Whether curled up asleep, tearing around the house or climbing the curtains, kittens are undeniably cute. But don't forget, they are totally dependent on you to provide for their health and well-being to grow into healthy adult cats.

A proper diet, vaccination and worming programs, kitten kindy, fighting fleas, desexing and microchipping are all issues you need to know about. Don't worry. Your best ally will be your local veterinarian who will be happy to give you advice on all aspects of your kitten's health.

Vaccination

Most kittens will have already received one vaccination by the time they go to their new home. If your kitten was under 9 weeks of age when he received this vaccination, he will require 2 more boosters 1 month apart. The standard vaccination is called an F3 as it protects against Feline Panleukopenia and 2 different cat flu viruses – Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Calicivirus.

Additional ranges of vaccines for cats are available - an F4 vaccine that includes Feline Chlamydia, which is primarily seen as conjunctivitis in cats, and an F5 that also provides protection against Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). Your veterinarian can advise you on the risk of infection and the benefits of vaccination against Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Chlamydia in your situation.

A vaccine has been released for the prevention of feline AIDS, commonly known as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), which is spread by cats fighting. It is administered as an initial series of three doses, two to four weeks apart. It is given to kittens at 8 weeks of age or older. Cats more than 6 months of age should be tested to ensure they are free of the feline AIDS virus before being vaccinated and ideally they should be permanently identified with a microchip. An annual booster is needed to ensure continued protection.

Kittens require these boosters since maternal antibodies obtained from their mother interfere with their response to vaccination. Kittens lose these maternal antibodies at different rates up to the age of 16 weeks, so they need several boosters to ensure that they develop the maximum antibody response to help protect them from infection.

Worming

Gastrointestinal worms are dangerous to your kitten's health. Most kittens are infected early in life, especially with roundworms through their mother's milk. Kittens should be wormed at 6, 8 and 12 weeks of age, then every 3 months. Pregnant and nursing queens should also be treated.

Various worming tablets, drops, pastes and spot-ons are available that kill roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms in cats. Your veterinarian can recommend a suitable product that is safe for use on kittens.

Heartworm

Heartworm disease is not as prevalent in cats as it is in dogs, as the cat’s immune system is able to eliminate most infections. However, not all infections are eliminated after the mosquito carrying the immature heartworm bites the cat, and these immature stages can develop to become large worms in the heart and vessels in the lungs. Signs of heartworm disease in cats are variable, and include sudden death. Heartworm disease can be prevented by giving monthly medication, either oral or as a topspot preparation. Ask your veterinarian about the prevalence of heartworm disease in your area.

Diet

Kittens have specific requirements for different nutrients, and it is important to feed a high quality, balanced kitten food in order to meet these needs. Dry and tinned forms are available, and they are only different forms of the same food. Most kittens can eat the dry food by 8 weeks of age. If they are eating a balanced kitten food, they require no other supplements, including milk. In fact, some cats have lactose intolerance and develop diarrhoea if given milk.

It is important to train your kitten to eat raw chicken wings and necks from a young age. This is to keep their teeth and gums healthy throughout life. Give them the wing tips first, although most kittens are happy to tackle the whole wing. Periodontal disease is an important disease of middle-aged to older cats, and training your kitten to chew chicken bones from the start will help your cat avoid developing this potentially life-shortening disease.

It is recommended to give a chicken wing at least twice a week. After 12 months, raw bones can be given daily and in increasing amounts to make up to 40-50% of the diet, reducing the amount of commercial food required. Raw lamb cutlets, osso bucco cuts, beef spare ribs or lamb shanks are also good for variety. Chicken wings must be fed fresh and handled as for human consumption to avoid bacterial contamination and food poisoning. Discard any uneaten bones after 1 hour. If you do not wish to feed bones, train your kitten to enjoy tooth brushing from an early age.

Kitten Kindy

This is the feline equivalent of Puppy Parties or Puppy Preschool. It aims to socialise your kitten with other kittens and their owners at this important stage of their development. Up to the age of 14 to 16 weeks is their socialisation period, and what they are exposed to now will shape their future personality and behaviour. Kittens can be trained to walk with a harness, to sit, and to fetch. Ask your veterinarian for information on Kitten Kindy in your area.

Desexing

Speying your female kitten, and castrating your male kitten, will prevent any unwanted litters, as well as undesirable behaviours. Male kittens can start spraying inside the house to establish their territory from about 6 months of age, and will fight and roam to satisfy the natural male urge to become dominant in their territory. Female kittens first come into season from 5 months of age, and vocalise and become restless when on heat. Breeding from your pet cat is strongly discouraged, since there are so many thousands of cats and kittens put down each year due to cats not being desexed.

To avoid these problems desexing of both males and females is recommended before the onset of puberty, generally around 5 to 6 months of age. Some vets will recommend earlier desexing from 12 - 16 weeks of age. It is best to ask your own vet and be guided by their preference.

Fleas

There are many different flea preparations available, some of which are combined with other parasite control. Early treatment is recommended since fleas reproduce at astounding rates. Ask your veterinarian for the most appropriate flea control for your kitten.

Microchipping

It is highly recommended to microchip your pet as microchips provide a permanent form of identification that cannot be changed or removed and this identification lasts for the life of your pet. In some states, such as NSW and now Victoria, microchipping is compulsory for kittens. Most will have been microchipped by the breeder, but if not, it can be done in a consultation with your veterinarian. The microchip is the size of a grain of rice and is implanted by giving it through a needle, as an injection, beneath the skin between the shoulderblades. The number on the microchip is then registered with your local council on the Companion Animal Registry. There is also a national database called the Australian Animal Registry, and you can register your cat on this database as well.

Microchipping is also compulsory for cats that change owners, but not for existing cats, that is, those born before 1st July 1999, when the legislation was introduced in NSW (or May 2007 for Victoria). Check with your veterinarian or local council regarding the laws in your area or state.

Pet Insurance

Pet insurance offers you peace of mind. If your cat is involved in an accident or suffers a sudden illness, the medical costs can be several hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, many pets are euthanased each year as owners are unable to meet these unexpected costs. Pet insurance is your safeguard against this outcome.

There are several companies that offer pet insurance and your veterinarian can help you find one that relates to your pets and your requirements.