Pet column: Choosing and caring for a kitten |

Pet column: Choosing and caring for a kitten

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Although kittens are available every day of the year, now is the time when the choice is prime. Hours of daylight influence a cat’s readiness to mate. The combination of long summer days, climate warming and spay-neuter neglect creates the perfect storm for kitten season on overload. Shelters are full. Willing and able adopters can save lives by doing pet preparation homework and then making a visit to the nearest adoption facility. The local South Lake Tahoe shelter in Meyers recently received kittens from other facilities which ran out of space.


Stock a kitten pantry. Kitten food is formulated to meet a young cat’s growth and energy level need and should be provided until about one year of age. Dry and wet kitten specific pet food is available. The brand of kitten food should include a statement from the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials ensuring the food is nutritionally complete.

Canned food is perishable but provides hydration. Dry food can be provided all day which is called “free feeding.” Avoid cow’s milk, which can cause diarrhea.

Kittens from 6 to 12 weeks are fed four times a day, kittens from 3 to 6 months old eat three meals per day.

Cat proof the house. Some house plants are harmful food to cats. The leaves of the Easter Lily can cause permanent kidney damages. Philodendron and Marijuana are feline poisons. Clean up antifreeze spills and secure storage of household cleaners and toxic yard chemicals. Young kittens love string play. Drawstrings for blinds or curtains should be hung out of reach.

Provide a sturdy scratching post at least three feet high to allow for both stretching and scratching. Select a cover of rough material such as sisal, burlap or tree bark. Cats also like cardboard scratching pads which can be laid flat on the floor, hung from door knobs or mounted on walls. A sprinkle of catnip once or twice a month will keep a cat interested. If necessary to train away from furniture clawing, scratch your nails on post or pad and then gently rub kitty’s paws on the same area. Declawing is not an option. It is like cutting a human finger off at the knuckle and has negative physical, emotional and behavioral consequences. It is inhumane and considered unethical by virtually all veterinarians.

Choose safe interactive toys. Ping pong balls, paper bags and empty boxes are inexpensive action toys. Obtain a soft kitten brush and small comb, bowls, litter box and litter. Choose a quiet location for the box, distanced from the feeding area. Pick out a bed and add a soft blanket.

Select a family veterinarian. Kittens are vaccinated on a set schedule. Vaccines protect cats from panleukopenia (feline distemper), calicivirus and rhinotracheitis. Shelter kittens usually are current on vaccines and tested for feline leukemia and for feline immunodeficiency virus.

Behavior and Growing Up

Kitten eyes are blue at first, changing over a period of months to the final eye color. Baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth around seven months. A kitten’s high-pitched squeak-like call deepens over time. If they do not exercise their voice, the kitten pitch may last through adulthood. The more cats are spoken to, the more they will speak back with chirps and meows.

The younger they are, the easier it is to train cats to walk on leash, tolerate the noise and motion of car travel and enjoy grooming, including teeth brushing and nail trims. The vet can teach how to trim nails at home. A kitten should grow up to be a social pet who can be handled in an emergency.

The average life span of a domestic cat is 14 years. Well treated cats live twenty years or more. Many feel that cats should be acquired in play pairs when possible. Two kittens can wear each other out instead of their family!

Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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