRCP) vaccine while they are there, but this is usually the only vaccine that shelters administer. Vaccinations depend on your kitten’s lifestyle and health. For healthy kittens we virtually always recommend a series of upper respiratory vaccines, one every four weeks from 8 weeks of age until 16 weeks of age. We also recommend Rabies vaccines for both indoor only cats and cats with access to the outside, but we usually wait until around 6 months for them to get the first one. The last vaccine to consider is the feline leukemia vaccine. Whether or not we recommend this depends entirely on your plan for your kitten’s lifestyle. An indoor only kitten will not need this vaccine and should not receive it, however a kitten that goes outside or will go outside should have it, particularly if there are a lot of other cats in the neighborhood.
One of the other basic considerations for a kitten is what to feed them. This is also arguably the most important as it will set them up for a lifetime of success if you choose the right food. I always recommend choosing a grain-free food, and I advocate strongly for food with moisture content. As I’ve discussed in a previous blog, we want to offer food to our cats that most closely replicates their natural diet of small prey. This usually means that the best food to feed is either fresh frozen raw food or carbohydrate free canned food. Grain free dry food can be fed as well if it’s necessary, but always consider including at least some portion of the diet as high quality canned food. This is especially important for kittens as we are forming taste and texture preferences at this age that will be the foundation for the rest of their life. Having a cat that likes canned food is very helpful if you ever need to medicate your kitten, or if she develops a health problem in her future that requires a high moisture diet as part of the therapy.
Feeding raw food is the best option for most young, healthy cats, though my traditional Chinese medical perspective would caution you against feeding completely raw food for the first six months of your cat’s life. This is easy to deal with if you purchase raw food that does not contain bone. These ground foods can be very lightly cooked (certainly less than what we would eat ourselves) to make them the ideal diet for a young kitten.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your kitten, please call us!
To be continued!
– Dr. Erika Raines, DVM, CVA, CVSMT