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.