Making the decision to welcome a new kitten into your home is the first step on an exciting new journey. Getting a new kitten is always great fun, whether you are being given one by a friend whose cat had kittens, getting one from a pet rescue organisation, or buying a pedigree kitten from a breeder via a website like our own Pets4Homes. But don't get too carried away by the idea. The most important thing is to check that your new baby cat is healthy and has no hidden illnesses or conditions. Please don't take on a kitten just because it's cute, or it's free, or you feel sorry for it. If it has health problems this could involve you in huge expense, and you might even end up losing a kitten which you've already come to love. So how do you know if your new kitten is healthy? Here are some hints and tips.
The source of the kitten may make a big difference as to how careful you need to be about looking out for health issues. If you are buying a pedigree kitten from a reputable breeder, then it should be healthy. However, some breeders are not as good in this area as they should be, so you should still be alert and on the lookout for health issues. If you are obtaining a kitten from a rescue organisation, they should not be homing the kitten without a vet having checked it over first. Certainly the well known organisations such as Cats Protection will always do this.
You should be more concerned if you are getting a kitten from a friend, a private advertiser, or a farm or similar place. Such kittens may well not have had the ideal upbringing, and their owners might not have had them checked over by a vet before trying to find them homes. So if this is the case, ask questions, look at the kittens carefully, and try to find out how they have been brought up. Don't take a kitten just because you feel sorry for it. You may well take on a load of rather expensive problems if you do that.
Firstly, wherever you obtain the kitten from, make sure it looks healthy. A healthy kitten should have bright and shiny eyes and a clean nose, free from any discharge. Check that the kitten's ears and bottom are clean, and that the kitten is alert and active. Any discharge from eyes or nose may be signs of an infection, even something as serious and potentially fatal as cat flu. Dirty ears could mean ear mites, which are hard to get rid of. A dirty bottom could mean the kitten has diarrhoea, which may mean very little, but could be evidence of a serious illness. Look out for black specks in the kitten's coat, which are 'flea dirt' and means the kitten has a flea infestation, which can be quite serious in a young kitten.
Try to make sure that your new has been properly socialised. Has it experienced normal everyday sights and sounds, and been brought up with a family? You may wish to take on an ex-farm kitten, or even a feral kitten, but be aware that you will have to do all of its socialisation yourself. That is not easy, unless you are very experienced. And if the kitten is older than about eight weeks when you start, it may never be completely socialised no matter what you do.
If you are buying a pedigree kitten, ensure you research any possible breed related conditions. For example, some flat-nosed breeds may have problems with their eyes and skin, and may also be prone to breathing problems and infections. Some breeds have a tendency to inherited conditions, eg for heart problems. And white cats, particularly blue eyed ones, can often be deaf. In these cases, it is often possible to test the kittens for inherited conditions, and you should ask the breeder if this has been done. Be very wary of buying from that breeder if the answer is no, or if the breeder doesn't want to talk about the subject. Reputable breeders make certain that their kittens are healthy and that they have the paperwork to prove it; you should not buy a kitten from one where this is not the case.
Once you have your new kitten, however it has been obtained, the first thing you should do is register it with your local vet. It would be good to get the kitten a general health check, and also arrange for it to be microchipped. That way, if the worst happens and your kitten gets lost, you will be much more likely to be reunited with it. You should also check that the kitten has had its vaccinations, and been wormed and de-flead. If these things have not been done, then do them now.
Consider whether you want to take out insurance against unexpected veterinary costs. Some people prefer to 'self-insure'. That is, put. aside some money each month against future vet's bills. If you decide this is the way you want to go, then start now.
You should already have obtained your new kitten's food, bed, carrier, toys and so on. If not, then get them now. Then you can begin getting your kitten used to its new home.
If you follow the above guidelines, you should find you have a happy, healthy kitten. But every year, people take on kittens which at first glance look just fine, but which turn out to have serious health problems. Don't let this happen to you. Do your research in advance, and hopefully things will go well with the new acquisition to your family.
Finally, remember your new kitten is your responsibility for the rest of its life. These days, cats often live into their late teens or even early twenties. So this is a long term commitment,and should be treated as such.