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Kittenhood by Frank Utchen, DVM

It seems like there is never a time of year that isn't "Kitten Season" for the various animal rescue groups in the Tri-Valley Area. If you become a foster (or permanent) parent to a litter of kittens, keep these recommendations in mind:

Feeding Guidelines

For newborns (the first 2 weeks of life) kittens depend exclusively on mother's milk and need to nurse frequently. If you have a young litter without the mother, small nursing bottles can be purchased at pet supply stores along with milk replacer for kittens. The most common on is called KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer). Kittens should be fed every 2 to 3 hours.

When kittens reach 3 to 4 weeks of age their diet can be supplemented with high quality, balanced kitten food blended with water and offered in a shallow dish.

By 6 to 8 weeks of age most kittens will have naturally weaned themselves off milk and onto solid food. They now need free-choice feeding with a high quality kitten food at least 3 times a day. Consult your veterinarian for the proper amount to feed.


  • Many kittens begin to learn litter training from their mother. Here's how you can continue the learning process.
  • Keep your kitten confined to a small area. Although a single room in the house might seem small to you, it is a veritable gymnasium to a little kitten.
  • Provide a litter box filled with clean litter in the area.
  • Make sure the sides are low enough for your kitten to easily climb over.
  • If you see your kitten using the litterbox, praise him or her lavishly when they are successful.
  • If accidents occur, place the feces or a urine-soaked piece of paper towel in the litter box and lightly cover it with litter.
  • If problems continue, decrease the size of the confined area until your kitten "gets it."
  • When successful, your kitten can have access to larger and larger areas until he or she has free run of the entire house.
  • It is always best to have one more litter box than there are cats in the house (1 cat = 2 litterboxes, 2 cats = 3 litterboxes, etc.).

Stool Testing for Intestinal Parasites

By 3 or 4 weeks of age—or as early as possible—a kitten should have a stool sample checked by a veterinarian for the presence of microscopic worm eggs that would indicate the presence of an intestinal worm infestation internally. This problem can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, poor weight gain, and even death in young kittens. There are medications to treat all the common intestinal parasites of cats.

Testing for Feline Leukemia

As mentioned in a previous column, this virus can infect kittens from the time they are born without any outward signs of disease. That's why it's important to have all kittens checked for this infection. The virus is tested for by using 3 drops of a kitten's blood.


By 8 to 12 weeks of age kittens should receive their first immunization, with a booster shot given 3 to 4 weeks later. Kittens that will be allowed to go outdoors should receive immunizations that include Feline Distemper, Feline Leukemia, and Rabies. Indoor cats are not at risk for Feline Leukemia and Rabies, so discuss these immunizations with your veterinarian if your kittens will remain indoors at all times as an adult.

The Big Fix

The last thing, but possibly the most important of all, is to have your male kitten neutered or your female kitten spayed. This is usually done between 4 and 6 months of age. Kittens left to their own devices are highly effective at making more kittens.  Check with your veterinarian for their specific recommendations on spaying and neutering.

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