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by Dr. Karen Halligan
First Things First
Before anything else, get a collar and ID tag with current contact information on your pet immediately! Even indoor cats can escape through a faulty window, during times of earthquake, brush fires, etc. Prevent a tragedy by always having current identification on your pet. Break-away collars are great for cats, if you worry their collar may become caught on objects. However, since the collar comes off, a back-up form of identification, such as a microchip, is a strongly recommended as a secondary ID.
It is best to take your new kitten to your veterinarian for a complete check-up. Make sure your veterinarian does the following:
- Listens to the kitten’s heart
- Opens the kitten’s mouth and checks her ears
- Weighs the kitten and takes her temperature
- Checks out any skin problems that may be present
- Performs a fecal exam of the stool (taking a stool sample into the vet is easiest)
If parasites are present, then a de-worming medication will be prescribed. Some veterinarians just routinely de-worm kittens since they often have parasites.
Always Get Your Kitten Spayed or Neutered! More Info
You may safely have your kitten altered as early as eight weeks. Remember that kittens go into heat at seven months so many vets recommend having them altered by four to six months.
Vaccinate Your Kitten
It is highly recommended to have your kitten tested for FELV/FIV. These are common viruses that can be fatal so it is good to know ahead of time if your kitten has these contagious viruses. Most vaccines (including FVRCP, FELV, and Rabies) are given at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. Keeping your kitten indoors throughout her entire life will drastically reduce the likelihood of her contracting these diseases. Keeping your kitten indoors will also drastically reduce her chances of being hit by a car, attacked by another animal, or being poisoned.
Always Feed Your Kitten Food Appropriate
for Its Life Stage More Info
- Feed food formulated for kittens
- Wet/canned food is okay as long as it is for kittens
- Do not feed table scraps, tuna or milk, which most cats cannot digest
Introducing Your Kitten to Her New Environment
The period in which cats learn the most socialization is between 2 and 12 weeks of age. Therefore, try to expose your kitten to men, women, children, cat-friendly dogs, other cats, etc. If your kitten has good experiences with each of these species, she is more likely to accept and like them throughout life.
Initially, limit the area that you first place your kitten in. Cats naturally investigate their surroundings so starting them out in a controlled area will reduce stressful situations. After confining the kitten to a room for a couple of days, you should slowly allow her access to the rest of the house.
What You Should Know About Scratching, Biting,
There is no better time to get your kitten used to having their nails trimmed than when she is young. Start now and have your vet show you how to trim the nails. Soft Paws are nail coverings that as your cat gets older, you can apply to help prevent trauma to furniture if you have a truly out-of-control cat. However, in most cases, simple training should be enough.
Cats usually bite and scratch when they become overly excited playing with their human friends. You can teach a cat to retract her claws by stopping playtime whenever the claws come out. If your cat does retract, praise her and resume playing. Perhaps even better is to learn your cat’s tendencies for clawing and to stop play before the cat gets overly excited.
If kitty does bite, let her know she is hurting you by saying, “OUCH!” End playtime and walk away. This effective deterrent works because kittens and cats love to play with their owners. Ending playtime teaches your pet that rough behavior is not acceptable.
Your cat has a predatory nature. Giving her toys to play with instead of hands and feet helps her act this out and expend her energy. A scratching post can be an invaluable tool. By giving your cat active and regular playtime, she will be less likely to scratch you.
Even if you have exhausted all possible methods of training your cat not to scratch, de-clawing your pet is not the solution. De-clawing is not a simple removal of the claws. It is a surgical amputation. In addition, a de-clawed cat suffers both physical and psychological repercussions as a result of such amputation. Removing the claws causes pain in her paws, as well as a distrust of humans and a tendency to bite. Patience and consistency, not surgical procedure, are the keys for a well-trained cat.
Redirecting Claw Action
Scratching is a natural and important behavior for cats. It helps them stay limber and aids in the shedding of their claw sheath, like a snake shedding skin. But when cats turn their claws on furniture or carpets, this behavior is annoying and destructive. Luckily, there are effective and humane ways to modify and redirect a cat’s need to scratch.
Although it may seem to be the only permanent solution, de-clawing cats is neither humane nor effective. The surgery involves cutting off the entire first joint of the toe in a painful procedure that has long-lasting physical and emotional effects on cats. De-clawed cats can develop debilitating arthritis as they age. Having lost their first line of defense, they are easily stressed and often become biters. Many also stop using their litter boxes because of the pain they feel in their paws while trying to cover up their waste.
A much better alternative is to give your cat a scratching surface that is agreeable to both of you. A good scratching post should be sturdy and at least three feet tall to allow the cat a full stretch. Place the post near your cat’s favorite sleeping area. If you have the space, your cat will appreciate having more than one post to use. Look for posts covered with the backside of carpet, thick burlap, plain wood, or a durable hemp-like material called sisal. Avoid the ones with carpet or upholstery fabric, exactly the surfaces you want your cat not to claw.
Make the post irresistible by sprinkling or spraying catnip on it, and by tying on a favorite toy for the cat to play with. It is important to praise your cat when she claws in the correct place, and if she scratches something inappropriate, distract her with a loud noise, such as pennies in a soda can. Never use physical punishment; it may cause your cat to fear you and to avoid the problem area only when you are around. You can distract her from inappropriate areas by spraying a deterrent or placing strips of double-sided tape on the areas. These products can be purchased at your local pet supply store. If your cat continues to scratch in an inappropriate area, place a post there. Another option is to use plastic nail coverings called Soft Paws. They can be purchased and applied by your veterinarian. This is a humane alternative to de-clawing your cat.
You can also clip your cat’s nails regularly. This procedure is easy, and when done correctly does not hurt the cat. It is easy to condition your cat to accept nail trimming, but you must have patience and pick the right time. The very worst time is when the pet is alert and active. Handle the paw very gently, use a sharp pair of trimmers, and quickly take off the tip of the nail. Don’t cut into the pink area of the nail, as this will cause it to bleed. Give your cat a treat when you are done. You may only get one nail done at a time until your cat is comfortable with the process. FIRST HAVE YOUR VET SHOW YOU HOW TO DO THIS TO AVOID INJURY.
With patience, praise, and love you can redirect your cat’s clawing action in an effective and humane way.
Last, like most creatures, cats enjoy companionship from their own kind. Consider having more than just one cat. And always remember to adopt, not buy, your next pet!
Behavior and Training Department
If you would like more information on training or have a behavior question you can email the Behavior and Training Department at training@spcaLA.com or call the Behavior Helpline at (888) 772-2521, ext 260.