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First visit to vet sets stage for kitten's life

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.  

After she has been fully evaluated to be a fine and healthy kitten, your veterinarian will then give her first vaccine. It should go fairly well that first visit with hardly a meow. After her vaccine is given, your veterinarian will then create computer reminders for you. These reminders will be mailed to your house to remind you to schedule each of her future visits as they become due. That is one less thing you have to worry about remembering. We do it for you!

Kittens usually get three vaccines starting around eight weeks of age, which are spaced four weeks apart, followed by a rabies vaccine at five to six months of age. This may vary slightly based on your own veterinarian's vaccine protocol.

After she gets vaccinated, she will be finished. She is free to investigate the exam room as you and your veterinarian finish up any loose ends. This is the time to pull out your list of questions and start checking them off. Now you can talk about feeding and types of food and treats to give.  

You should go over litter box type and placement in the house. This is also a good time to talk about pet insurance, micro chipping and having her spayed later. The best time to spay is usually when they are getting their rabies vaccine because that is the last time that she will need to come in for a while. I think of that visit as a sort of graduation from kitten-hood.

For the rest of her life, she will need to come in only once or twice yearly for wellness exams with booster vaccines being given as needed. She will need to come in for sickness as it occurs throughout her life, although I hope not too often.

As you can see, there is a lot to do on that first visit, so plan accordingly. Leave yourself plenty of time and be prepared. It is OK to ask lots of questions and really take the time to be comfortable with your veterinarian and your new kitten. Remember, you and your veterinarian will kind of become partners in making sure your new kitten becomes healthy and is able to maintain that health for her entire life. Enjoy!

Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to "Ask the Vet," Charleston Daily Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston WV 25301 or email them to Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.

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