Check These 3 Things Before Adopting a Kitten

If you want to know if your chosen kitten is healthy before you take him home, here are some basic things you can check yourself.

Examine the kitten externally for signs of illness, such as dried mucus on the nose. By:
Examine the kitten externally for signs of illness, such as dried mucus on the nose. By: khanb1

Deciding to adopt a kitten is a big deal, and it’s important to ensure that the whiskered cutie you choose is healthy before taking him home with you.

Not sure how to do that? Follow these 3 easy tips to rule out some of the most basic health concerns of young cats.

1. Look for Clear Eyes and Nose

  • The eyes should be bright and clear of excess mucus. They shouldn’t appear swollen or bloodshot.
  • The nose should also be clear of mucus (dried or fresh).
  • Note if your kitten is sneezing frequently.

Reasons for discharge or irritation:

  • Allergies
  • Irritants
  • Upper respiratory infection

Are you considering a kitten who is sneezing and goopy-eyed? It’s possible she has an upper respiratory infection (URI). If so, depending on the severity and your veterinarian’s opinion, she may need prescription medication.

Highly contagious illnesses such as URIs are somewhat common in shelters. But that may not necessarily be the cause of cold-like symptoms. Certain cat litter brands create more dust and irritants than others, causing wheezing, sneezing and watery eyes.

Find out if there is a vet on staff at the shelter who can take a look.

In this video, Dr. William Bryant, DVM, discusses signs of a healthy kitten:

2. Look for Healthy Bowel Movements

Asking a shelter worker how solid your kitten’s poop has been doesn’t exactly fall under the category of lighthearted small talk. But finding out if the bowel movements have been healthy is an important step toward verifying his well-being.

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Of course, you can also just try to observe the cats yourself. Unless the litter box has just been cleaned, you can probably see stool samples. If it has recently been cleaned and there is an entire litter of kittens using one box, you may not have to wait too long before nature calls.

Watch for:

Diarrhea can be an indication of many things — not all of which are dangerous or very concerning. Blood, especially in large amounts, should be reported to a staff member immediately. Small amounts of blood may not be a concern. Worms may look like spaghetti or rice (I’m hoping you’re not eating as you read this).

If you notice any of these, speak with a shelter worker before adopting. The symptoms may be nothing more than a response to stress or a change in food. But they could also indicate the presence of parasites or viruses that need medical treatment.

If you don't want to discuss poop with a shelter worker, then observe the litter box. By:
If you don’t want to discuss poop with a shelter worker, then observe the litter box. By: HowISeeLife

3. Look for a Clear Coat and Ears

All shelter pets should be treated for fleas and ticks when they first arrive in order to prevent an outbreak, but you should still check the kitten for signs of external parasites.

Look for:

  • Flea “dirt” (droppings) in his fur
  • Small red welts on his skin
  • Scratch marks from constant itching

If you find any of these signs, ask if the kitten was treated for fleas recently. If he was just treated, then you probably have nothing to worry about but may want to double check by using a flea comb.

Swollen ticks are typically easy to find just by petting the kitten. Their abdomens inflate as they feed, and they tend to protrude conspicuously. Otherwise, using a flea comb should help you to find any ticks that haven’t yet latched on.

Another common parasite in kittens is ear mites. When looking for ear mites, check around the base of the ears for scratch marks from persistent itching. Inside the ear, you may see a brown buildup, and your kitten might shake his head frequently.

You’ll be able to get rid of these parasites easily enough with a visit to the vet, but you should still be aware of what parasites he may have, especially if you have other pets at home.

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Use these basic guidelines when adopting a new kitten, but remember that your veterinarian is your greatest asset when ensuring the health of your pets.

No matter how healthy and perfect your newly adopted pet is, take him to the vet for a checkup as soon after adoption as possible. If you have other pets in your house, try to keep them separated until your newest addition has received a clean bill of health.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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