Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker
Adding a cat to your household can be a joyous occasion – and a little preparation can go a long way toward ensuring the success of this new relationship. Maybe you’ve been planning for the new arrival for quite some time. Or maybe a lonely stray found her way to your front porch. In either case, a visit to your family veterinarian should probably be your first step.
Stray cats and kittens, as well as cats from a shelter, should be examined for signs of illness before being brought into your household. Problems to watch for include upper respiratory infections (which may look like a cold), eye infections and other diseases. A blood test may also be advisable, to check for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). These are diseases that depress the immune system and can have fatal consequences. Cats may carry these diseases for years without showing any outward signs, and mothers can pass on the infection to their kittens. Your veterinarian will also check for parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms and ear mites. He or she can let you know what vaccinations are needed, and can provide information about spaying and neutering as well.
Even if you purchase your kitten from a breeder, it’s still recommended that you make a timely visit to a veterinarian for a physical exam and all the appropriate vaccinations. Be certain to research your breed of choice carefully before buying, as some purebred cats are prone to genetic conditions that may cause kidney, heart or respiratory issues.
If you have no other pets, a new feline friend is pretty low maintenance. Most kittens virtually house train themselves when given easy access to a clean litter box. Keep in mind, though, that individual cats may have different preferences when it comes to the type of litter, and many dislike scented litter. Not surprisingly, cats would rather have their food and water dishes placed away from the litter box. And who can blame them — would you want to eat in your bathroom?
If you do have other animals in the house — particularly other cats — the introduction process can be a little trickier. Keep in mind that cats are territorial by nature, and will identify their personal space by marking — urine being the preferred mode of communication. You can help to avoid turf wars by providing each pet with his or her own feeding and elimination areas. The general rule: have one more litter box than you have cats.
Cats moving into a new environment also need safe resting and hiding areas. Try to provide elevated locations where cats can climb to observe activity from above. This allows them to acclimate more readily, while reducing their need to hide in closets or under beds.
Pheromone products are available that may also help to reduce stress. You can spray these in areas of the house where the cats reside, or buy plug-in dispensers that work much like a household air freshener. Keeping everybody’s claws trimmed short will help to avoid injuries if a newcomer does have a difference of opinion with an incumbent.
Cats and kittens have an amazing tolerance for rough handling from toddlers and younger children. They will endure a great deal of unintentional abuse, and will generally resort to escape rather than defending themselves with teeth or claws. For this reason, it is important that youngsters be taught how to handle their new pet gently and appropriately. With vigilant parental supervision, even pre-school children can take some responsibility for the care of the new family member. (Cats especially like fresh water, so youngsters can perhaps take on the task of replenishing the water dish several times a day.) Make sure the kitten’s needs have been tended to before the child sits down to eat breakfast or dinner.
Finally, remember that cats and kittens are curious creatures, and will investigate anything new and interesting. Be sure to keep doors and windows closed or screened off to prevent escape. Craft materials such as yarn, thread or ribbon can be extremely hazardous if swallowed. Take inventory of your houseplants, and check to make certain that your cat doesn’t have access to any plants that might be toxic. When choosing cat toys, try to find those that are durable, and don’t let your cat play with delicate toys unsupervised — there’s always a risk of ingesting small parts. Interactive battery-operated toys are a great way for your kitten to burn off excess energy, and food-puzzle toys help to channel hunting instincts in a constructive way.
Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.