Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed
A health problem kitten is happy and just plain fun to be around. Good health goes beyond physical considerations and includes emotional status. Emotional and physical health are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated. Each influences the other.
Physical illness impacts the baby’s attitude, and a positive or negative personality influence physical health. Negative emotions collectively referred to as “stress,” can depress the kitten’s immune system. Stress makes the cat more prone to physical illness and can make it more difficult for the sick kitten to recover.
Body and Soul—Signs of Good Health
Your kitten shows he’s healthy by the way looks and the way he acts, and reacts, to the world around him. He should literally be the “picture” of health. It’s very easy to monitor Kitty’s health simply by paying attention to him. In most cases, signs of good health are very obvious. Once you become familiar with what is normal, you’ll be better able to recognize signs of problems, both physical and emotional.
The fur on a shorthaired kitten should be shiny, smooth, and feel like silk against your hand when you pet him. Longhaired kittens have fluffy, silky, or cotton-like hair.
Dry lifeless or brittle fur, bald patches, mats and tangles, and a dirty coat are all signs of a health problem. One of the first signs of illness shows up in the fur coat. It may point to problems with nutrition, or parasites like intestinal worms or fleas.
In normal kittens, you won’t see much bare skin. The inside of the ears, the nose, and paw pads are bare, and the fur is naturally a bit thinner on the shorthaired kitten’s temples above and beside his eyes. When you pet your kitten his skin underneath the fur should feel smooth and without blemish.
Any lump, bump, scab or sore in the skin should alert you to a problem. Bald places, red or rough skin, or discoloration can be a warning sign of a variety of health problems. For instance, very pale skin on the inside of his ears may indicate anemia, while a yellow tinge, called jaundice, points to a liver problem.
Kitten eyes come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. The one universal is that healthy eyes are bright, clear, and have only a small amount of clear tear-like discharge (if at all). Kittens meet the world with their eyes wide open.
A squinting eye points to discomfort or pain. Kittens can scratch their eyes or get dust in them, and end up with a watery, squinty, or cloudy eye. Any discharge from the eyes, other than moderate clear tear-like secretions, is cause for concern. The cause ranges from simple irritation to a viral or bacterial infection like upper respiratory diseases that can be life-threatening to young kittens.
Normal kitten ears are clean. The visible skin is a healthy pink. There may be a bit of amber-colored waxy substance that’s easily wiped out. Your new youngster will also be alert to interesting sounds.
Shaking his head or pawing and scratching at his ears alert you to problems with your kitten’s ears. Ear infections or parasite infestations can cause these symptoms and make your baby miserable. Any sort of discharge points to a health problem. For instance, a crumbly dark material inside kitten ears often is due to an infestation of ear mites.
Kittens are literally led around by the nose, so a healthy one is important to both physical and emotional health. The nose can be different colors, from light pink to black, or even freckled. Usually, the nose stays moist, from the kitten licking his nose and from minimal clear discharge.
A stopped-up nose can have catastrophic consequences for your kitten. That’s because Baby’s appetite is ruled by the smell of his food. If his nose is plugged, he won’t eat, and that can make him even sicker. A gummy or crusty nose or sneezing are signs he needs help.
The gums above the teeth in your kitten’s mouth are naturally pink. Some kitties have a bit of pigment in the gums and can have darker gums. Depending on his age, Kitty may have a few teeth missing or new ones coming in. Those places can be a bit sore.
Sores on the gums, on the tongue, or roof of the mouth can be a sign of an upper respiratory infection. The kitten may refuse to eat because his mouth is so sore.
Healthy Claws and Paws
Paw pads are soft and smooth, while the claws grow cleanly from the ends of each toe.
Problem Claws and Paws
Kittens are so stoic that they rarely limp when a paw hurts. They may instead simply stop moving around as much. Torn or split claws are painful and need attention. Also, any crusty material at the base of the nail bed (where the claw grows out) could indicate a more serious whole-body health problem with the kitten’s immune system.
The kitten’s anus should be clean. Check the furry bottom area beneath his tail. Kitten elimination is a barometer of his health. The consistency of feces varies a bit depending on his diet but should be well-formed and not liquid. Normal urine is yellow to amber color. Monitor your kitten’s litter box to keep track of his normal bathroom habits.
An occasional soft stool probably doesn’t cause to worry, but diarrhea is serious especially with tiny kittens. They can become dehydrated very quickly. Diarrhea can be a sign of a wide range of health problem, from intestinal parasites to viral infections. Straining in the litter box is just as serious, and may indicate such conditions as constipation or urinary tract problems. Blood in the urine or feces is always a sign of a health problem.
Since kittens are intermittent feeders, your baby may not always gulp down his food when first presented. Kittens tend to nibble, go away, and come back to nibble some more.
Refusing to eat (anorexia) can be a dangerous problem in cats, and especially kittens. Loss of appetite can be gradual or sudden, and either can point to a health problem. Missing one meal probably won’t hurt him if there are no other signs of health concerns. But kittens should never go longer than 12 to 18 hours without eating. Vomiting that is not associated with hairballs is another warning sign you should take very seriously. Like diarrhea, vomiting can dehydrate the kitten very quickly and make him even sicker.
By nature, a kitten is non-stop energy and loves to play. The emotionally-healthy kitten meets the world with in-your-face curiosity. He is active when awake, grooms himself vigorously, and sleeps up to 16 hours a day.
A red alert of a health problem in kittens is lethargy. Kittens that act depressed may be running a fever or have an illness brewing that makes them feel icky. Any kind of personality change or alternation in normal behavior could point to a health problem. In other words, an energetic kitten that acts depressed, a friendly kitten that becomes aggressive or shy, or a laid-back kitten that turns hyperactive all should be a cause for concern.
Picking The Best Veterinarian
People become veterinarians because they like and care about animals. Your kitten deserves to be cared for by a professional that you trust. Every kitten needs routine health care, and as Kitty matures, some extra health care may be needed.
Some individual practices or doctors may suit your needs better than others. It’s best to choose a veterinarian and practice that is conveniently located, available when you need them, and willing to answer any questions you have. It’s important that you get along well with your kitten’s veterinarian, too. Mutual respect helps ensure your relationship will best benefit your kitten’s health, over his lifetime.
Veterinary medicine is in constant evolution, with advances made every day. Today, veterinarians can specialize in different areas of pet care, including feline medicine. You may want to investigate finding a veterinarian who specializes in cat care. You can find a cats-only practice by contacting the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
One of the best ways to find a veterinarian is to ask people you trust for a recommendation. When your kitten is from a local breeder, a veterinarian may be available who is already familiar with your kitten’s relatives. Shelters often have staff veterinarians or shelter clinics that offer services to adopted pets and their owners. Don’t forget to ask family and friends who they trust to care for their special pets.
Multi-veterinary practices offer a wide range of services all under one roof. You’ll likely have one primary care doctor for your kitten. At the same time, your kitten will benefit from others within the practice who offer specialized care in specific areas. For instance, a board-certified internist offers expertise in the diagnosis of certain health problem above and beyond what a general practice veterinarian may be able to provide.
It’s a good idea to make an appointment to visit a potential veterinary clinic ahead of time. The doctor’s office is a busy place, though, so call to schedule a time when the staff isn’t tied up with surgery or appointments. Chat with the office manager, technicians, and the veterinarian when possible, and ask for a brief tour of the facilities. Some things to consider include:
- Does the practice have separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats? That can ease the stress level of your kitten.
- Are boarding facilities available? If you need to go out of town, you may feel much more comfortable leaving Baby in the expert care of the hospital staff.
- What about emergency and referral services? If the worst happens, you want to have access to life-saving care. Practices often partner with other vet clinics to offer rotating 24-hour emergency services. Veterinarians should always be willing to confer with their colleagues or specialists to find out the best care options for your kitten.
- Are the hospital’s hours convenient, and is the facility located nearby? Usually, veterinary hospitals present drop-off services in the morning before you go to work. The closer the clinic, the apter you will be to seek necessary care promptly rather than putting it off for several days until it’s more convenient to travel a long distance.
- Is the cost something you can manage? Kitten care can be expensive, and specialty practices typically cost a bit more than general practice care. Of course, when it comes to your kitten’s health, cheaper isn’t necessarily better. The experience of the veterinarian should come first.
- Do you like the veterinarian—does s/he like you? Trust is a huge issue, and you must feel comfortable with the person responsible for your kitten’s care. The veterinarian you pick should be ready to answer your questions in an understandable way, without jargon, and without making you feel “funny” for asking. After all, you both want the best for the kitten.
A Partnership for Kitten Health
The veterinarian is your partner in health care for the lifetime of your kitten. In the best of situations, the veterinarian sees Kitty only a couple of times a year.
Meanwhile, you live with him, and that means you know your kitten better than anybody.
You are in the best position to sound the alarm if your kitten feels under the weather, and get him to the veterinarian for the proper care. That’s a dynamic and effective health care partnership.
The Doctor’s Role
Your veterinarian examines the kitten for general health, from head to tail. A technician usually takes Kitty’s temperature first and makes notes about the kitten’s health history and any concerns you have.
Then the veterinarian listens to the baby’s heart and breathing, feels him all over, and looks in his mouth, eyes, and ears for telltale signs of problems. She may ask the technician to run screening tests to diagnose, for instance, any intestinal parasites. It’s up to the veterinarian to keep an accurate record of the kitten’s preventative treatments such as vaccinations, the status of his health, and any prescribed therapies.
Since you live with your kitten and know him the best of all, it’s up to you to learn what is “normal” kitten behavior and appearance. That way, you’ll easily recognize something that’s out of the ordinary, so you can get timely help from your veterinarian.
The veterinarian relies on your information about the kitten to provide the best care possible. Does your kitten eat well? Play with enthusiasm? Use the litter box regularly, or have intermittent diarrhea where he misses the mark? Perhaps the pants or wheezes a bit after a game of chase-the-feather. Or maybe Kitty is the healthiest, best-behaved and prime example of kittenhood ever to grace the examining table.
When you take your kitten for his veterinary visit, be prepared to answer questions, offer information, and even ask pointed questions of your own. Don’t wait to get home to wonder what the doctor meant by something she said—there are no stupid questions when it comes to caring for your kitten. Be sure to get all the information you need to make informed decisions about, and properly care for your kitten.
Tip. When you call to make the appointment, ask what, if anything, you should bring along to the visit. For example, kittens are routinely checked for worms by testing a sample of their stool. It’s much less upsetting for the kitten if you bring a fresh deposit from his litter box rather than having the veterinary technician obtain one on the end of the thermometer (or in some other rude fashion).