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Tips for adopting a kitten

young boy holding small kitten

Kittens are curious, loving, playful, and just plain adorable, but all those cuteness points don’t help them face their toughest challenges. Abandoned or orphaned kittens face health risks such as parasites, predators, and road accidents. Many end up in crowded shelters, where they require more TLC than their adult counterparts. Sadly many don’t survive the transition, or are euthanized due to space limitations. 

In 2012, pet and family lifestyle expert Colleen Paige founded National Kitten Day (July 10th) to draw attention to the challenges facing kittens and to encourage both adoption and fostering of kittens in need of homes. Don’t worry if you missed it, you can still help out. Here’s how you can get involved. 

Adopt a Shelter Kitten (or Two) 

With so many kittens in need, one of the best ways to celebrate Kitten Day is to adopt a shelter pet. Shelters are often stressed to the limit in both budget and accommodations, so every adoption helps relieve that burden and reduces the chances that another animal will be euthanized due to space limits. 

Adopting a kitten from a shelter is a fairly straightforward process. Check online for pet shelters in your area and ask if they shelter cats. Also check for cat-only rescues, they’re out there. Your local SPCA is another resource. You can adopt a cat same-day for a modest processing fee.  

When you adopt from a shelter, be prepared to fill out some paperwork and answer a few questions. It’s one way facilities work to ensure that their adoptees go to responsible owners. If you’ve got room in your home and heart for more than one littermate, you’ll not only be helping to relieve the shelter, you’ll provide your pets with a forever companion to which they’re already bonded.  

See a sample pet adoption form here: (PDF) 

New Kitten Vaccinations 

You’ve adopted a kitten. You’ve purchased a litter pan, nutritious food, and a water bowl—and maybe some toys to help your new arrival burn off some kitten energy. So you’re done, right?  

Adopting a kitten is a big responsibility, and a critical part of it is ensuring that your kitten grows up to be a healthy cat. Keeping current with required immunizations is one way to do that. Let’s review the required and recommended vaccine schedules for cats and kittens. 

Required Vaccines. Required (or core) vaccines are those deemed most essential to protecting your kitten’s health. These include: 

  • Rabies. Cats can contract rabies through a bite from an infected animal (such as a dog or raccoon). Without prompt treatment, rabies is 100% fatal in cats, making this vaccine essential. Kittens 8 weeks of age or older receive a single dose. Adult cats receive two injections, one year apart, with recommended boosters at 3-year intervals thereafter. 
  • Feline Distemper. Distemper is a contagious viral illness that can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, dehydration, and even death. Kittens as young as 6 weeks can receive the vaccine, and should receive boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Adult cats receive two injections with a booster at 12 months and at 3-year intervals thereafter. 
  • Feline Herpesvirus. In cats, the herpesvirus can result in a condition called feline viral rhinotracheitis (or FVR), a contagious disease that can cause life-threatening respiratory problems. Kittens 6 weeks or older can receive the vaccine, and should receive boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Adult cats receive two injections with a booster at 12 months and at 3-year intervals thereafter. 
  • Caliciti Virus. The feline calicivirus is viral illness is systemic with symptoms including fever, joint pain, mouth sores, and anorexia. Kittens 6 weeks or older can receive the vaccine, and should receive boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Adult cats receive two injections with a booster at 12 months and at 3-year intervals thereafter. 

Recommended Vaccines. Though not core vaccines, the following immunizations are recommended by the ASPCA. Asimple and inexpensive blood test can determine whether your cat is positive for the condition.  

  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV). Feline leukemia is a contagious blood-borne illness with a high fatality rate. In cats that test negative for FeLV, kittens may receive their first vaccine at 8 weeks of age and a second 3-4 weeks later. Boosters are recommended at 2 year intervals for low-risk pets and annually for those who may have a higher risk. 
  • Bordatella. This bacterial infection is common in cats but can be harder on kittens. The vaccine may be given as early as 4 months with adult cats receiving two doses 12 months apart and yearly boosters thereafter. 

Regional & Seasonal Concerns for Cats 

If you and your pets are moving to or visiting an area—where there’s an increased risk for certain diseases or parasites, snakes or other poisonous animals, or toxic plants—you may want to take additional precautions.  

  • Ask your vet what health risks your pet may face and inquire about additional immunizations. 
  • Use tick and flea preventives (like Advantix, Sentry, etc.)—because there are no vaccines for cats against Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. 
  • During tick season we recommend brushing and grooming your pet regularly to check for parasites.  
  • Be sure your kitten’s medical records are current and accessible. If your pet needs medical care while you’re away from home, these records can help the vet make more informed treatment choices.  

Keeping Your Kitten Healthy  

Regular exams and vaccinations as recommended for all cats and kittens. But there’s more to long-term health than vaccines. Regular wellness exams help your vet build a picture of your pet’s overall health, and establish baseline values that can help your vet spot irregularities in the future.  

We all love our pets, but we can’t always protect them from illness or injury. Partnering with a trusted cat health insurer now can help you manage unanticipated veterinary expenses when they occur. And ask about wellness add-on coverage to help you manage your pet’s regular checkups, without breaking your budget.  

Cecily Kellogg

By Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg, Felix guest blogger, spent eight years working as a veterinary technician before applying her knowledge and experience as a writer.

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