Whether your new kitten is from a breeder, shelter, neighbor, or simply a stray you've brought into your home, one of the first things you need to do is arrange a veterinary checkup. Should you have pet health insurance, bring the information for it. Many breeder contracts insist on such an exam within two days of acquiring the kitten, and that means you both have assurance that the kitten is healthy at the time of transfer. And you'll need to know your kitty is starting off with a clean bill of health.
If you have other pets at home, keep your new kitten separated until your veterinarian gives the go-ahead to introduce him. This helps reduce the risk of spreading contagious diseases to your other house animals.
Prepare for Your Kitten's First Vet Exam
Before heading to the veterinarian, gather together any previous health records, including details of vaccinations and deworming. Write down what you're feeding him in case the veterinarian asks. Also record any questions, possible signs of illness, or problems you're having with your new pet. Otherwise, these seem to fly out of mind's reach once in the exam room. This way, if there is a preexisting condition in the kitten, you can alert the breeder or shelter, especially if it's a contagious situation. Bring a fresh stool sample (not the whole thing; about a tablespoon is ample).
Have the kitten ride to the veterinary clinic in a carrier. It's a good idea not to feed him for at least an hour before leaving, to lessen the chance of carsickness. Bring extra towels and maybe some rinse-free kitten-safe shampoo in case of an accident. Once at the clinic, leave the kitten in his crate until you're in the exam room.
The Role of the Veterinary Technician
It's common for a veterinary technician to obtain the health history from you, and to perform the preliminary check-in including weight, temperature, pulse and respiration rate. If you brought a stool sample, the specimen will be checked for evidence of intestinal parasites. Any abnormalities found during this preliminary check-in will become reported to the veterinarian, who will then perform a full physical examination.
The technician may also draw blood at this time, or it may be done later in the exam. The blood will be tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), both of which can be passed from mother to kitten. Neither disease is curable, and both are contagious to other cats. Early detection is the best way to inform you about these illnesses, start a dialogue about the best way to help your kitten, and help you protect your other cats from becoming infected.
What to Expect During the Checkup
The veterinarian will check your kitten's gums, teeth, tongue, palate and throat, making note of gum color, tooth occlusion, and whether the baby teeth are being properly replaced by permanent teeth (if your kitten is the appropriate age for that). She'll move on to the ears, possibly peering inside the canal with an otoscope, looking for debris and discharge that may indicate mites in kittens. She'll look at the eyes, making note of discharge and staining, redness, or lid abnormalities.
The veterinarian will then move on to the body, perhaps tenting the skin to check for dehydration. She'll consider the hair and skin, parting the hair and looking for signs of parasites or epidermis disease. Then she'll feel along the body and palpate the abdomen, feeling for abnormalities in internal organs. She'll check to make sure the kitten is what sex you think it will be; you'd be surprised at how many people misidentify their gender! The veterinarian will also listen to the kitten's heart with a stethoscope. Based upon your kitten's vaccination history and age, the veterinarian will then administer the proper vaccines.
Before leaving, make sure you understand the veterinarian's instructions. When you check out, these may also be given to you in written form; if not, write them down. She may also give deworming medicine. Depending on age, she may have you start the kitten on heartworm prevention. And she may suggest a flea and tick preventive as well.
You'll probably be instructed to return for follow-up vaccinations. The timing of these vaccinations is important; don't put off coming back for them. At each subsequent visit for vaccinations, the veterinarian will probably give your kitten a repeat exam.
After these first months of kittenhood, you'll no longer need to return every few weeks for checkups and vaccinations. Your veterinarian will recommend a schedule for adult vaccinations, and will discuss the best time to spay or neuter your kitten.
These initial visits may seem just like a lot of work, but they help set the stage for a healthy future for your kitten.