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Welcoming Kitty Into Your Life

There are seasons where a female cat is more capable of having kittens, and summer is one of them, but before you take a kitty home, there are things you should know to best care for the newest member of your family.

Kittens can be a lot of work, so Dr. James Richards, director of Cornell Feline Health Center, visits the Saturday Early Show to explain how to prepare for the arrival and what you need to do to make the adjustment easy and safe for everyone.

"Spring and summer are the most common times for female cats to be in heat," says Dr. Richards, "They have heat cycles where the female cat will exhibit behaviors such as crying, meowing, and even sticking their rear end in the air. This means the cat is in heat and can get pregnant."

Where To Get A Kitten

So now that lots of kittens are available, he says a good source to get your own is the Humane Society, SPCA, or a local shelter. He says, "Those kittens need to get a home or else they will not necessarily survive. If you are looking for a specific breed, then you can go to a breeder. Sometimes you find a stray kitten and decide to keep it."

If you find a stray kitten, Dr. Richards says it is best not to instantly bring the kitten to your household, especially if you have another cat.

He says, "Stray kittens can bring in infectious diseases and get the cat you already have sick. There are also behavior issues of bringing home a kitten. If you have a kitten that wanders into your life, and you plan to adopt it, put the kitten by itself in a room like a spare bedroom or bathroom and schedule an appointment right away with a vet."

The Vet Visit

Physical Exam - Dr. Richards says kittens should...

  • Be screened for FIV, equivalent of HIV. It is contagious
  • Be screened for feline leukemia. It is contagious
  • Get a good physical examination to make sure it does not have intestinal parasites or worms.

    Vaccines - Dr. Richards notes kittens are supposed get a vaccine series, so it takes several visits to complete it. Rabies vaccinations are the most important. In fact, it is required by law in many communities. No other vaccinations are required. He also recommends vaccinations for feline distemper, herpes, and kitty colds, called a 3 in 1. In addition, there are vaccinations for feline leukemia. Cats at risk for this are ones that hang out outside, so if you are raising an outside cat, you should consider this one. It is important for the owner to have a conversation about the lifestyle of the cat with the vet to determine what vaccinations to get the kitten.

    Getting a Kitten Spayed or Neutered – Dr. Richards says you should get a kitten spayed or neutered even before they reach puberty. This can be as early as 4 to 6 months of age. You can even neuter at a younger age. This is good for a couple reasons. One reason is to help control the pet population. It also maintains the health of the cat. Cats that are not spayed or neutered want to get outside more, and they fight more, especially male cats. There is also a behavioral component because they like to spray and mark their territory.

    Declawing – Scratching is a normal behavior in kittens, but this destructive behavior can end up being costly if it is your precious curtains the kitten is scratching. So try to re-direct their behavior; declawing is a last-ditch effort. Kittens do not have ingrained habits so it is important to introduce them to scratch posts that are attractive and that are tall enough, big enough, and sturdy enough. Teach them to scratch it.

  • Introducing A Kitten To New Environment

    The House - You need to gradually introduce a kitten to a new house. Be careful because you have completely disrupted the kitten's world. Using a carrier is very important. Kittens are comfortable inside a carrier. Keep them in a room that is just theirs for a period of time. They are very scared and nervous, so provide a space that is all their own, and they will feel more comfortable. Try starting with the door closed. First, try a spare bedroom or bathroom with the door closed. Make frequent visits and spend time with the kitten. Open the door after a few days and let the kitten explore on its own. Kittens are very curious.

    Another Cat - The resident cat might not accept the kitten with open arms, so slowly introduce the kitten and the cat. Take a towel and rub both cat and kitten with it to introduce them to their odors. Feed them in each other's presence. Cats like to eat, so they will share a pleasant experience together. Also, keep the cat and kitten in carriers and bring them close to each other. They can make eye contact. Gradual is the key.

    A Small Child - You really need to talk to a child about how to handle a kitten. Small children do not know how hard they can hold a kitten or what to do if the kitten starts to squirm. Children and kittens need supervision. You do not want the child to hurt the kitten and you do not want the kitten to hurt the child. Kittens like to bite things that move. A child can learn about compassion by playing with a kitten or how to be gentle, but the situation must be supervised.

    How To Kitten Proof The House

    Think about the traits of kittens. They have a lot of energy; they are curious and they make a lot of noise. Try to prevent access to things that hurt them, like plants that are poisonous, cleaning products and medications. Tylenol, for example, could be deadly to cats.

    The Companionship Factor

    Kittens sleep a lot of the day, sometimes 16 hours. So they are going to need time to sleep. Kittens can also be trained to use a litter box so they do not need human companions all day long to take them outside. However, they are still living creatures, and they want to be around us, so they seek our companionship.

    Raising The Kitten Outdoors or Indoors

    Dr. Richards prefers indoors. Outside, there is a lot of traffic that is dangerous for cats, and cats are more susceptible to infectious diseases if they are outside. They can also get in fights with other cats. However, the kitten could have a boring life indoors. If you keep them indoors, they can overeat and get fat, which leads to diabetes. It is important to make their indoor environment stimulating. Allow them to have more places to play and hide. Give them interactive toys. Provide them with an environmentally rich place to live.

    Toys To Get

    Cats are natural predators, and they chase things. When we see them play, they bat things around and they swing at things. They are very playful, and it is important to provide these outlets. A good toy, for example, is a fishing pole with an object you can swing in the air. Carry a ping-pong ball. Toss it so they chase it, but make sure they cannot swallow the toy.

    Although the picture of a kitten playing with yarn is classic, it's dangerous to have string that can get in the kitten's mouth. A kitten cannot swallow yarn; therefore, the yarn can get stuck in its throat, and it may need surgery.