Adding a new kitten to the family is always exciting. Sometimes it is a pre-planned and highly anticipated event, sometimes it is a spontaneous adoption or rescue. Either way, along with shopping for all of the new necessary items like food, dishes, and litter boxes, be sure to make time for that first veterinary visit and the subsequent check-ups.
When Does My Kitten Need to See the Vet?
Your new kitten should see a vet as soon as possible to be checked for overall health status. There isn't a set age for the first vet visit. The simplest answer is to have the first veterinary exam 24-72 hours after adopting the kitten. If you already have cats in your home, it is best to take care of that first vet visit before bringing the new kitten home. Your new kitten may have an illness that is not obvious to you.
Circumstances such as a rescued kitten or other urgent adoption may make a pre-adoption vet visit impossible. In this situation, keep the new arrival quarantined in a bathroom or other space that is separate from the other cats. The kitten should have her own litter box, food bowl, and water bowl. This will reduce the change of spreading disease or parasites to the resident cats.
Some kittens are up for adoption at the age of six weeks or less. This is generally too young for a kitten to be taken from her mother. If possible (i.e. the mother cat is still around and nursing the kittens), the kittens should be adopted out at the age of eight to ten weeks (or even older) for optimal health, weaning time and socialization.
In many situations, kittens do not have this luxury of time before being placed in an adoptive home. If your kitten is young, especially younger than six weeks of age, please see your veterinarian immediately to assess the nutrition and hydration status and to provide assistance with any needed supplementation.
What Happens at Your Kitten's First Vet Visit
The first vet visit can reveal underlying issues that can affect you, your family, and other pets. Some illnesses can suddenly become serious, so it's best to find out right away if your kitten needs special treatments. That's why you should not put off the first vet visit.
When you take your kitten to the veterinarian for the first time, be sure to bring along any paperwork you got at the adoption, if available. It's important for your vet to know what treatments and vaccinations have been given if any.
The staff and the vet will talk to you about your kitten's history and perform a physical examination. Your kitten will be weighed and may need a blood test done to check for certain diseases. A stool sample may be collected to check for intestinal parasites. It is recommended to bring in a fecal sample if possible. The staff or vet will also look for other parasites such as fleas or mites. The vet will examine your kitten's eyes, ears, mouth, skin, coat, and whole body. This includes palpating the abdomen to feel the organs and listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
Kitten Vaccinations and Treatments
The first kitten vaccination is typically administered between the age of six to nine weeks. A healthy mother cat who is up to date on her vaccinations will afford her kittens the best start in life. If your kitten is sneezing or having any other health problems, vaccinations will wait until he or she is healthy.
Kitten vaccine boosters will need to be done at intervals of about three weeks until your kitten reaches age 16 to 20 weeks. The rabies vaccine is generally done once at the final kitten visit. Your kitten will also be given a dewormer at several visits to treat for common kitten intestinal parasites like roundworms. Try to get these visits scheduled in advance so your kitten doesn't miss and essential vaccines or treatments.
Your veterinarian will discuss your kitten's health and preventive needs, such as heartworm prevention and flea/tick control. Recommendations for vaccines and preventive measures will be made based on your kitten's environment. Your vet is also there to help guide you through things like litter box training, nutrition, spay/neuter, and behavior.
Establishing a Relationship With Your Vet
As always, if you have any question about your cat or wonder when you should schedule an exam, please call your vet to discuss. If your kitten becomes sick at any point, it is important to contact your vet without delay. Illnesses in kittens can become serious very quickly. When in doubt, just call the vet.
Establishing a relationship with your vet and a new pet is always smoother in a non-emergency situation. Find out the clinic hours and who to call for emergencies will put you ahead of the game.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT