General Cat and Kitten Care

Cats are probably the most universal domestic pets in New Zealand, but regrettably they are often neglected, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through indifference. A newly acquired kitten, and in particular one of uncertain origin, should be checked out by your veterinarian who is able to advise you on all aspects of cat care.

Ailments and sickness:

If your kitten shows signs of sickness – vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness, seek veterinary advice at once. Also if bald patches appear on its face or body.

Feline Enteritis

Sometimes known as cat distemper, is the most serious cat disease. It is not only highly infectious, but the virus persists in premises for a long time, and any newly introduced cats are likely to contract the disease unless they have been immunised.

Onset of the disease is sudden. A cat may be apparently well one day, and by the next day be very ill or even dead. The earliest sign is vomiting of bile-stained, often frothy fluid. Your cat may crouch with its head over its water bowl. Its fur stands on end and if handled it will cry piteously. Very few cats recover. In fact, they are often dead within 24 hours.


Feline Respiratory Disease

Sometimes called Cat Flu or Snuffles. Symptoms are a loss of appetite, sneezing, coughing, running eyes and nose, sometimes complicated by ulcers on the tongue and by pneumonia. Sometimes the cat has to breathe through the mouth, drools saliva constantly, and its coat becomes soiled. Young kittens in particular can become very debilitated. A cat in this condition is a pitiful sight, but early diagnosis and treatment will hasten recovery and help prevent the more serious forms of the disease.

Vaccination will protect your cat. Your veterinarian will advise you on the programme that is most suitable for your cat. Kittens can be vaccinated as early as six weeks and receive subsequent vaccinations until they are 12 to 16 weeks old. It is important that the final kitten vaccination is given at between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Thereafter an annual booster shot is recommended to maintain protection throughout your cat’s life.

It is important that a kitten is in good health at the time of vaccination, otherwise it may not respond. To prevent pre-vaccination sickness or the incubation of disease, kittens due for vaccination should be isolated from other cats.

Other common problems:

Ear Mites: If your cat is scratching and rubbing its ear, or shaking its head, or the ear flap is dirty, this could be a sign of ear canker or ear mites. This can be very painful and if neglected can cause deafness. Please consult your veterinarian without delay.

Roundworms: Kittens should be wormed for roundworms at four weeks of age and then fortnightly until they are 12 weeks. From 12 weeks to six months they should be wormed monthly. Buy roundworm tablets from chemist, pet shop or veterinarian and use according to instructions. Tapeworms in kittens are uncommon, but do occur. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

The common cat tapeworm is acquired by the cat swallowing a flea infected by the larvae of the tapeworm. Tapeworms shed their segments which appear as tiny live white worms on the cats droppings or on the anus under the tail. Dead tapeworm segments look like small dry grains of rice and may be found in the cats bedding. Adult cats should be wormed every three to four months for both round and tapeworms.

Ringworm: This is not a worm but a highly contagious fungus disease which may be transmitted to other animals and humans. Cats can also catch ringworm FROM humans! It is recognisable by small, bald patches on the skin, often on the face, but can be anywhere on the body. Easily curable, but must have prompt veterinary treatment. Stray and undernourished kittens are particularly susceptible.

Fleas: Do not use flea powders or sprays on kittens under eight weeks old without consulting your veterinarian. Fleas and flea dirt may be removed by carefully combing each day with a fine flea comb. For older cats there are a number of flea control remedies available. Whatever you decide to use, follow the instructions carefully and consult your veterinarian if necessary.


Always keep a close check on your cats teeth. Bad teeth can poison a cats system and affect its general health. If your cats breath is bad, please consult your veterinarian.


Health Checks

When you take your cat along for its annual booster injection this is a good time for your veterinarian to give your pet a general check over and for you to ask any questions you may have.


This can sometimes be caused by an allergy to milk. If your cat is otherwise fit and well, try adding water to the milk or discontinuing milk altogether. If the problem persists, contact your veterinarian.


As soon as your kitten is old enough you should have it desexed by a veterinarian. This is a simple operation that will save you and your pet a lot of inconvenience and will alleviate the stray cat problem. There is no truth in the old wives tale that a cat should have a litter first! There are already tens of thousands of homeless, hungry cats in New Zealand. Please do not add to this problem.

The Third Eyelid

The third eyelid, or haw as it is sometimes called, is a membrane located at the inner corner of a cats eye and is normally hidden by the lower lid. The appearance of this membrane across the eye, indicates an internal problem. If the cat appears otherwise healthy, dosing for tape worms may be the answer – but it may take two to three weeks before the membrane is fully retracted. It the cat is off its food, or seems in any way unwell, seek veterinary advice promptly.


Cats, particularly those with long fur, need brushing and combing especially in warm weather when they lose some of their fur. Regular grooming prevents the formation of knots, which if neglected, may sometimes have to be removed under anesthetic. It will also help to avoid hairballs forming in the stomach.