Caring for your new kitten

A kitten with cat insurance plays in a food bowl.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Congratulations on making the informed decision to add a new kitten to your family. Cats are wonderful animals, and owning one (or more!) can be a fun and rewarding experience. Aside from ensuring your new kitty has the best food, toys and cat insurance, there are a few other things you might want to know. Here are some guidelines to help your kitten get off on the right start to a long and healthy life:

Introducing a New Kitten to it’s New Environment
Kittens love to investigate and explore new surroundings, but giving them free range may be a bit overwhelming and unmanageable for them at first. Initially, confine the kitten to one room for a few days, and then slowly allow access to other areas of the home.

Introducing New Kittens to other Pets in the Household
Most kittens receive a hostile reception from other household pets, especially from an established cat. In general, cats do not like changes and can become territorial and aggressive. Thisis why introductions need to be made slowly. During the first few days when the kitten is isolated in a room, try switching out items like bedding and toys so the cats will get to know each other by smell. Then carefully allow supervised interaction.

Hissing, spitting and growling are natural and are the ways in which cats will establish the hierarchy among themselves. The use of a synthetic pheromone (a feel-good scent) spray or diffuser can be very helpful in reducing stress among the cats during this introduction phase. Pay extra attention to the established cats to reassure them that they are not being replaced. Provide sanctuary spaces for the established cats with separate food/water and litterboxes so they can escape to a quiet area where they won’t be bothered by the kitten. Of course, you want to make sure that your kitten has seen the veterinarian first before mingling with the other cats. Researching pet health insurance companies is also a good idea.

The introduction period will usually last 1 to 2 weeks and will have one of three possible outcomes.

1. Bonding will occur between the existing cat and the kitten. They will play together, groom each other and sleep together. This is more likely to occur if competition is minimized and if the existing cat is lonely for companionship.

2. The existing cat will only tolerate the kitten. Hostility will cease, but the existing cat will act as if the kitten is not present. This is more likely if the existing cat is very independent, has been an only cat for several years, or if marked competition occurred during the first few weeks. This relationship is likely to be permanent.

3. The existing cat will remain hostile to the kitten. Fighting may occur occasionally, but very rarely will get serious. You can minimize this by reducing competition for food/water and affection. Offer several feeding areas and different litterbox locations, as well as plenty of perches and resting spots so each cat can have their favorite area.

Slow, supervised interaction between a new kitten and a dog is recommended to prevent injury. Never leave a kitten or new cat unattended with a dog until you are convinced that the dog will not harm them. Pet insurance is also good to have because accidents can occur between pets who interact– even if they’re just playing together.

Introducing a New Kitten to Children
Children can unknowingly injure a kitten by playing too rough or handling them improperly. Additionally, kittens can bite and scratch a well-meaning child unexpectedly. Teach children to be gentle and to handle the kitten properly. Teach them the warning signs that suggest that the kitten is hurting or doesn’t want to interact. These may include hissing, ears flattened to the head, biting, growling, scratching or crying out.

Socialization/Play Behavior in Kittens
The socialization period for kittens is between 2 and 12 weeks of age. During this time, the kitten is very impressionable to social influences.

If it has good experiences with men, women, children, dogs, other cats, etc, it is likely to accept them throughout life. If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, it may become apprehensive or adverse to any of them. Therefore, during the period of socialization, expose your kitten to various types of social influences. Direct exposure to other cats should be kept minimal and done with caution since kittens are more susceptible to disease until fully grown and vaccinated. Some cat insurance companies will help cover the costs of routine care, including vaccincations.

Stimulating play behavior is important for kittens. Stalking and pouncing help with proper muscle development. If given sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to use family members for these activities.

The best toys are lightweight and movable. These include wads of paper, small balls, feather toys, and laser pointers. Toys that contain catnip are safe for any cat. Kittens should never be allowed to play with string or ribbons in case of accidental ingestion. Any other toy that is small enough to be ingested should be avoided. Never play rough with your hands or allow the kitten to bite and scratch you. This will teach it to be aggressive to people as an adult.

Disciplining a Kitten
Kittens (and cats) do not respond well to physical punishment. Hand clapping, using shaker cans or small horns, or other loud noises can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior. However, remote punishment is preferred. Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior. Examples include spray bottles, squirt guns, throwing soft objects in the direction of the kitten to startle it, and making loud noises. This way the kitten associates punishment with the undesirable act and not with you.

Household Hazards
“Kitten-proof” your house because kittens will try to get into everything! Some common hazards that can be swallowed include paperclips, coins, marbles, string, ribbon, dental floss, tinsel and Easter grass. Some plants are toxic. The most common are those belonging to the lily family like the Easter lily.

The dryer, washing machine and dishwasher also provide an unexpected and life-threatening hazard for kittens. Be sure you keep the doors to these appliances closed at all times and always check before turning them on.

Always feed a well known name brand kitten food. Stay away from generic or store brands. Price is closely linked to quality, so stay away from the cheapest brands if possible. They can be less nutritious with more fillers, so your kitten will actually need to eat more volume to get the same nutrition that they would from a smaller portion of a higher quality food.

The most nutritious foods are the high protein, grain free foods available at most pet stores. Canned food is recommended in addition to dry. By offering both, you help to ensure your cat won’t be a picky eater. Canned food is also a great way to provide extra moisture to help prevent from dehydration. Always offer some canned food to smaller kittens as their teeth are tiny and it is difficult to chew kibble.

Cats prefer to eat small meals throughout the day. Free feeding or multiple meals throughout the day are best for a growing kitten. Once they are adults, some cats will do fine with free feeding, but many will eat too much and become obese. Your veterinarian can help guide you as to the best feeding regimen for your adult cat.

Try to stay away from feeding table scraps as much as possible so your cat won’t develop bad habits. Many cats and kittens are lactose intolerant, so don’t get into the habit of giving them dairy products on a regular basis. A very small amount of milk or cheese once in a while as a treat is OK.

The general rule of thumb for the number of boxes you should have is one box per cat plus one additional box to minimize competition and inappropriate urination/defecation. Use the largest size boxes possible so adult cats can comfortably squat and dig around in them. Clear plastic storage boxes with 4-6 inch sides that are sold at many stores are perfect.

Cats typically don’t like hoods or covers on the boxes. They may feel trapped or vulnerable with covered boxes, and the odor trapped inside may be intolerable for your cat. Choose several locations around your house for the boxes that are quiet and non-threatening. Most cats prefer clumping litter because it tends to feel softer. If you choose clay litter, pick one that is dust free and fragrance free so it’s less irritating to your cat’s lungs. Cleanliness is critical for avoiding problems! Scoop boxes at least once or twice daily, and dump the entire box every week or two depending on litter type. Even clean looking litter will eventually absorb odor.

If your cat does start urinating or defecating outside the box, don’t assume it is a behavioral problem. Many medical conditions can cause this behavior, and it is always safer to have your cat checked by your veterinarian rather than just assuming your cat is acting up.

No Meowing Part 2, When to Give Heartworm Meds

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m at home answering some questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

This question comes from Sharon. “My cat, Trevor, does not meow. He is a year old. Is that normal?”

It’s probably normal for him. Some cats aren’t as vocal as others. He’s probably able to meow but for whatever reason he chooses not to so I wouldn’t worry about it.

The next one comes from Donna. “Because we spend so much time outdoors in the spring and summer, I started administering flea and tick preventatives to my dogs last month. I discontinued the flea and tick preventatives after the first frost. However, I give them heartworm medication all year long. Is this necessary in the cool of fall and winter months?”

This is a great question. It really depends on where you live. Most veterinarians and manufacturers of heartworm medications believe that heartworm medication should probably be given all year-round. Because heartworm disease is so difficult to treat, we really aim our medicine on preventing it. If you travel or if you live in certain areas where there might be the possibility of mosquitoes, it’s better to just stay on the preventative all year-round.

In terms of fleas and ticks, ticks especially are really a summertime thing, but again, depending on where you live, this could be an all year-round thing. If you’ve got specific questions about your region and your area, I would contact your veterinarian.

The Rusty puppy

A Dachshund puppy without dog insurance fights for his life.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Rusty is just the color you’d expect a dachshund named “Rusty” to be, a handsome shiny red. He was normally a happy 8-month-old puppy, full of energy and bouncing off the walls. However, in the last few days he’d been mopey and refused to eat. Although Rusty’s owners didn’t have dog insurance for Rusty, they were worried and decided to make an appointment at the veterinary clinic.

When Rusty was seen by the vet, it was very obvious that something was wrong. He was so weak that he could barely lift his head and his gums were white instead of a nice healthy pink color. This is very serious and indicated something was terribly wrong.

Blood work was recommended for Rusty to better understand why he was so weak and pale. The owners didn’t have a lot of money were worried about the cost because they didn’t have pet insurance. Rusty’s owners were convinced that there was a good possibility they might lose him if a diagnosis wasn’t made quickly.

A normal canine Complete Blood Count, or CBC has about 40% red blood cells, and the rest is serum or plasma. Rusty had just 11% cells, indicating he was severely and life-threateningly anemic. In an animal with anemia, or low numbers of red blood cells, there are only three ways this occurs: the animal’s bone marrow isn’t producing the blood cells, the blood cells are being destroyed by something, like the immune system, or the animal is bleeding somewhere.

After additional questioning, the owners mentioned they had a rodent problem and last week had put rat poison down. In fact, they were pretty sure they had seen Rusty eat some. It was then I determined Rusty was suffering from rodenticide toxicity, a fatal disease if left untreated. Rusty’s red blood cells numbers were low because he was bleeding internally.

Rodenticides are chemicals used to kill mice, rats, moles, gophers and other vermin. They have been available in the US for decades and are available in several formulations with blue or green pellets or paraffin blocks being the most common. While many contain bittering agents to prevent accidental ingestion by children, these agents have limited effectiveness in animals.

The reason rat poison works is that it is an anti-coagulant; it inhibits the blood’s ability to clot. Clotting is important for everyday life and prevents you for bleeding when bumped, or with normal cell turnover.

Anticoagulant rodenticides stop the liver’s ability to produce vitamin K, which is crucial to the production of several coagulation factors. This takes several days to deplete; therefore clinical signs of toxicity, such as bleeding can take days to happen. When clinical signs do occur, everyday things that would normally result in a bruise or other small insignificant problem can turn into life-threatening bleeding situation.

Patients may present bleeding almost anywhere, from the nose, in the lungs, into the eyes, GI tract, heart sac or bladder, to name a few. Because Rusty’s owners hadn’t actually seen any bleeding, it was thought that his bleeding was likely internal. After they were told the gravity of the situation, Rusty’s owners agreed to having him hospitalized for treatment.

If he had been brought immediately to the clinic after ingesting the rat poison, treatment would generally be straight forward and consist of inducing vomit, administering activated charcoal to ‘soak up’ any left over toxins to prevent absorption, and supplementing vitamin K for three weeks until any toxin is officially out of the body.

Rusty required 2 costly blood transfusions and was hospitalized for almost a week before he was strong enough to go home. His bill was hefty– even after using some of our clinics’ ‘needy pet funds’ the invoice was still over $1,500. Rusty was a sweetie though and worth every penny! If his owners had pet insurance Rusty’s condition would have been covered by most pet health insurance companies.

No Meowing, No Litter Box Use – Help!

Hello. I’m Dr Jane Matheys from The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital and Hotel in Boise, Idaho. I’m going to be answering a couple of questions today from the Facebook page of Pets Best Insurance.

The first question is from Sharon. She writes, “Why does a cat not meow and it is normal? Do many cats have that problem? I have a one-year-old cat that I adopted that does not meow.”

That definitely is very unusual for kitty-cats. I’m a little bit unclear as to whether he is meowing but nothing is coming out or if he’s just not even bothering to try to meow. If he’s meowing and nothing’s coming out, on rare occasions a cat could be born with an abnormality of his vocal cords or elsewhere in the throat area, so he may not be physically able to meow even though he’s opening his mouth and trying to.

Certainly, on rare occasions there are cats that just don’t meow. Sometimes some of the breeds, like the Persians, tend to be on the quieter side, but even they will make noises now and again. You just might have a very unique cat who doesn’t feel the need to voice his opinion, and it’s nothing that I would worry about

The second question is from Hope. She has a very common question. She writes, “What makes a healthy neutered cat refuse to use a clean litter box? He will go all over the house but not in the box, no matter how clean it is. The vet says he has no health problems.”

This can be a very common problem that we see in kitty-cats and unfortunately also a very common reason why many of the kitties end up in the Humane Societies. The first thing to check out is whether he is truly healthy. It seems like your doctor has ruled out any medical conditions, so then we tend to think it’s a behavioral issue. We want to take a close look at the setup of your litter boxes in the home situation.

The litter boxes that we provide in the homes are not at all like what the kitties would choose if they were outside in the natural environment. The goal is to make sure that his litter box is as attractive as possible so that he doesn’t choose other areas to go. Attractiveness to the cat includes cleanliness, convenience, and safety. There are some general rules that we can apply to try to make sure that the cat is using the box and finding it an attractive place to go.

You definitely want to have a minimum of one litter box per kitty-cat and you also want to have at least one box on each level of the house. You want to places these boxes in different areas around the house so that he has options. You definitely want to pay close attention to the type of litter that you’re using. Most cats like the scoop-able litter because it feels softer to their paws. I would choose one that’s unscented and preferably low in dust.

You want to make sure that you’re not placing the litter boxes near any loud appliances or air ducts because that might frighten the kitties away. Cleanliness is extremely important. It sounds like you are doing a good job already, but there’s usually room for some improvement. You want to scoop the box at least once a day but perhaps even more than that. Occasionally I’ll see a cat that will not use a box even if there’s just one soiled area already in it, so you may need to scoop out the box two or three times a day. You also want to dump out the entire contents of the box at least once a month, sometimes maybe more, and then wash out the box with good old soap and water. Don’t use any disinfectants as they may leave a smell that the kitty doesn’t like.

Covers or hoods on the boxes and plastic liners cause a lot of problems. The kitties don’t necessarily like the feeling of the liners, and hoods can trap in ammonia odors and also make the kitties feel like they’re being trapped. I do not recommend any of those. Make sure you remove them. You also want to offer the largest litter box possible. Oftentimes they don’t even use litter boxes, per se, but I especially like the see-through plastic storage containers. They can work very well for kitty-cats.

What we’re trying to do is set up a situation so the cat can actually try to tell us what his preferences are and what he likes. I will often recommend that we set up kind of a cafeteria style type of littler box situation in the home. Make sure there are a lot of different litter box types, different litters, and different locations, and let him choose which he likes. Once you’ve figured out what his preferences are you’re more likely to be able to provide that for the kitty and then he’ll use those boxes.

Something else you definitely want to do is make sure you are properly cleaning the areas where the kitty soiled. An enzymatic cleaner is going to do the best job of actually breaking down the odor rather than just covering it up with a fragrant scent. If you’re having trouble finding exactly where the kitty eliminated, especially with urine, a black light can make the spot stand out so that you know where to do the proper cleaning.

If you’re still having trouble after trying these tips and advice, definitely talk to your veterinarian. The longer these types of problems go on, the more likely they will actually become more of a habit and more difficult to correct.

Five tips for you and your beach baby

A dog with pet insurance runs on the beach.

By: Chryssa Rich
For Pets Best Insurance

Landlocked in lovely Boise, Idaho, we’re a full day’s drive to the Pacific Ocean and not exactly pros when it comes to beach living. So we asked our more sea-savvy Facebook friends how they keep their pets safe on the beach (aside from having pet insurance of course) and we got some great advice we hope you can use on your next beach getaway.

Bring Fresh Water
Gulping salt water can cause diarrhea and vomiting in your dog, so make sure you discourage him from drinking ocean water and provide plenty of fresh water. Keep it covered and in the shade so it’s clean and cool when he needs to rehydrate. Any digestive discomfort caused by sea water should pass within 24 hours. If not, seek veterinary care.

Protect Their Paws and Skin
Hot sand can abrade and crack paw pads, and those cracks can become infected. To keep pads soft and healthy, one friend swears by Musher’s Secret, a natural wax product that you can rub onto your dog’s paw pads before hitting the sand. Other options include a variety of water-proof booties and socks available online and at pet stores – just make sure they fit well and won’t come off when wet.

Dogs with short coats and lighter skin especially need extra protection from the sun. Talk to your vet about a pet-safe sunscreen and be sure to give your dog a good bath when you get home.

Test the Waters with Other Dogs
Especially in off-leash areas, make sure other dogs are friendly before letting yours run free. This is especially true if your dog will be fetching a toy – how will he react if another dog tries to sneak in and grab it? If your dog is possessive of toys, leave them in the car till the other dogs are gone.

Scout the Land
Most dogs love seeing vast expanses of open space – they’ll tear off running as fast as they can. Before you let your pup off leash, check the beach for anything potentially dangerous like broken glass, garbage and jellyfish. Investing in dog insurance can help ensure your pup will be protected if any injuries occur while on the beach.

Take Frequent Breaks
Some dogs will fetch and swim themselves right into exhaustion. Even if your dog wants to keep playing, give him breaks in the shade throughout the day. Some signs that indicate he might be overdoing it include vigorous panting, dark red gums and thick saliva. If you observe any of these signs or your dog seems weak or dizzy, get into a cool place right away and call your veterinarian. Pet insurance can help diminish costs associated with emergency vet visits for heat stroke or exhaustion.

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