Every spring the signs seem to pop up in our area: “Free Kittens” or “Kittens for Sale.” I’m sometimes tempted to stop and take a look at these cute, little balls of fur. But I would probably end up taking at least one kitten home. I have eight felines already, and that’s plenty enough to feed and care for. All of my cats are either spayed or neutered, so I don’t have kittens at our house anymore.
If I were to either take or buy a kitten to add to our menagerie, I would make sure it was healthy, no matter how cute and cuddly it was. Not only for the kitten’s sake, but for the rest of my cats’ safety as well. You see, a kitten who is sickly and diseased can easily spread its illness to the rest of your cats. Then, instead of having just one sick cat, you end up with several. Trust me, I know. One time I agreed to give a fuzzy black kitten a good home. He had been bought at a pet store. The kitten supposedly had all of its shots. What I didn’t know he had, was Distemper. I immediately called my veterinarian and had all of the cats and kittens treated. Even so, the disease spread like wildfire, and many of my cats and kittens died from it. Of course, the black kitten died from the deadly disease too.
Whether you get a kitten from a private home, pet store, breeder, or animal pound or rescue shelter, the rule is always the same: check it over and make sure that it doesn’t show any signs of sickness or disease before you take it home with you.
The first thing to check on a kitten is its age. A kitten needs to remain with its mother until it’s at least twelve weeks old. Kittens who are taken away from their mothers too soon are usually scrawny and weak. They have a hard time learning “the ways of an adult cat”, such as using a litter box or eating from a bowl. Kittens are just like human babies in that they need nurturing from their mothers until they are weaned and ready to go out on their own.
Not only that, but kittens who are twelve weeks old have better developed immune systems. That is, as long as they are healthy and have been given their vaccinations. Typically, healthy kittens are given shots at six, nine, and twelve weeks.
The second thing to look for in order to choose a healthy kitten is overall appearance:
1. Is the kitten skinny and weak? Or, does it look healthy because it has a round, hard tummy? This can be a sign of worms.
2. Are its eyes bright and clear as a healthy kitten’s should be? Or, is its eyes runny or cloudy? Are one or both of the kitten’s eyes red and inflamed? Eye diseases such as Conjunctivitis can be successfully treated by a veterinarian. However, this disease in particular is contagious. It can easily be spread to your other felines.
3. Carefully pull back each ear and look inside. If you see black, dried specks, this could be a sign of earmites. Earmites can also be treated by a veterinarian. Earmites aren’t a disease. They are a common problem with cats and dogs.
4. Look at the kitten’s fur. A healthy kitten should have thick and shiny fur. Or, is the kitten missing patches of fur? These bare patches could mean it’s infested with fleas. It could also be a sign of other skin diseases, or ringworm.
Check the fur around its hind quarters. If the kitten’s fur has dried feces in it, that’s a sign that is is suffering from Diarrhea. Diarrhea can be simply caused from poor diet and nutrition. Or, it can be a sign of a deadly disease.
Next, run your hand gently across its back and tummy, parting its fur as you go. Stop periodically and look at its skin. You can see fleas and/or flea dirt on a kitten’s skin.
5. Carefully open the kitten’s mouth- check to make sure its teeth are white and its gums and tongue are pink and healthy looking. Look for sores, redness, and swelling. Any of these signs can indicate that the kitten has an illness.
6. Finally, a healthy kitten should be playful and alert. While you’re holding it and petting it, it should purr to show that it’s happy. Hold the kitten up to your ear and listen to its breathing. Raspy breathing, sneezing, or coughing are also signs of an Upper Respiratory Disease which are a common health problem in kittens.
If you’re still not sure whether a kitten you’re thinking of taking home is healthy, ask the current owner if your veterinarian can examine it first. Then, use your vet’s professional advice to make your ultimate decision.