What is the most important thing to know about raising a healthy kitten?

Their physical health, which we kind of spearhead here at the veterinarian with preventative wellness and sick wellness. Secondly, their mental health at home is also important and involves making sure kittens have a healthy diet, plenty of interactive toys, access to clean water, and things like that, which can really help your kitten's overall health as well as their physical health.

Dr. Rachel Kennedy
Highland Park Animal Hospital

What are the right and wrong ways to pick up my kitten?

Picking up a kitten can always be intimidating because they're so petite. The main focus of picking up a kitten is supporting their center of gravity, supporting their main chest and abdomen. Typically, we avoid picking them up by the scruff, the tail, a leg, or anything that can cause injuries.

How can I tell if my kitten is happy and healthy?

Kittens are notorious for having behaviors that show us that they are doing well at home. Happy and healthy kittens will eat ravenously, often they'll drink water, and they'll use their litter box. Sometimes they'll play in their litter box, and they'll play with string and objects at home. Always keep an eye on this because we don't want kittens eating anything they shouldn't. But a happy, healthy kitten will be active, have a good appetite, and be affectionate most of the time.

How should I feed my kitten?

Feeding kittens is actually a point of discussion in the veterinary field. Cats are often very picky eaters, so it's important to expose your kitten to many different types of food, textures, and flavors. Offering different kibbles and wet foods can be helpful long term so that your cat doesn't become too selective as they age.

What are some products I might need for my kitten?

Your core products are definitely going to be well-balanced kitten food. We love brands like Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin. Then you'll also need a litter box. Trying different types of litter, just like different types of cat foods, can also be helpful in seeing what your kitten takes to the best. Lastly, toys, interactive treats, and food-related toys can also be really helpful. Also, kittens are descendants of predators, so they like high places, like little cat trees, little scratching posts, and things like that will help enrich your kitten's environment.

How soon should I bring my new kitten to see a veterinarian?

Right off the bat, establishing a relationship with your veterinarian is crucial. Depending on where your kitten came from, whether it's a shelter kitten or a kitten that you found and you don't know any history about it, we always like to get them in pretty promptly and get them started on their kitten vaccinations, deworming, and making sure that they're happy and healthy. Even if they're up to date on vaccines and deworming from the shelter or a breeder, getting a relationship established with the veterinarian is really important. Taking advantage of that time that you have with your veterinarian is critical. Ask about what you should be feeding, how the kitty should be using the litter box, and what's an appropriate diet. Things like that can be constructive. Do your research and make sure that you're using credible sources. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has a lot of good resources for new and experienced kitten owners. Making sure you're taking advantage of that time and asking lots of questions is essential and can provide better health for your kitten.

What will a veterinarian look for during an initial kitten care visit?

The initial kitten care visit will focus on making sure that there are no signs of infectious diseases that they might have picked up from their mother, other kittens, or other street kitties that they interacted with. We will look for signs of upper respiratory infection, diarrhea or vomiting, GI infections, etc. Looking for congenital issues and ensuring they don't have any congenital heart issues or anything like that can be really helpful and essential in that first veterinarian visit.

What are some early signs and symptoms of health issues in your kitten?

Lack of Appetite:

Lack of appetite is a big one. That can be vague, but it says a lot, as little kittens and little puppies grow very quickly, and they typically eat a lot. When you notice that they're not eating as much, that's definitely important. That can be indicative of an underlying GI disease or a fever. Their generally not feeling good can lead to them not eating. That's also something we get into as they age, including ensuring that they have a diet they like. But it's definitely a telltale sign of disease, so if you're noticing their appetite decrease, it's a good time to call your veterinarian.

Poor weight gain:

Little puppies and kittens are very susceptible to intestinal parasites and infections that can affect how they absorb nutrients from their diet. So if you're noticing that they're not gaining weight appropriately, that is definitely a reason to give your veterinarian a call. You can always weigh them or bring a kitten or a puppy to the veterinarian and have it weighed most of the time for no fee. If you have any concerns or the pet is not gaining weight appropriately, it's a good time to investigate.

A swollen or painful abdomen:

Yes, that is definitely a reason to come in. That's generally never a good sign. In puppies and kittens, it's most commonly related to intestinal parasites, but there are some more insidious causes of a swollen abdomen that are worth investigating and definitely a reason to call your veterinarian.


As they get older, they typically get more energetic. Young kittens and puppies do take lots of naps, but in between those naps, they're ready to play and run and have fun. So if you're noticing a decrease in energy as time goes on, it's definitely a reason to investigate. As I said, puppies and kittens can get infections. They don't have the immune system that adult animals have, so they're more susceptible, and a decrease in appetite or energy can be an early telltale sign of that.


Diarrhea is very common in young animals. In fact, almost all young animals will have at least one bout of it as they age. So investigating for underlying parasites will probably be the first step. Other causes, such as bacterial or viral infections, can also be on the list of things to look into. Any diarrhea is definitely a reason to call your veterinarian, especially in conjunction with vomiting and inappetence, which is not eating or them having a decreased energy level.

Difficulty breathing:

That is an emergency and should be an immediate call. Puppies and kittens should not have any difficulty breathing. That can be related to a congenital defect or trauma. So that is always an emergency no matter what age your pet is. That should be a call on your way to the veterinarian.

Wheezing or coughing:

Kittens and puppies are also susceptible to upper respiratory infections, so the occasional sneeze or cough could be a reason to call the veterinarian, but if you're noticing a wheeze that progresses to labored breathing or increased abdominal effort as they're breathing, it is definitely a reason to get them seen pretty promptly.

Pale gums:

Puppies and kittens are often susceptible to these parasites. A lot of intestinal parasites can result in blood loss, and we typically measure the amount of blood loss that we see by the color of their gums. Kittens and puppies should have nice bubble gum pink gums, and if we notice that they're white to pale to gray or even purple, that is definitely a reason to get them looked at immediately.

Eye problems:

Kittens are notorious for getting ocular issues as little kittens. There is a variety of viral and bacterial components that lead to this, but generally, they will have ocular discharge, squinting, and swelling of their eyelids and conjunctiva, which is the pink part inside the eyelid. They'll often be uncomfortable, and they can sometimes have a lot of discharge to the point where they're unable to open their eyes. This is definitely a reason to have them seen. You can gently clean some of that debris away with a moistened, warm paper towel, but it's worth investigating because it can indicate a more complex disease.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing possible kitten health problems?

This is always something we try to avoid, mostly because even your veterinarian will not tell you all the answers at first glance. We avoid jumping to conclusions in the event that they are the wrong conclusions and it could compromise our kitten's health. It's really important to consult the experts on these, and with the internet having so many opinions and options, it's important to really narrow down the experts in the field. Generally, that's your veterinarian who's happy to see your little kitten.

When should my kitten get vaccinations?

We generally start their vaccinations at around eight weeks old for kittens and puppies. This is around when they are weaned, but some kittens and puppies that are strays or were seen by shelters will start those vaccinations earlier just because they have reduced protection from their mom. So generally, we typically start them around eight weeks with a puppy or a kitten that has been seen.

What do you need to know about kitten behavior?

Kitten behavior can be a bit of a conundrum for people, but generally, kittens are playful, and as we discussed earlier, they have ravenous appetites. Learning to use the litter box or learning what is appropriate for toys and what is not can be a bit of a challenge. But generally, being aware that kittens play and nap pretty routinely throughout the day will be your baseline for identifying what is abnormal. We've talked about the abnormal behaviors that could be observed if your kitten is lethargic or exhibiting signs of a fever, but kittens are typically very playful and active and take a good amount of naps. So that's your baseline.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (214) 833-9821, or you can email us at info@hpanimalhospital.com. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media https://www.facebook.com/HighlandParkAnimalHospital, https://www.instagram.com/hpanimalhospital/