If you’re caring for kittens, there are a few things you need to do to keep them healthy and get them ready for adoption!
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to recognize and fight a particular microorganism such as a virus, bacteria, or other infectious organism.
The vaccine mimics a true infection, making the immune system able to protect the body in the future. Depending on the type of vaccine, it will help prevent or lessen the severity of the infection.
It’s important to note that while vaccination can prevent illness, it can’t block microorganisms from getting into the kitten’s body. This means that the kitten might not look sick, but it can still spread the disease to other kittens, especially if unvaccinated.
Core kitten vaccines
Core vaccines are recommended for all kittens and cats with unknown vaccination history.
The FVRCP vaccine protects against feline rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia. Calicivirus and rhinotracheitis are the two viruses most commonly responsible for upper respiratory infections, and almost all cats are exposed to them at some point in their life.
Panleukopenia is a parvovirus that is often fatal—especially in tiny kittens.
Kittens can receive their first FVRCP vaccine between six and eight weeks of age (though some high volume shelters are starting at four weeks). It needs to be boosted every two to four weeks until 16 weeks of age.
The rabies vaccine is required by law in many states (and by most vets and boarding facilities). It is typically given between 12 and 16 weeks of age, and is boosted every one to three years, depending on the specific vaccine used.
Non-core vaccines are considered on a case-by-case basis by your vet. Some common non-core vaccines include feline leukemia, feline AIDS, feline infectious peritonitis, Chlamydophila felis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica.
Your vet can help you decide if any of these vaccines are beneficial for your kitten.
All kittens should be treated for common gastrointestinal parasites, like roundworms and hookworms, and sometimes, tapeworms.
Pyrantel (Nemex, Strongid)
Pyrantel (brands names Nemex and Strongid) is effective against roundworms and hookworms and is safe for kittens and pregnant queens. Deworming should start at two weeks of age, then be repeated every two weeks until 16 weeks.
To deworm at home, you’ll need a:
- digital scale
- 1 cc syringe
- bottle of dewormer
The dosage for Pyrantel pamoate 50mg/ml suspension is 1 ml per 10 pounds of body weight (a two pound kitten would receive .2 ml of dewormer). Be sure not to give it too quickly, choking the kitten.
If your kitten had fleas, she likely has tapeworms as well. Tapeworms can be treated with prazquantel tablets. It’s safe for kittens six weeks and older, and you should follow-up with a second dose two weeks later.
Many kittens have other parasites, like coccidia or giardia, and will require a prescription from your vet.
Kittens over eight weeks of age should be started on a monthly, topical flea treatment. Two of the most popular options are Frontline Plus and Revolution Plus.
Frontline Plus is safe for kittens over eight weeks and 1.5 pounds, and is available over-the-counter. It kills adult fleas, flea eggs, and larvae to stop existing infestations and prevent new ones. It’s my preferred option for younger kittens.
Revolution Plus is my go-to for kittens who are a little bit older because the lowest safe dosage is 2.8 pounds. It’s a 6-in-1 topical treatment that kill fleas and ticks, prevents heartworm disease, and treats and controls roundworms, hookworms, and ear mites. Revolution Plus is a prescription product, so you’ll need to talk to your vet before starting.
Ear mites are common in young kittens, especially those rescued from outside, and they are highly contagious. If the inside of your kitten’s ears have a coffee ground appearance, you’ll want to head to your vet for an examination and ear swab.
Revolution Plus is a great option for ear mites (and my standard method), but your vet might also prescribe ivermectin. Even baby oil can be used to treat ear mites.
At eight weeks and two pounds, most kittens are ready for their spay or neuter surgery. Female kittens can go in heat as early as four months of age—and yes, they can get pregnant on their first heat—so it’s important to sterilize as soon as possible.
The best (and easiest) time to get your kitten microchipped is during spay/neuter surgery. Accidents happen, and microchipping is the best chance you have to be reunited with your beloved pet.