Village Veterinary Clinic is here to help keep your new puppy or kitten in the best condition possible.
Getting a new kitten is a very special experience with lots of joy, warmth and laughter. There is a reason why the internet is so full of kitten and cat pictures and videos. Kittens are super fun, loving and entertaining. Kitten care does involve some amount of hands-on attention from human family members. The focus of kitten care is on acclimating the kitten to its new family, and providing for the kitten’s physical well being to support healthy development.
Drawing upon a lifetime of love for kittens and many years of clinical experience, our veterinary staff would love to help ensure that you are well informed about your kitten’s needs. There are many phases of a kitten’s life and it is important to understand how your cat’s needs will change as they grow. We have compiled some essential kitten care information for you here.
Remember that proper kitten care also requires an examination from cat friendly veterinarian, kitten vaccinations, deworming and other forms of care that support development throughout the various phases of kittenhood.
Taking Care Of Kittens - The First Six Months
How to take care of a kitten is one of the most common kitten care questions we are asked, but also one of the broadest. Some basic tips for how to take care of a kitten in the first six months of its life are as follows:
Under 4 Weeks of Age: Kittens are considered newborn kittens from 0-4 weeks of age. During this time, newborn kittens are just developing motor skills and coordination. They are also learning how to regulate body temperature. At this time in their life, they count on their mother for warmth. If the mother cat is still with the kittens there is very little required for human caretakers besides a warm safe environment, good nutrition and veterinary care for the mother cat. If for some reason, the mother cat is not able to care for the kittens, then a fair amount of care is required to help the kittens grow and thrive. You should plan an immediate visit to see us with the kittens so we can review the kittens needs especially relating to feeding and monitoring their progress. This includes bottle feeding kittens every 2-4 hours, keeping their environment warm and safe and helping the kitten to urinate and defecate. Be sure to keep them warm with blankets, especially if they have been separated from their mother and/or siblings. You can definitely hold the kitten during this time, but please be extra gentle, as their bones are still forming.
5-11 Weeks of Age: By this time, newborn kittens should be weaned off of their mothers or bottle-feeding, and feeding on a high protein, energy dense diet. During this stage, their motor skills and coordination should also be progressing. Beware, that when this happens, your kitten will become quite the force to be reckoned with! How to take care of a kitten at this age includes proper supervision in order to ensure that your kitten’s newfound sense of adventure and bravado doesn’t lead them into dangerous situations.
2-4 Months of Age: This is a period of rapid growth in kitten development. You should expect your kitten to have a lot more energy than an adult cat, and be ready to be woken up during the night by a kitten who is ready to play. How to take care of a kitten during this phase includes both a lot of bonding-based playtime, and also feeding kittens 3 or 4 high protein individual meals per day.
4-6 Months of Age: Your kitten is reaching an age of adolescence and therefore, sexual maturity. This will result in an increase of energy and at times, behavioral changes similar to an adolescent human child entering puberty. How to take care of a kitten during this phase includes continuing hands-on bonding-based playtime with the addition of behavior modification if necessary. There are many ways to enrich your cat’s environment which is especially important for indoor kittens. During your next appointment we should discuss ways to build an enriched environment that provides the right amount of stimulation your kitten instinctively desires. At approximately six months is the time to plan for your kittens to be spayed or neutered. Most kittens will go through puberty at approximately 6-8 months and it is recommended that they are spayed or neutered just before then to avoid unwanted kittens.
Nutrition Tips For Kittens
As we briefly discussed above, proper kitten nutrition includes modifying the diet to ensure you are feeding kittens what they need during each stage of growth.
The mother cat should be feeding kittens during the first 4 weeks of life, or you should use a special commercial milk-replacer formula every 2-4 hours if the kitten has been separated from its mother.
From 3-5 weeks of age, feeding kittens involves offering the milk-replacer formula in a shallow dish to encourage weaning from a bottle. You can also add a moist, easily chewable diet consisting of a mixture of warm milk-replacer and high quality canned or dried kitten food 4-6 times a day.
By 5-8 weeks of age, your kitten should be able to chew its own food, and you should provide a protein rich and energy filled diet, with feedings taking place 3-4 times daily. There are many different types of kitten food available, and we would like to discuss these dietary options with you at your next veterinary appointment. Typically we recommend canned food because it will mimic the natural diet both in consistency and formulation. However, a good diet may also consist of a combination of canned and dry cat foods.
After 6 months of age, kittens should be fed 2-3 times per day.
Feeding kittens the right food in the right amounts, and at the right times throughout the day is essential for happy, healthy and growing cats. Our veterinary staff would be happy to discuss the proper feeding schedule for your kitten at your next veterinary appointment.
Socializing Your Kittens
A huge part of kitten development is socializing your kitten with both human family members, as well as any other animals in your household. The old adage about dogs not getting along with cats is anything but true, however some dogs have a strong prey instinct and cannot decipher a cat from a rabbit. For this reason, proper interspecies interaction, and overall behavior, requires hands-on, responsible and sustained social development, including:
Litter box training
Frequent petting and cuddling
Exploration with boxes, paper bags, etc.
Rewarding good behavior with treats
Time outs for bad behavior
Redirection from biting or scratching
Introduction to new people and animals in a controlled environment
Weekly combing and grooming and handling
Controlled outdoor excursions (only after kitten vaccinations have begun) is acceptable in some areas.
As you can see, kitten development is filled with fun but requires you to be actively involved in the process. It is critically important that you consider the time commitment necessary to do your part and ensure proper kitten development.
What Can Go Wrong With Kittens
Newborn kittens (0-4 weeks) are a lot of work in many regards. One of the most important things to take into account is what can go wrong with newborn kittens. Some warning signs to look for with newborn kittens include:
Not accepting food, especially for younger kittens who have been abandoned by or separated from their mothers
Motor skills and coordination delays or difficulties
Lethargy, diarrhea or vomiting
Kittens older than 4 weeks will have moved passed the more delicate stages where feeding requirements and body temperature maintenance are of paramount importance. During this next phase, you will still need to be aware of the above warning signs but should begin to be more concerned with behavioral issues such as:
Litter box usage
Signs of aggression and play-biting
Fears and other behaviors that we want to address while they are still impressionable
We realize that human parents of newborn kittens are prone to being over sensitive and cautious, and this is actually a good thing. In fact, it shows how much you care about your new furry companion. However if you observe any odd or concerning behaviors during kitten development, don’t hesitate to bring your kitten in for a special visit in addition to the veterinary appointments that should be scheduled for preventive purposes and kitten vaccinations.
Preventive Care For Kittens
Preventive care is important in ensuring your kitten is given the best opportunity to live a healthy life. Preventive kitten care begins with finding the right veterinarian and working with them to implement a sound checkup, kitten vaccinations and preventive maintenance schedule. As experienced veterinarians, we are able to pick up on subtle signs that something may not be quite right with your kitten. Between a thorough discussion with you and a physical exam, our veterinarians will be able to identify health or behavioral issues that your kitten may be experiencing. The following are some helpful tips to begin planning for the long-term health of your kitten, and overall positive kitten development.
When To Schedule Your Kitten’s First Veterinary Appointment
No matter when you get your kitten, you should schedule a veterinary appointment within the first week. Early and frequent visits will help socialize your kitten with your vet, and help the vet establish an informed baseline for your kitten’s health and wellness.
Intestinal Parasites, Fleas And Heartworm In Kittens
All kittens need a regular deworming program which includes medication to kill most intestinal parasites. In addition, we will want to check your kitten’s stool for more uncommon but potentially serious parasites. In addition to intestinal parasites/worms, cats can contract heartworms. If cats develop heartworm disease, there is no treatment. Therefore we recommend heartworm prevention for all cat patients.
Of all threats to your kitten, one of the most common and annoying parasitic dangers is fleas. A discussion about your cat’s lifestyle and proper flea and tick control is an indispensable component of kitten care. We do not recommend over-the-counter sprays, powders and collars. They are less effective and more toxic to your kitten. At your next appointment we would be happy to discuss an effective flea/tick and overall parasite prevention program.
Schedule For Kitten Vaccinations
Kitten vaccinations are essential to proper kitten care and should be started soon after you get your kitten. The average age to get a kitten is 6 weeks. This is when we recommend starting the vaccination program. Boosters will follow at one year and we can help you understand a long term plan for the rest of the cat’s adult life. Kitten vaccinations are given to prevent feline leukemia, rabies and distemper. These infectious diseases are devastating and completely preventable with simple vaccinations.
When Should You Spay/Neuter Your Cat?
By 5-6 months of age, kittens are reaching a point of mature adolescence, or kitty puberty if you will. Because of this, it becomes essential for you to have your kitten spayed or neutered. Reasons for spaying and neutering include:
Avoiding unpleasant habits like territorial scent spraying
Avoiding unplanned litters
A decrease in the chance of mammary or testicular cancer later in life.
If your kitten is in contact with other kittens or cats of the opposite sex, it is essential that you have them spayed or neutered before or as they reach 5-6 months of age.
How To Take Care Of A Puppy
One of the greatest joys in life is having a cuddly, cute puppy to have and hold. This is a memorable time for the entire family and everyone can participate in loving and caring for your new puppy. Our staff and veterinarians know what an exciting and special time this is for you and we want to provide you with the best information and health care to get a great start for your new puppy’s life. The time you commit to this puppy in the beginning of its life will have a great impact on your relationship for the next 12-15 years.
Make The Most Of Your First Visit To The Vet
During your first veterinary visit, we will perform a thorough physical and gather information from you to help get a complete picture of your puppy’s health. This is also your opportunity to gather all of the important puppy care information you need to be an informed, responsible and loving guardian to that puppy. Plan to spend one hour with us on the first visit and bring everyone in the family who will be taking an active role in the puppy’s care. Below are some of the topics we will want to address at the first visit:
Vaccination plans and schedules
Safe options for diagnosing and treating internal and external dog parasites
Signs of illness
Spaying or neutering
Behavior and basic obedience training
While most of these considerations and recommendations are the same for all puppies, our veterinarians will take into account factors such as breed, age, your lifestyle and any current health or behavioral issues to make recommendations that will be tailored to your puppy’s needs.
Quality Puppy Food Makes A Big Difference
Understanding puppy food is a huge part of responsible puppy care. After all, your puppy’s body is growing in ways that will directly impact his or her quality of life for many years to come. It is important that you choose a puppy food that has been specifically formulated for young and growing dogs. Always look for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that ensures the puppy food you choose meets or exceeds nutritional requirements for growing canine bodies.
Small and medium-sized dogs can be weaned off of puppy food, and onto adult dog food between 9 and 12 months of age
Large breed dogs should stick with puppy food until they reach 1 year of age
Make sure your puppy has fresh and abundant water early in the day to help break down the puppy food, as well as to keep them hydrated. Having a regular feeding and walking schedule will be a tremendous help with potty training. Puppies will begin to learn, understand and enjoy a scheduled routine.
Also, be sure to follow a structured puppy feeding schedule. Discuss this with one of our veterinarians at your next appointment and ask for personalized advice to ensure you are feeding your puppy properly. The typical puppy feeding schedule would be:
Age 6-16 weeks: 3-4 meals per day (4 meals only for very small breeds)
Age 3-6 months: 2-3 meals per day
Age 6-12 months: 2 meals per day
It is strongly recommended that you do not share food from your plate with your puppy. Puppies will often beg for whatever you are eating and it will be tempting to give them small amounts of your food. While it is not dangerous for them to eat most of what you eat, it is a really tough habit to break as they will begin to think that they should always share in your food.
It is best to stick with a good puppy diet and follow a feeding routine. Begin early training of the puppy on how to behave while you are eating. This may involve crating or asking the puppy to stay outside of the dining room/kitchen until it learns proper behavior.
Start Puppy Potty Training With A Good Bathroom Routine
It usually only takes once or twice of cleaning puppy urine and defecation for owners to realize the importance of potty training. Puppy potty training should begin immediately upon bringing your new canine companion home. The easiest plan for very young puppies is to take them out a lot (hourly for some) where you want them to go and reward with immediate gentle praise after they go to the bathroom.
Please remember that your puppy is not going potty in the house on purpose but because he or she doesn’t know any better. Therefore, your best allies during puppy potty training are patience, planning, and plenty of positive reinforcement. Also, do not dwell on negative reinforcement when accidents happen (and they will happen!), because it is essential to maintain a bond of trust and security between puppy and owner during puppy potty training that only compassion and calmness can facilitate. Different sizes and breeds will train differently. We recommend that you work with our recommended dog trainer from a very early age to begin the best habits for that particular puppy.
Crate training is a way to confine the puppy in a small area when it is not being watched so that it does not soil the house or chew up shoes. The crate can be used humanely when the owners are aware of the proper exercise requirements and have set up a schedule for eating and going outside to help with potty training. The crate can become a den for most dogs and greatly aid in the owner’s ability to potty train. See handout on crate training for a more thorough explanation to make crate training successful.
Puppy potty training begins with knowing when you should take your puppy outside to do its business. The most common times to take your puppy out to potty are:
When you wake up (or the puppy wakes up)
Right before bedtime
Immediately after your puppy eats or drinks and again 20-30 minutes after
When your puppy wakes up from a nap
During and after physical activity
Once your puppy begins its vaccinations, it is ready to begin puppy class with other vaccinated puppies. We recommend that you begin puppy classes at 7-8 weeks and continue from puppy class to the next stage of basic training.
Schedule Puppy Vaccinations
Puppy vaccinations should take place every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age during the first several months of life, and continue with booster immunizations throughout adulthood. There are core and non-core puppy vaccinations for your puppy and your veterinarian can help you decide which puppy vaccinations are right for your canine companion. A general puppy vaccinations schedule looks something like this:
6-10 weeks: DHPP, Kennel Cough
11-14 weeks: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease
15-16: DHPP, Leptospirosis, Canine Influenza, Lyme Disease, Rabies
It is important to stay current with your puppy vaccinations. Puppy vaccinations have been medically proven to combat so many preventable diseases and illnesses that will occur without proper immunizations. Puppy vaccinations are a huge part of responsible puppy care, and your puppy deserves no less than every chance to be healthy and happy for life.
*Some puppies may need additional vaccinations against parvovirus after 15 weeks of age.
Understanding How To Deal With Puppy Teething
Puppy teething is a normal, albeit annoying and sometimes painful part of having a puppy. It is important to understand that puppy teething is a natural part of the canine growth and maturity process, but also that it is a behavior that can get out of hand without providing proper outlets for a dog during the puppy teething phase.
Almost without exception, puppies are born without teeth. Deciduous teeth, begin to appear at about three weeks of age. By six to eight weeks of age, the puppy will have a full set of 28 baby teeth. This rapid, new growth leads to puppy teething. During puppy teething, your puppy may target all kinds of objects to gnaw and chew to relieve the discomfort associated with growing teeth. Teething is an important part of canine development for the following reasons:
Biting and nipping is a social moor of the canine culture
Puppy teething is a way to attract attention
Puppy teething is a defense mechanism
It is important to provide age-appropriate puppy teething devices and toys to your puppy during this time, and also to gently but assertively reinforce that nips and bites to people, property, and other animals is not okay. If you do have other animals present for the puppy teething period in your home, they will do a good job of being assertive too. Just be sure to monitor play between animals in order to ensure that an innocent puppy teething incident does not escalate into something more serious.
When Should You Spay Or Neuter Your Dog
We recommend spaying and neutering between 5-6 months of age. However, with some breeds, there is information that waiting even longer may be the most optimal to avoid certain cancers. Our veterinarians will review this information with your and discuss which breeds may want to consider an alternate plan.
The American Veterinary Medical Association supports early spaying and neutering. Delaying this procedure past sexual maturity can lead to increased incidences of mammary tumors in females, and testicular cancer in males.
In general, puppies recover a lot faster than adult dogs. Therefore, it is an easier surgery for them and one that reduces the rate of disease later on. We absolutely love puppies and dogs of all kinds, but also believe that there are currently too many who end up in shelter situations and euthanized because of failures to control the pet population. For more information on spay or neuter services for your puppy, please visit our spay or neuter page.
Socializing Your Puppy
Socializing Your Puppy
Early socialization is one of the most important aspects of puppy care. It involves getting your puppy started at 7-8 weeks in a puppy class with a veterinary recommended trainer. Puppies will go through some very important developmental stages as early as 8-12 weeks. It is super important that your puppy experiences safe and varied socializing during this time involving people, dogs and various situations. While many owners feel that they have the experience necessary to provide good socializing, there is no substitute for a puppy class with a good trainer.
During your puppy’s visits to our hospital, we will help to identify problem behaviors and help you understand how to deter your puppy from developing bad habits. We will discuss and concerns you may have and offer solutions. We will also provide information you can take home so that everyone in your family can do their part in helping to encourage positive puppy behaviors.
For example, dogs lacking socialization skills are much more likely to react with fear or aggression to unfamiliar people, animals and experiences. Dogs who are relaxed about honking horns, cats, cyclists, veterinary examinations, crowds and long stairwells are easier and safer to live with than dogs who find these situations threatening. Well-socialized dogs also live much more relaxed, peaceful and happy lives than dogs who are constantly stressed out by their environments.
From 8-12 weeks of age, puppies are most comfortable learning new behaviors, having new experiences, and meeting new people or animals. They still might become frightened, but you can help by regulating new situations and providing supportive positive feedback when fear occurs. After 12 weeks of age, puppies begin to become less tolerant of new situations, people and animals, making socialization and obedience training more difficult as time goes on.