If you welcomed a new kitten over the holiday season, you’re in for an exciting and busy year of firsts. As your kitten grows and develops, you’ll want to ensure you take the right steps to promote their lifelong health and wellbeing. For expert guidance through all the major kitten milestones and challenges, check out this guide from Town and Country Animal Hospital

Building your kitten’s foundation of health

When your kitten is young, we’ll want to see them regularly for kitten visits, which usually are scheduled three to four weeks apart, and include:

  • Physical exam — A nose-to-tail assessment of your kitten can detect early illness and congenital conditions, and help your kitten learn to accept handling and gentle restraint.
  • Vaccinations — Kittens should receive a vaccine series to prevent potentially deadly transmissible diseases, including feline distemper, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies. 
  • Intestinal parasite screening — Kittens commonly carry roundworms and other parasites, and require regular fecal screenings and deworming medications to ensure they stay parasite-free.
  • Health testing — Screening your kitten for feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) allows us to monitor their health closely and protect other household cats.
  • Microchipping — Microchips provide permanent identification for pets, and can ensure you and your kitten will be reunited should they become lost. Once your kitten is microchipped, ensure you register the chip number with the microchip manufacturer’s database, and update your contact information regularly.
  • Basic care recommendations — Kittens can be a handful. Our veterinarian and veterinary technicians can provide helpful information and tips on managing your kitten’s behavior, and answer your questions about feline care.

Spaying or neutering your kitten

Kittens reach sexual maturity quickly, making early spaying or neutering necessary. Generally, we recommend scheduling their surgery no later than 5 months of age.

Spaying and neutering eliminates the risk of unwanted litters, reduces aggression and territorial behavior in males (e.g., fighting, roaming, spraying), prevents reproductive complications and emergencies, and ultimately lowers your cat’s stress. Surgically sterilizing your cat is one of the simplest ways to add years to their life. 

Your kitten’s home environment

Kittens are athletic and adventurous—and often don’t know their own limits. These curious critters can end up in a lot of trouble if they’re given too much freedom, or get too little exercise.

Set your kitten up for success by designing a safe and rewarding indoor environment that allows them to practice natural predatory behaviors (e.g., hunting, stalking, chasing, pouncing, destruction), which not only promotes natural satisfaction and fulfillment, but reduces misbehavior and destructive habits. Young kittens should be confined to a crate when unsupervised, and any open space should be kitten-proofed (e.g., removing electrical cords, breakable items, and outdoor access). Then, add cat-friendly features, including:

  • Perches
  • Scratching posts
  • Hiding boxes 
  • Cozy beds
  • Motion-activated toys

Socializing and training your kitten

Yes, kittens need socialization and training, too! Introducing your kitten to new people and experiences at an early age can prevent them from becoming an adult cat who is scared to leave home. However, always prioritize your kitten’s safety and wellbeing, and watch for distress signs—fortunately, feline body language is obvious, and a panicky cat is hard to ignore. If a new person, object, or activity frightens your kitten, remove them from the area and let them rest in their crate, or a quiet room. Next time, let them observe the new thing from a safe distance, and reward them with a tasty treat when they show interest.

Kitten socialization and training goals include:

  • Basic handling
  • Nail trimming
  • Routine grooming
  • Toothbrushing
  • Crate or carrier training — Teach your kitten to love their carrier and happily go inside. Check out this helpful training guide from Fear Free Happy Homes.
  • Car travel — Once your kitten likes their carrier, introduce them to the car. Place the carrier on the floor behind the front seats. Begin with short trips—only a few blocks—so your kitten acclimates to the motion and noise. Spray any bedding with a cat-pleasing pheromone spray, such as Feliway, to keep your kitten calm and content. 

For additional ideas, check out this kitten socialization bingo card.

Wondering what treats you can use to train a kitten? Lickable treats such as these are a mess-free way to reward your kitten during training and socialization.

Returning for the annual veterinary exam

Your cat should visit Town and Country Animal Hospital every year for a physical examination and updated preventive care. Unfortunately, more than half the cats in the United States don’t receive proper veterinary care, and many owners stop taking their cats to the veterinarian once they have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Monitoring your cat’s health every year is the only way to prevent infectious disease, identify early illness warning signs, and spot harmful feline conditions, such as dental disease. 

As part of your kitten’s first birthday celebration, schedule an appointment at Town and Country Animal Hospital for their wellness exam—you’ll be giving them the gift of a long and healthy life.