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Raising Kittens

 

Bringing a new kitten into the home is a very exciting event for everyone. In the excitement of the moment, one may forget to take into consideration a few things. When first obtaining your new kitten, it would be helpful to find out from the previous owner the feeding schedule and diet. The reason for this is that a change in diet and water can cause some intestinal upset; though usually transient it may cause concern. Ideally it is best to keep the same diet for the first few days and then to change the food gradually over a period of a week. Thus by the end of a week or more, your new kitten is totally on the new food. This should avoid loose stools.

In addition to new food, some owners think milk would be good for their new kitten. This is inadvisable; the digestive system of adult mammals is not designed for milk. Putting a dash of milk in your cat’s water may add to their quality of life however please note whether diarrhea is seen and adjust this feeding regime accordingly.

Young kittens have a very small stomach, but need a lot of nourishment. Feedings should be frequent but not too much as to cause regurgitation, bloat or colic. Depending on how much your kitten wants to eat the following regime should be followed:

2-3 months: 4 meals per day
4 months: 3 meals per day
5 months: 2 meals per day

Cats rarely get fat as adults but some can! Whilst owners commonly leave food down for cats all the time and this causes little harm it is best to feed them twice per day. If your cat tends to over eat then definitely do this.

Kittens are often weaned too early here in China. The tendency is often to see a kitten barely one month old separated from its mother. The ideal time to wean a kitten is 6 weeks of age. Early weaning may lead to a poor immunity and ill thrift.

Depending on purchase/ re-homing source it may be advisable to quarantine your new pet for a week. Once this initial period is over it’s ready to start a vaccination program at 8 weeks of age.

Once through this crucial period of life, kittens can develop quickly into active members of your household. They have so much to contribute and enrich our lives. They deserve a good strong start in life.

Cats are very adaptable and seem quite happy to spend their life indoors. It is important to provide them with a comfortable bed and a litter tray to use as a toilet. Cats are very clean animals and if the litter tray is not cleaned regularly they will not want to use it. This can lead to urine retention and complications such as cystitis. Dirty litter tray should be handled hygienically. Wash your hands after cleaning the litter tray out. If you are pregnant, get someone else to do it or wear protective gloves.

Food, water dishes and utensils used by the cat should be kept separate from those used by the family and should be washed separately. It is probably better to feed cats once or twice a day, at the same times, rather than leave food out all the time. As well as being more hygienic, it allows you to check your cat and monitor his or her appetite more easily.

Cats have claws which are quite sharp and which they like to scratch on hard surfaces to keep them healthy. It is a good idea to get them used to a cat scratch at an early age to stop them from damaging carpets and furniture. They can be encouraged to use the scratcher by rubbing it with catnip, a herb that is available from pet shops.

Vaccination

All kittens need a course of vaccinations starting at about 8 weeks old and an annual booster. Rabies vaccinations should be given yearly here in China. We always worm kittens at the same time as the vaccination and they should also be wormed at regular intervals throughout the year.

What do I need to vaccinate against?

Feline Enteritis
Onset of this disease is very rapid and often fatal. It can be particularly severe in pregnant cats, which may lose kittens of give birth to kittens with severe abnormalities. Symptoms include high temperature, loss of appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea and rapid weight loss. Cats can simply collapse as if poisoned.

Feline Respiratory Disease
Also known as the “cat flu”, this causes sneezing, coughing, eye and nose discharge, loss of appetite and sometimes ulcers on the tongue. The disease can lead to severe dehydration and debilitation followed by death, particularly in very young or old cats.

Feline Leukemia Virus
This vaccine is not available in China.

When should I vaccinate?

8 weeks: Feline enteritis & Cat flu
12 weeks: Feline enteritis & Cat flu + Leukemia (if necessary)
16 weeks: Feline enteritis & Cat flu + Leukemia
5-6 months: Rabies Vaccination
Adults: Annual boosters are required to maintain immunity.

Worming

Kittens should be de-wormed every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age (2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 weeks), then every month until 6 months of age (4, 5 & 6 months), then every 3 months routinely. De-worming should be performed regardless of whether worms are seen in droppings or not, as some of the more harmful worms are too small to be seen with the naked eye. A thorough complete de-wormer should be used: Drontal tablets or Revolution drops.

Heartworm prevention

Heartworm is transferred via a mosquito bite so all pets are susceptible. Continuous lifelong preventative medication is required in sub-tropical regions. The easiest method for cats is a once monthly preventative called Revolution. The drops are simply applied to the skin at the back of the neck. Cats don’t need to be blood tested prior to starting preventative medication.

Flea control

All pets will be exposed to fleas at some stage. It is best to prevent infestations at a young age. Revolution drops once monthly on the skin will treat fleas, heartworm, intestinal worms and ear mites. Frontline is a specific flea treatment that is also effective against fleas. Both are topical applications and are the easiest way to avoid the hassles of giving cats oral medications. Please note that collars are an out of date mode of treatment; they are usually quite toxic and if used, need to be changed at least fortnightly.

Paralysis tick control

Paralysis ticks are found in or near bush, scrubland and riverbanks. If your pet is in a tick area, it should be searched daily for ticks. Tick prevention is best achieved by using Frontline spray or drops every 2 weeks. No method of tick prevention is 100% effective, so you still need to manually search your pet.

Hot and humid summers

The summer weather in China is hot and humid. During this period take care that your pet does not suffer from heat stress. In serious cases it can be fatal. Make sure their living space is well ventilated.

When humidity levels become very high it is not only unbearable for us, but spare a thought for a fluffy Persian. Have you seen a cat sweat before? Actually they do sweat, but it is limited to the under-pads of their feet. Sweating is one good way to keep the body temperature under control.

Rapid breathing also draws the heat from the vascular blood supply of the tongue. This process has its limits. Your pet can only breathe rapidly up to a certain rate before their breathing becomes too shallow to be of use from an oxygenation perspective. Generally cats will try to cool themselves down by panting.

Heat stress occurs when the body is unable to stop the ongoing rise in body temperature. In extreme circumstances organ damage will occur. If the body temperature rise to 105F or 41C organ damage will lead to organ failure and can be fatal. Each summer we see cases of heat stress so please be warned!

Cold weather

The winters are very cold in northern China. There are a few considerations that you should keep in mind to ensure the good health of your pet.

The first consideration is tolerance for changes in temperature, which is both size and age related. Small pets have a greater surface area to volume ratio so lose heat more easily than larger pets.

If your pet is over 10 years of age then he or she should be protected against very cold weather. This is because their bodies cannot adjust as well to changes in the environment and if they are out too long in temperatures colder than their own body temperature (100-102F or 39C), then they will get very cold. Their own body’s internal “thermostat” may not be capable of warming them up. Leaving your cat alone for long periods in the car in cold weather would be the same as leaving them outdoors.
Cats should not be left outdoors in the cold. Cats may crawl under the hood of a car to keep warm especially if the car has just been driven. This might result in a possible accident.

During the dry cold winter it may be better to reduce the frequency of bathing your cat. Frequent bathing may exacerbate dry skin and cause skin irritations. If needed, use a warm, damp cloth to wipe down the hair-coat of your cat in between baths.
Lastly, nutritional needs for your pet in cold weather are very important. A cat that is outdoors in cold weather for longer periods of time will require more calories to keep warm and additional protein in his/her diet would be recommended.

Coat care

Regular brushing is important; daily brushing is best particularly with long-haired pets. Shampoo only when absolutely necessary; cats often hate water and this can stress them incredibly. If their rear gets dirty just hang their bottom under the tap and rinse off; they will tolerate this far better than a full bath!
Use a good quality pet shampoo. Don’t use medicated shampoos unless prescribed by a veterinarian. Take care what you apply to the skin or fur of cats; because they groom so effectively, antiseptics or certain shampoos can irritate or burn their mouth and tongue.

Ears

Healthy ears are clean and dry. Signs of ear problems include shaking the head, scratching at the ears, odor or discharge from the ears, and holding the head on one side. A veterinarian should check ear problems. Home remedies and supermarket-bought drops will do more harm than good.

Human medications

Do not give un-prescribed medications to your pet without checking with a veterinarian first. Even aspirin can be dangerous if given incorrectly, especially for cats.

Collar tag and microchip

All cats should wear a collar with a name and phone number on it so you can be contacted if your pet is lost or injured. Cat collars should always be elasticized in case they get caught on a branch. Microchip identification is a totally safe and permanent way of identifying your pet. The microchip is painlessly injected under the skin and can be read by a special scanner. Your pet’s details are kept on a computer.

General cat diet comments

Your pet needs a balanced diet and the simplest way to provide this is to feed a balanced commercial diet. Whilst a home cooked diet sounds like a great idea, it is likely to be deficient in vitamins and minerals.

Human food is not suitable. Cats are carnivores and should be fed predominantly on meat. Whilst feeding from the table, or feeding your scraps may seem like a good idea this will cause health problems.

Fatty food including dairy products can also cause medical problems including pancreatitis. Your cat might like a little bit of cheese but make sure it is a little bit, now and then.
Different types of food are required dependent on your pet’s age and lifestyle. Frequency of feeding also changes with age and medical conditions. Please ask our clinic staff for advice on feeding, as a good balanced diet is essential for a healthy happy long-lived pet.

A common error made in feeding cats is feeding primarily or exclusively a single food item. The cat becomes addicted to the food and refuses to eat anything else. Although many of these foods are excellent sources of protein in a balanced diet, they are very unbalanced nutritionally when fed as the greater part of the diet and will cause a number of nutritional diseases. Therefore they should not make up more than 10% of the cats total diet. This also causes difficulty in changing a cats diet as may be required in different situations, including the management of many diseases. The cat by nature is a good eater. Finicky cats are made, not born.

Cats are also particularly nose sensitive when it comes to stimulating their appetite; tinned cat food kept in the fridge may only smell tasty after it’s warmed up.

We hope these tips are helpful.

Is there any safe way to sedate or calm a cat to make trimming nails easier?

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Some cats do not like to have their feet touched or nails trimmed. If you have a kitten it is best to start trimming the nails when they are very young so they become use to you handling their feet and trimming their nails. If you have an older cat who does not like you to trim their nails there are several different ways to try and trim their nails:

1) Over a number of weeks just handle your cat’s feet gently a number of times each day to get them use to your touch. Try to make this a positive experience by talking gently to them and giving them some treats or a reward. If you feel your cat has become use to your touch then try trim just a few nails and then give them a reward if they have been good. You can slowly increase this over a number of days to weeks until you can trim all the nails.

2) If you find the above technique does not work you can try some natural calming products such as Feliway spray or diffuser. This contains natural pheromones that can make your pet more calm, results may vary between pets. Spray the area where you are choosing to do the nail trimming along with nail trimmers and see if this helps.

3) The only safe sedative that can be used in the home is an anti-histamine called Diphenhydramine, which can have a side effect of sedation. This is not always consistent and sometimes does not always cause very good sedation. If you are interested in trying this you should call your local veterinarian for a safe dose to give your cat.

If your pet is very difficult to trim their nails please ask a trained professional such as a groomer, nurse or veterinarian to help to trim your cats nails for you.



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The Contributor

Dr. Tony Beck has studied and practiced veterinary medicine for the past 23 years, and is a member of The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Dr Beck graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1998, and has undertaken further studies within feline medicine, ophthalmology, ultrasonography and orthopaedic surgery. He practiced veterinary medicine in London and Hong Kong, and in 2006 he was invited to Beijing Guanshang Animal Hospital where he met Dr. Stone. Dr. Beck has served the community at a neuter clinic in Thailand, a bear station in Chengdu, China, a malaria screening post in Guyana, Africa, and a rhino game conservation project in Namibia, Africa.

    Connect with Dr. Tony:
  1. - Email: Click here

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