Q: We’ve recently acquired a new kitten and want to make sure that we do all we can to give her a long and happy life. With so much information available, I wonder if you can give me a quick rundown of the things you feel are most important to assure that our baby has the best chance to live a long and happy life.
A: First, thank you for taking this new kitty into your life. I am sure that with a few pointers, you will have her with you for a long, happy time. There are some basic things that may seem like common sense, but that can be very helpful for owners to be proactive about with respect to assuring the well-being of their kitties.
The first recommendation is to have your kitty examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after acquiring her. This is important to make sure that no congenital diseases are present, that she is free of intestinal parasites (i.e., worms) and ectoparasites (i.e., fleas and ticks) to begin providing appropriate preventive care and to take advantage of the veterinarian’s expertise with issues such as feeding, grooming and behavior.
After your kitty has received the initial series of vaccines, it is generally recommended that you take her to the veterinarian annually for a well care visit until the age of 10 years, after which she should be taken twice yearly for checkups.
A very important component of these early visits to the veterinarian is the administration of vaccines to provide protection against infectious diseases. All cats should be given the appropriate course of vaccines for feline panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus and rabies (these are considered “core” vaccines). Others may benefit from additional vaccines for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, depending upon a number of factors that influence their risk for these viral diseases.
Your cat’s veterinarian is best equipped to provide counsel about the necessity for these additional vaccines. Vaccines most commonly require regular boosters at varying intervals, and it is important that you follow the veterinarian’s advice regarding vaccine boosters.
It will be important for you to feed your kitty a nutritionally complete and balanced diet for whatever stage of life she is in (i.e., kitten versus adult), to always provide access to clean water, to provide her with a clean litter box and to monitor her elimination to make sure that she does not have diarrhea, bloody stools, overly dry stools or excessive or decreased urination. Monitoring her appetite, weight and activity level is also important, as abnormalities in any of these may signify a problem.
Your kitty should be kept indoors and should be provided with appropriate places to scratch (i.e., a scratching post), to play and climb (such as a kitty condo), and to retreat to for quiet times and sleeping. Taking 15 minutes per day to play with her with an appropriate feather or other kitty-appropriate toy will also be great for her psychological well-being and for your relationship with her.
Making sure she does not have access to common household toxins, such as antifreeze, acetaminophen (Tylenol), various plant species such as poinsettias, lilies and tulips; and to foreign objects that she can ingest and bite into, such as string, holiday tree garland, chicken bones and electrical cords, is also very important.
As she ages, management changes such as placing litter boxes with low sides (easier for arthritic kitties to step into) in easily reachable places, providing ramps for access to different levels in your house and providing a warm, soft place to rest will make those golden years that much more pleasant.
This list is not comprehensive. Please talk with your cat’s veterinarian about more specifics, but if you follow these simple guidelines, you will be going a long way toward maximizing both the duration and the quality of your time together.