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Choosing a new kitten

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Please feel free to make a free appointment to see one of our veterinary surgeons to discuss choosing a kitten.

Pedigree or non-pedigree

Non-pedigree kittens can often be obtained free, or at least for a nominal amount. Animal welfare charities may ask you to make a donation towards their running costs. Other places to look for kittens are advertisements in local newspapers and your local post office or newsagents shop. If you know of a friendly good natured cat in the locality that is about to have kittens it may be worthwhile waiting until they are available.

It is not advisable to obtain a kitten from a pet shop as they often carry diseases and can be very stressed. Try to see a kitten with its mother, brothers and sisters as it is easier to judge its temperament in a natural setting.

If interested in a pedigree kitten it is advisable to research your chosen breed, before locating a breeder. Purchasing a pedigree kitten often involves a substantial fee and these kittens cannot be taken home until at least 12 weeks of age.

How to identify a healthy kitten

If you get a kitten that is already carrying a disease, it may never recover full health and the treatment may be expensive. A healthy kitten will have clear bright eyes, clean nostrils and ears, and a shiny coat. If your kitten has runny eyes, sneezing or a nasal discharge it may have a severe respiratory infection e.g. cat flu. Being able to see the third eyelid (a membrane in the corner of its eyes nearest the nose) or a dull coat are also signs of ill health. Avoid taking on a kitten with dirty ears, which may be infected with bacteria or ear mites or an animal that is thin and has a pot-belly as it may be heavily infected with worms.

If you are in any doubt, ask to have the kitten examined by the practice before agreeing to take it on. In any case, make an appointment for a free new pet check for any new kitten on the second or third day after you bring the kitten home. At this appointment your kitten will receive a complete health check and advice regarding feeding, neutering, flea treatment, insurance and worming.

How to find a happy kitten

One of the first things to check is how far your kitten has got in terms of its socialisation. A very simple and useful test here is to (gently) take the kitten by the scruff of its neck and lift it up. A properly socialised kitten will respond to this kind of handling by curling up with its tail raised under its belly and a glassy look in its eyes. This is what is known as a ´positive carrying reflex´, and such a reaction indicates that the kitten has stayed long enough in contact with its mother to be able to be properly socialised.

If, on the contrary, the kitten begins to howl when you lift it up in this way, with its claws out and the whole body arched in hyper-extension, then its level of socialisation is very low and it is going to be difficult to make a pleasant family pet of your kitten. If, after checking this reflex out several times, you still decide to keep the kitten, please speak to us and we will be able to advise you as to how to increase your new friend´s contact tolerance.

A normal kitten should be active, playful and comfortable with people. It is a bad sign if the kitten runs away and hides or appears sleepy all the time. However, normal kittens do sleep for long periods and it is worthwhile watching it for some time or visiting on several occasions before reaching a decision on whether you want to take it home. Normal kittens suddenly change from being playful to being tired or hungry.

A kitten that has interacted with people and other animals in the first eight weeks of life will be able to deal with new situations and owners more easily than one that has been kept in quiet isolation. Early experiences are important for a confident, well balanced cat. Avoid nervous kittens as they seldom become the outgoing friendly cat that most people want. Choose the kitten to suit your lifestyle. If you have children and dogs try and find a kitten that has previous experience of these.

How to prepare your home

Before taking a kitten home find out about the type of care it has been getting. Kittens can leave their mothers from about the age of eight weeks and most 'moggies' will not be vaccinated by then. If you are buying a pedigree kitten it will not be able to leave the breeder until it is 12 weeks old and will usually have had some, or all, of its vaccinations. Ask which vaccinations it has received and you should be given a vaccination record signed by a vet (with details of the kitten's identity).

You also need to know whether your kitten has been treated for fleas or worms and what sort of food it has been eating. Feed the same food for a few days and reintroduce new foods gradually (if you need to) so that your kitten's system does not get too much of a shock.

Have the necessary equipment ready before bringing a new kitten into your house. You should have the following: a carrying box, food and water bowls, food, a comfortable bed, a litter tray with litter (preferably the same brand that the kitten has been using so far), a grooming brush or comb. It may also be a good idea to have some toys to keep the kitten amused and a scratching post so that it does not exercise its claws on your furniture.

The first few days

The first days away from its mother and litter-mates are understandably stressful for most kittens. Your kitten will need plenty of love and attention until it settles into its new home. Show it the litter tray and its feed/water bowls that should not be too close to the litter tray. If there are young children in the house they must not become overexcited or treat the kitten like a toy. All doors, windows and cat flaps should be shut and the kitten should not be allowed outside until it has completed all its necessary vaccinations and it is comfortable and settled in its new home.

Meeting other pets

Until it is fully protected against the common preventable diseases of cats, your kitten should only mix with cats that are already fully vaccinated and known to be healthy. If you have other pet cats or a dog these should be introduced gradually to the kitten. During the first meetings the kitten should be safe inside a cage that allows the other pets to see and smell but not touch it. Later your kitten may also need a 'bolt hole', where it can escape if the other pets become aggressive or overly playful. Your old and new pets may never become the best of friends but with care and time they should learn to tolerate each other.

What else do I need to do?

Once your kitten has had its first course of vaccinations it will need an annual booster vaccination. Worming and flea treatment is advised regularly, further advice can be given by the practice. Regular daily grooming for long-haired cats is recommended to keep their coat in good condition and short-haired breeds will also benefit from grooming, particularly when they are moulting. Brushing its coat, and teeth to prevent dental disease, is easier if your kitten is used to it from an early age. The eyes and nose of long-haired breeds may also need to be wiped occasionally with damp cotton wool.

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