The best time to acquire a kitten is when he is about 12 weeks old. At this
age, kittens are well socialized and are starting to become self-reliant. Good
sources for random-bred kittens are shelters, animal welfare organizations, and
veterinary offices. For a pedigreed cat,
it is best to go to an experienced breeder.
Whether you’re buying a show prospect or adopting a kitten at a shelter,
healthy kittens all have the same attributes. First, examine the kitten
head-on. The nose should be cool and damp, the eyes bright and clear. Nasal or
discharge may indicate respiratory infection. A prominent third
eyelid indicates a chronic eye ailment or poor health.
Rarely diagnosed in cats but one of the most common conditions affecting dogs, mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites. Some mange mites are normal residents of a cat’s skin and hair follicles, while others are considered parasites. All mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they proliferate.
The eyes should look straight ahead. A cross-eyed look is undesirable. This
occurs most often in the Siamese breed. A kitten with a blue iris and a white
coat has the potential for congenital deafness (although not all white,
blue-eyed cats are deaf).
The ears should be clean and sweet smelling. A dark brown, waxy discharge in
the ear canals indicates ear mites. Their presence does
not necessarily disqualify a kitten, but it does tell you something about the
way the kittens are being kept.
A swollen stomach indicates poor feeding or possibly worms. A bulge at the navel is
most likely an umbilical hernia. The skin around the anus and vulva should be
clean and healthy looking. Redness, discharge, and hair
loss indicate infection, chronic diarrhea, or worms.
The coat should be fluffy, glossy, and free of mats. Moth-eaten bare areas
are characteristic of ringworm and mange.
Next, examine the kitten for structure and soundness. The legs should be
straight and well formed, the feet cupped, and the toes well arched. The kitten
should be able to jump and pounce with ease. It is abnormal for a kitten to
limp, stumble, sway, or exhibit uncoordinated movement when reaching with his
Kittens at 10 weeks should weigh about 2 pounds (907 g). A thin, bony,
underweight kitten is not desirable; nor is one who is overly fat.
These 4-week-old kittens are learning to interact successfully with members
of their own species. Kittens removed from their mother and littermates too
early lack crucial social skills.
Personality and Disposition
The most important consideration in selecting a kitten for a family pet is
personality and disposition. Kittens who remain with their littermates and
mothers until 10 to 12 weeks learn to relate well to other cats and to people
by watching and taking cues from their mothers and from one another. Once a
pattern of socialization has been established, it is not easy to change.
Heredity also influences a kitten’s disposition. For these reasons, you can
tell a lot about a kitten’s confidence and personality by observing his mother
and how well she interacts with strangers.