Q: We are getting a new kitten next week from a friend whose cat got out and had kittens. This kitten is so cute. It looks like she will have longer hair and is calico color. We don't have a name yet. I will want to take her to the vet as soon as I get her. What will the first visit be like? Will she get a shot? I don't think my friend has given her any shots yet.
A: Congratulations!! Springtime is kitten season and we sure are seeing a lot of them. If only they could stay that small and playful . . .
First kitten visits are important for laying the foundation for her complete medical care for the next 18-20 years of her life. If you can, before you leave for your office call, try to get a fairly fresh fecal sample from the litter box so your vet can check her for intestinal parasites. Even if your friend had wormed her before you got her, another fecal check is important to be sure the medicine has removed all the parasites. There are several different types of parasites and all wormers don't worm for all those different types. If you can't get a sample beforehand, the technicians at the hospital will use a tiny wand to get one from her. Getting a fresh sample during the first visit is not as bad as it sounds, but I recommend not sharing that part with her before her visit.
The next part of the exam should involve a discussion about feline leukemia and feline AIDS testing. After all, you want a healthy kitten and if you have other cats at home you certainly don't want to expose your established cats to a deadly feline virus. Testing is fast and simple and it involves a small blood sample. After about eight minutes you will know her status and breathe a little easier.
After that comes the fun part for us - the complete exam. This is where we get to interact with the little fur ball to judge her temperament and personality. From the tip of her tail to the twinkle in her eye, we will go over her with a fine-tooth comb. Some things your veterinarian will look for include upper respiratory signs such as coughing, sneezing and discharge from her eyes. This is a common finding in kittens and needs to be treated with the appropriate medications before any vaccines are given.
The vet will check for ear mites with an ear swab evaluation under the microscope. If there are ear mites, the ears can be cleaned and medicine placed in the ear canals to kill the pesky mites inside. A good oral exam is done to check for alignment of her teeth and the color of her gums. The baby teeth will be very small and sharp and should line up properly. The gums should be pink and slippery with saliva on a healthy kitten.
Traveling back to the tail, your veterinarian will look for more parasites on the skin -namely, fleas and ticks. Ticks are bad right now and we have seen several kittens with them already. Medicine will be dispensed to control these parasites, too. Then your veterinarian will listen to her heart and lungs. This is a check for heart murmurs, arrhythmias and lung crackles on each side of her chest.
She will then palpate her belly for any organ abnormalities and signs of pain. Kittens often have huge bellies, either from worms or overeating, so palpations must be gentle but still effective. Veterinarians certainly don't want to squeeze the ever lovin' stuffin' out of them for no reason. After the belly, they will look under the tail for evidence of diarrhea and also to confirm the right sex of your kitten. Calico cats are always female, so that part will be easy.