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What Can Go Wrong With My Kitten?

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about kitten care, including vaccinations, common illnesses, and birth defects.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

A kitten is a jumping, snoozing, rolling, playing ball of fun that can provide hours of entertainment. But kittens also need proper care and attention to ensure they grow up happy and healthy. So WebMD asked Drew Weigner, an American Board of Veterinary Practitioners certified specialist in feline medicine and a past president of the Academy of Feline Medicine, how to avoid kitten pitfalls.

 

Q: Can my kitten get diseases from her mother?

A: Most definitely. They can get feline leukemia, FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), and any number of parasites. The list goes on and on.

But because the test for FIV detects antibodies, kittens will sometimes test positive from the antibodies they receive from their mother, without actually having the disease. When they’re retested at six months of age, most will be negative.

 

Q: How soon does my new kitten need to see a vet?

A: We tell our clients to bring any new kitten in within 24 hours of being adopted, just so we can make sure it’s healthy and we can help them get it started on the right foot.

Kittens are actually more fragile than they appear, and problems can arise quickly. The big three things that I see are hypothermia, or low body temperature, hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and dehydration. When a kitten isn’t doing well, those are the three reasons we usually see. And they’re easy to keep at bay, by keeping them warm and being sure they’re nursing or, if they’re no longer nursing, being sure they’re eating. And that’s a problem we see. People give kittens dry food when they’re very young and they don’t have any teeth. They need canned food.

 

Q: At what age should my kitten start his vaccinations? Why is this important?

A: The first round of vaccinations should be given at about eight weeks of age, because that’s when the immunity a kitten gets from its mothers starts to wear off.

 

Q: What are some diseases that could harm my kitten, and what can I do to prevent them?

A: There are two big categories. One is parasites, which can be internal, such as worms, or external, such as fleas. The other broad category is infectious diseases. Distemper is not that common any more, but it’s devastating to kittens. Feline leukemia everyone knows about, and there are many, many others. That’s why it’s so important to have your veterinarian check your kittens at a very young age.

 

Q: Can my kitten be infected with parasites, such as roundworms, coccidian, and Giardia? How are those treated?

A: Absolutely. Roundworms, hookworms, and others are easily treated with medications that are very safe for kittens. Coccidia and Giardia are protozoa, and there are anti-parasitic medications and antibiotics to treat them.

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