Y2SPAY Main : More ... : Gina Spadafori : Getting Kittens off to a Good Start

Getting Kittens off to a Good Start
Gina SpadaforiBy Gina Spadafori

It's a kitten explosion. Every spring, it's the same thing as back yards, garages and, most tragically, the euthanasia rooms at pounds and shelters fill up with unplanned-for and unwanted kittens, kittens, kittens.

It's a preventable situation, but one that never seems to get mcu better. The message of spay and neuter, of responsible pet ownership, never seems to get through to some people, and the result is far too many lovable kittens for far too few loving homes.

There are always the lucky ones, however, and to keep them healthy, proper veterinary care is a must. If you've just picked out a new feline friend, here's a pet-care primer for you.

VACCINATIONS: Kittens carry over the immunity of their mothers for the first few weeks of life, but by the age of 2 months, their immune system needs a boost. Your veterinarian may choose to protect your pet against four diseases with one shot. They are:

  • Feline rhinotracheitis, a highly contagious virus that accounts for more than 40 percent of all feline respiratory infections.
  • Feline calicivirus, which accounts for another 40 to 45 percent of respiratory infections. Affected cats develop painful ulcers of the mouth and may die.
  • Feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper. It invades the digestive system, producing vomiting and bloody diarrhea. It also suppresses the immune system.
  • Feline pneumonitis, which began as a disease in birds and now develops in cats as respiratory illness. It is tenacious and must be treated for six weeks, but it is rarely fatal. The first shot is given at 8 weeks of age with boosters at 12 and 16 weeks, and an annual booster thereafter. At the 4-month mark, it's also time for a rabies shot.

    FELINE LEUKEMIA: A disease often compared to AIDS in humans (although FTLD or feline AIDS is actually a closer comparison), feline leukemia is one of the top killers of cats. Feline leukemia causes tumors and suppresses the immune system, allowing other diseases to gain a foothold. It is transmitted through direct contact and can be detected with a blood test at the veterinary clinic.

    Cats who test positive need to be retested within a month or two. Pet owners should restrict their infected cat's access to other cats.

    For the cats who test negative, there is a vaccine. For kittens, the shots come at 2-3 months with annual boosters to follow.

    PARASITES: Kittens, like puppies, aren't born with a full load of roundworms, but they get them so soon after birth that they might as well be.

    Worming starts as young as 2 weeks and continues until a fecal examination proves that the young animal is clear of the pests.

    Ear mites are another common problem. These easily transmitted pests live in the ear canal, irritating the tissue and causing bleeding and oozing. Treatment must last long enough to kill all generations of the pest, since the eggs are hardy enough to survive the drugs that kill the adult mites. Continue the treatment as long as your veterinarian recommends.

    OTHER CONCERNS: The most common mistake owners make with their kittens is giving them milk. Kittens don't need milk; in fact, a kitten who is not used to drinking milk will develop diarrhea. Give a new kitten solid food and skip the milk.

    Kittens grow quickly into sexually active cats, and kittens have kittens before you know it. Do your part to prevent the tragedy of extra animals by spaying or neutering your kitten at the earliest opportunity. Follow your veterinarian's advice on the timing of the operation.

    Gina Spadafori is an award-winning pet-care columnist for the Universal Press Syndicate. She is also the author of Dogs For Dummies and co-author, with Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM, of Cats For Dummies. Dogs For Dummies was named Best General Reference by the Dog Writers Association of America and was given the DWAA President's award for the year's best work on dogs.

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