A new kitten (or an adorable pair of kittens) makes a wonderful addition to any family. They bring youth, fun, companionship and they are just so cute. I can easily remember when my now eight year old girl first hopped out of the carrier at her new home with me. Kittens are fun loving creatures, and if you follow some basic health and socialization guidelines, it is possible to have them in your family for decades. (The statistics for cat longevity are very impressive, and they are related to better healthcare, particularly preventative medicine.)

Depending on the health status and history of a kitten, the first vaccination (Rhinotracheitis – Calici – Panleukopenia) generally occurs around 8 weeks of age, and then they receive a booster vaccine every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks of age. This is done to stimulate the kitten's immunity while the maternal antibiotics are waning and to make sure the kitten develops enough of their own immunity.

The other vaccine that all kittens receive is rabies. They receive this vaccine one time when they are a kitten after 12 weeks of age, and it is repeated a year later. Even kittens that are going to be indoors-only need to have a rabies vaccine*. Another common feline vaccine counters feline leukemia virus. Your kitten may need this depending on his/her lifestyle.

Regular deworming for gastrointestinal parasites is another staple of kitten care. They should be dewormed every few weeks after 4 weeks of age and have multiple fecal flotation tests run to make sure they are clear. This is important for their health and growth and for the safety of the people taking care of them. (Hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms can be transmitted to human via fecal-oral contact.)

All kittens should be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. This is a blood test that should be taken when they are 8-12 weeks and then repeated after 2-3 months, provided there is no new exposure. Two testings help improve the accuracy of these tests and hence improve the health knowledge of the kitten.

Another very important thing for a new kitten is socialization. Between the ages of 8 – 16 weeks is when a cat is getting to know their world and you! It is time to start rewarding them for good behavior and getting them used to human handling for playtime, nail trimming, ear cleaning, etc. It is important to teach them where it is appropriate to scratch and that is okay to have their nails trimmed. This is an investment in many long years together and a great way to starting building life long bonds.

And not to forget, after 8 weeks of age it is time to start flea control and heartworm prevention. There are many product choices available, so please ask your veterinarian what would work best for your family. Also, early kitten appointments are the time to start talking nutrition and making sure your pet is on an appropriate food and amount of food.

Kittens are such a joy, so please have so much fun!

*All cats should be rabies vaccinated due to human bite risks, risks of bats or other wildlife getting indoors, and due to risks of cats getting outside.