Kitten in arms

Kitten season is upon us. In fact, now that summer’s here, I can almost breathe a sigh of relief knowing 2015’s annual influx of kittens will soon be behind me.

Let me explain: Though I practice in Miami, where kittens happen year-round, there’s, nonetheless, a noticeable spike in kitten births in the middle of springtime. The phenomenon may be more pronounced elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean our hospital doesn’t get treated to a flood of homeless young felines at the same time every year.

Some arrive anonymously via box (usually left overnight, by the back door), while others appear less inauspiciously, in the hands of clients who want to do right by them, but would rather not keep them at home (where they’re not as likely to find their forever homes quickly). And while we have a limit as to how many we can take on, we’ve only once had to resort to sending a box full of kittens away to the shelter due to hospital overcrowding. We do our best.

Kitten Parenting 101

Every year, we learn a little more about what it takes to handle the annual overflow of our area’s neediest feline babies. In case you plan to take on some kitten detail in the future, here’s a helpful sampling of tips from our experiences in 2015:

1. Start with a checkup at the vet. Your veterinarian will be able to assess general kitten health and give you a rough idea of the age of your kittens. She’ll also check for fleas, ear mites and other parasites that are best not brought into your home. If there’s no mama cat, and the kittens are under three or four weeks of age, she can recommend a kitten formula and feeding schedule, as well as provide you with other kitten care tips.

2. Separate the kittens from other pets in your household. Kittens can transmit infectious diseases to your other pets. And because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet, they’re vulnerable to catching diseases from other animals.

3. Wash yourself well after every bath, feeding or play session. Mange happens. So does ringworm. I should know. I’m currently battling a bout of mange that’s infested the skin over my abdomen. It’s not pretty. And it’s way itchy, too!

It can be possible that your kittens weren’t showing signs of mites or fungal infections at the time of your veterinary visit. Or they may develop upper respiratory infections. To be on the safe side, wearing gloves or washing up really well after handling kittens is fundamental. If you have other pets in the household, you may want to wear a special smock when handling the kittens, or change clothes when you leave the room — that is, while kittens are still infectious. Once your vet gives them a clean bill of health, you can let them run roughshod over everything and everyone in their room.

4. Weigh each kitten at the same time every day. When you have a squirming bundle of kittens, you can’t always keep track of who is eating well and who isn’t. Keeping a record of their weights can help alert you to a kitten that’s not gaining weight and needs special attention or a trip to the vet clinic.

5. If possible, try to match single kittens up with another litter. Kittens do well in pairs, trios, even throngs. They do less well alone. This is especially true of young kittens that should still be nursing. If you find a single kitten, consider contacting the local humane society or shelter. They may have a mama who is willing to let the kitten join her other preweaning-age babies (it’s usually quite doable). Because sharing is caring. As long as everyone’s disease free, of course.

6. Always socialize kittens well. Young kittens do really well in our animal hospital. That’s mostly because there’s lots of attention to go around and plenty of activity to keep slightly older kittens engaged. Who doesn’t want to cuddle a baby or teach it to play with a peacock feather fishing pole?

Kittens should get the same amount of attention in your home.

Socializing kittens between the ages of 2 to 7 weeks — and up to 14 weeks — is especially important if they’re to get along well with humans, dogs and all manner of places and things. Adults, children, crying babies, veterinary hospitals… this is the ideal time to teach them to love them all. Miss this window of opportunity and you could imperil your kittens’ lifetime of comfort.

7. Find homes for the black kittens first. There must be a lot of superstition out there, because people are less likely to take home the black kittens than the marmalades, creams, whites and tricolors. By actively trying to find these sweet guys homes ahead of the more popular ones, you’re less likely to end up with 4-month-old stragglers still looking for the perfect home.

8. Always make sure kittens are healthy before homing them. There’s nothing worse than discovering that a kitten you plan to give away has developed a cold, come down with a bad case of diarrhea, busted out with mange or ringworm or experienced some other sort of untoward issue. Except, of course, should it happen to a kitten you’ve already given away. That’s worse. 

9. Stop and smell the kitten breath. OK, so kitten breath isn’t always delightful (not like puppy breath, anyway), but kittens themselves are still a marvelous reminder of everything that’s good in the world. It’s not for nothin’ they say whiskers on kittens are a few of our favorite things.

In fact, at our clinic, kitten season is a glorious reminder that we’re here to improve lives and reduce animal suffering. Go ahead — foster some kittens when you get a chance. I promise it’ll prove as rewarding as it is entertaining. 

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