What have I done? Or what on earth was I thinking when she or he convinced me the other night to get this new kitten or puppy? Beware of pillow talk.
But those four-legged toileting machines are pretty cute. And don’t worry, it will all work out fine.
Shoe boxes arriving at the hospital is a sure sign that summer is here. Inside are little worried kitten faces peering up at us, or hyperactive puppies.
In Townsville, Australia, it wasn’t shoe boxes, but pillow cases. I once walked into my new job there to find a pillow case hanging on every corner of every table or desk. Inside each was a joey.
It was an amazing place to work because they did all the wildlife work for the area. This included raising tiny young echidnas (like a porcupine), which don’t have quills or spines when they are very young, possums, birds of prey and all the young kangaroos and wallabies found in the pouches of their dead mothers after they were killed on the roads.
But getting back to summer, it’s kitten and puppy season, so I thought it would be helpful to give you a couple of things to check yourself and a bit of info.
Is it a boy or a girl?
There are lots of mistakes made in this area and a few hasty name changes as a result.
The occasional person leaves the name the same just to confuse me (eg Timmy, who is a girl, or Brandy, who is a boy). We even had a cat called “puppy” this week – what’s with that?
All puppies and kittens are born with two openings below the tail. The difference between a male and a female is the distance between the anal and genital openings. Males have a larger distance because the scrotum separates the two, but the testicles are not there for about 4–6 weeks.
Females have a much shorter distance between the two openings and the genital opening is a vertical slit rather than the small circular opening of the male.
Also, tortoiseshell kittens are almost always females. Rabbits are very difficult to sex at a young age and small population explosions are not uncommon as a result of a mistake here. And there are lots of wrong gender names as a result at school pet days, as I recently discovered.
What age should I get a kitten or puppy?
Kittens should be at least 10 weeks old before going to their new home, and should be fully weaned (eating solid kitten food).
Ideally, kittens would have fewer problems if left with mum until 12 weeks, but this rarely happens.
Puppies can vary in the age that they can go to a new home, but all breeds should be at least 8 weeks old, fully weaned and had their first vaccination.
Smaller and definitely toy breeds should be at least 12 weeks old or more.
What to feed, how much to feed?
The most important rule here is, keep the food the same. Don’t change their food every two days from dry to wet or vice versa. By far the most common problem we see kittens and puppies visiting for is diarrhea. There are lots of reasons, but dietary changes are a big cause. Everyone seems to go and buy kitten or puppy milk and jelly meat pouches.
This can be a bad idea. Just keep it simple and as you mean to continue. So, water and one type of food – preferably dry food if they have already been on this. Normal milk is a definite no no.
Pets will try to train their carers as soon as possible by “going off” their food after three days. What do you do? Go out and buy a new flavour or brand? No, if this continues you will end up with 4–5 brands in the cupboard before long. Keep the same food.
Where should they sleep?
Again, start out as you mean to continue. If you want your 30kg lab sleeping and licking himself on or beside the bed then that’s fine but, if not, then the laundry or outside from the start is best. A 4–month–old pup is OK to sleep outside as long as they have shelter at this time of year.
When can they go outside?
Let your kitten or puppy outside for the first time only for a few minutes (and before you feed them), then call them back to be fed. Keep doing this and they will soon learn to come running when called, especially cats. The age to be out unsupervised is really size related. Kittens should be 4 months old, at least.
When do they get vaccinated?
Puppies start vaccinations at 6 weeks, then again at 8 or 9 weeks, and kittens get their first at 8–9 weeks of age. It’s a great time to get a full check-up to make sure everything is OK.
Worming also starts at 2–4 weeks of age.
Toilet training: Puppies are all toilet trained by 16 weeks. They should only be having the occasional urine accident by 12 weeks and be fully trained by 16 weeks. I have very rarely known an un-toilet trainable dog. So don’t despair, they will come right.
Destructiveness: “Oh no,” is a common cry with breeds like labs. They just have to have something in their mouth all the time. The bad news is that this isn’t going to come right in a hurry, but the good news is that by 10–12 months, they will be a lot better. Just don’t leave the TV remote lying around.
Digging holes: Put their feces in the hole. Truly, it works great.