Ask Elizabeth: December 2012

Q. Our family is excited about adopting a new kitten from the local shelter (they are so cute!), but we are admittedly kitty illiterate! We were wondering if you might be able to provide some sage advice to us feline rookies.

Eagerly Awaiting Kitty

A. I think it’s wonderful that you are thinking of adopting one of my brethren. The decision to adopt a kitty is, as you know, not one to be taken lightly, as this involves years of commitment and dedication. Once a prospective cat owner makes this decision, though, there are a few things to think about in preparation for opening your heart and your home to one of my feline friends.

First, it is important to take steps to assure that the kitty is healthy and that measures are taken to maintain his good health. A visit to your veterinarian is the best way to address important health issues such as appropriate vaccination protocols, treatment and prevention of ectoparasites (such as fleas and ticks) and endoparasites (such as tapeworms and hookworms), and proper nutrition for the various stages of a cat’s life.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners’ vaccine guidelines consider vaccination against feline panleukopenia virus, feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus and rabies virus to be core vaccines. Vaccination for feline leukemia virus is considered a non-core vaccine but is highly recommended in all kittens. Feline immunodeficiency virus vaccination should generally be reserved for cats at high risk of infection. Tests for viral diseases such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus may also be recommended. With respect to diet, remember that the appropriate diet for a kitten is different from that for a healthy adult cat, which is also different from the ideal diet for a geriatric cat.

Another consideration before bringing a new kitty into your home is making sure that the environment is safe and will support the cat’s emotional well-being. Securing and preventing access to toxic substances ranging from antifreeze in your garage to dieffenbachia and poinsettia plants in your living room is very important, as cats are pretty inquisitive creatures (trust me, I know).

If there are dogs in your home, a new cat should be gradually introduced, and the introduction should be supervised carefully. Introduction of a new cat to a dog through a partial barrier such as a baby gate may make things easier in some cases, and having the resident dog on a leash for appropriate control is recommended. Educating young children about the appropriate manner to interact with cats is also an important issue, as many children just want to squeeze us cats, which we understand comes from a good place but which drives many of us crazy!
Another thing that drives us crazy is boredom. A lack of interactive and intellectually stimulating activities can depress cats and sometimes make us take part in activities that are not good for us. Appropriate toys and quality time with our owners can go a long way toward keeping kitties happy.

Getting a new kitty accustomed to a new place may take some time, but calm patience is a virtue. We cats can often read your emotions, so make sure to take plenty of time to speak calmly and stroke and groom your new kitty as a form of positive reinforcement. One major adjustment issue may be selection of appropriate type of litter and location for the litter box. Try to avoid scented litter and placement of the litter box in areas where odors may accumulate and/or where your new friend cannot have privacy, and please be sure to clean the litter box daily. I hate going in a litter box that hasn’t been cleaned, and I can understand why my friends may eliminate in inappropriate places when their owners don’t keep their boxes clean! Positive reinforcement for appropriate usage of the litter is a great idea.
I know this is a lot to think of, but I also know that your decision to take in a kitty will provide you both with years of happiness together. For more information on other important issues regarding adopting a new kitty, please visit the Feline Health Center Website at

Best regards,