BY DR. MARK WALDROP, D.V.M.
Kitten season is upon us, and many of you may have likely adopted, or are looking to adopt, a new feline friend. Although you probably have a good understanding of basic kitten care, I wanted to offer some tips that can be helpful in caring for your new kitty. These are a few critical points that can have lifelong benefits for you and your new friend. And, while they may seem simple, they are often overlooked.
First, start trimming your kitten’s nails early. Do it weekly, do all the nails and don’t stop when they wiggle, squirm, cry or try to bite. Get help if you need it, but do it. Your kitten has to learn that there are things you must do that she doesn’t like. Keep in mind that trimming nails doesn’t hurt as long as you steer clear of the pink quick, but kittens generally don’t like having their paws handled. This process will get easier each week as you complete it, and if you’re patient, calm and reward your kitten with praise and a treat afterward, it won’t be long before she handles it like a pro. If you have never done this before, get help from your veterinarian. Our goal is to make the experience as stress-free as possible. A bonus: later in life, when you have to give medication, your cat will be accustomed to being handled and likely won’t put up much fuss.
Next, get a good rope or sisal scratching post 3-4 feet tall and a feather toy and train your kitten to use it. They don’t have a clue what this new thing is, so it’s your job to show them how fun it can be! Each day, spend a few 10-minute sessions flying the feather wand around the post. As your kitten attacks the post, he will sink his claws into it. When he digs in and begins to sharpen his claws, have a treat in hand and give it as soon as he has completed his task. If you give your kitten an appropriate place to scratch, along with affirmation when the post is properly used, then you won’t have to worry about your cuddly kitten shredding your house.
Thirdly, feed canned food to your kitten, either wholly or as part of her daily diet. A high-quality canned food (such as Wellness, Orijen, Merrick Before-Grain and Evanger’s Organic) is superior in many ways and closer to your kitten’s natural diet than dry kibble. It’s also a great way to for kitten to increase her water intake. Canned food can also be used as a good disguise for medications. Start this young, as cats are creatures of habit and if you wait until down the road, your cat may not recognize canned food as food.
Finally, between 5-6 months of age, begin a twice-daily feeding schedule. Allow 30-45 minutes of access to the food before picking up the food dishes. Cats develop routines and often they schedule trips to the food dish too often. This can lead to obesity, which is one of the greatest health risks your cat will face. If you start a healthy eating schedule early in life, it will be much easier on both of you.
Kitten care is a book in itself, but these simple tips can have a significant impact on your cat’s life and health. Best of luck with your new feline friend!
Dr. Mark Waldrop is the owner of Nashville Cat Clinic and was voted #1 Best Cat Practitioner in our 2008 Readers’ Choice Awards. For more info, please see his display ad on page 17 or visit him online at nashvillecatclinic.com.