Choosing a Healthy Kitten

The best time to acquire a kitten is when he is about 12 weeks old. At this age, kittens are well socialized and are starting to become self-reliant. Good sources for random-bred kittens are shelters, animal welfare organizations, and veterinary offices. For a pedigreed cat, it is best to go to an experienced breeder.

Whether you're buying a show prospect or adopting a kitten at a shelter, healthy kittens all have the same attributes. First, examine the kitten head-on. The nose should be cool and damp, the eyes bright and clear. Nasal or eye discharge may indicate respiratory infection. A prominent third eyelid indicates a chronic eye ailment or poor health.

The eyes should look straight ahead. A cross-eyed look is undesirable. This occurs most often in the Siamese breed. A kitten with a blue iris and a white coat has the potential for congenital deafness (although not all white, blue-eyed cats are deaf).

The ears should be clean and sweet smelling. A dark brown, waxy discharge in the ear canals indicates ear mites. Their presence does not necessarily disqualify a kitten, but it does tell you something about the way the kittens are being kept.

A swollen stomach indicates poor feeding or possibly worms. A bulge at the navel is most likely an umbilical hernia. The skin around the anus and vulva should be clean and healthy looking. Redness, discharge, and hair loss indicate infection, chronic diarrhea, or worms.

The coat should be fluffy, glossy, and free of mats. Moth-eaten bare areas are characteristic of ringworm and mange.

Next, examine the kitten for structure and soundness. The legs should be straight and well formed, the feet cupped, and the toes well arched. The kitten should be able to jump and pounce with ease. It is abnormal for a kitten to limp, stumble, sway, or exhibit uncoordinated movement when reaching with his front paws.

Kittens at 10 weeks should weigh about 2 pounds (907 g). A thin, bony, underweight kitten is not desirable; nor is one who is overly fat.

These 4-week-old kittens are learning to interact successfully with members of their own species. Kittens removed from their mother and littermates too early lack crucial social skills.

Personality and Disposition

The most important consideration in selecting a kitten for a family pet is personality and disposition. Kittens who remain with their littermates and mothers until 10 to 12 weeks learn to relate well to other cats and to people by watching and taking cues from their mothers and from one another. Once a pattern of socialization has been established, it is not easy to change.

Heredity also influences a kitten's disposition. For these reasons, you can tell a lot about a kitten's confidence and personality by observing his mother and how well she interacts with strangers.

Well-socialized kittens appear eager for attention. When picked up, they relax. When stroked, they purr. See if the kitten follows you around. Dangle a piece of ribbon or throw a wad of crumpled paper and see if he wants to play. Clap your hands or stamp your feet. After a brief startle, does the kitten recover?

A tense, withdrawn kitten who interacts poorly with littermates and shies away when picked up may be timid or in poor health. A shy kitten is unlikely to make a good family pet if you have children, but may be fine for adults who are willing to be patient at first.

Because good health and good disposition often go hand in hand, it is perhaps wise in making the final selection to pick the sturdy individual with bright eyes who is full of life and bursting with self-confidence.

This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.