Q. We just got a sweet 6-week-old female kitten from a friend. She seems to be trained to a litter box and has no accidents in the house. She eats well and is playful most of the time. When do we need to get her shots, and when should we have her spayed? We are also thinking of having her declawed, since she will probably remain an indoor cat. Is there anything else we need to do while she is a kitten?
A. Kittens are so much fun to watch as they play, but they do grow up fast. At 6 weeks, she is ready for a health examination and her first vaccination. You should also bring a recent stool sample that your veterinarian will test for intestinal parasites, such as round worms. Your kitten will probably need another vaccination between 8 and 10 weeks of age and a second "adult" vaccination that includes a rabies shot at about 12 weeks. I recommend that with the second series of regular vaccinations you have a blood test done for feline leukemia virus and start your kitten on a series of FeLV vaccinations to protect her from the extremely serious disease. After that, annual boosters should help keep her healthy.
Keep your kitten's nails trimmed and get her a proper scratching post. This should help eliminate any problems with damage to furniture or drapes. If you still want to declaw your kitten, it should not be done until she is at least 12 weeks old. Many people wait until a cat is about 6 months old and have the spay surgery and declawing done at the same time.
Keep your kitten on quality food and plenty of fresh water. Provide her with a clean litter box and change the litter frequently. While your kitten is this young, you can use a mild flea shampoo to control any fleas that she may have. Ask your veterinarian which flea sprays or powders to use. By keeping her bedding clean and free of fleas, she will be happier and healthier. You may even want to subscribe to one of the cat magazines as a source of information and tips for your kitten.
Q. My wife and I are planning to put our 14-year-old poodle to sleep soon because he has become completely blind and is too weak to walk around. His appetite is almost gone. Can you tell us what is usually done to put an animal to sleep?
A. Euthanasia of a pet is never easy and is definitely the most difficult part of being a veterinarian. Since you have decided to put your pet to sleep, talk to your veterinarian and set up a time to have it done. The procedure is to gently give an intravenous injection of a barbiturate that will cause a loss of consciousness and an immediate respiratory arrest. This is generally a very quick and humane procedure. The effect is just like "going to sleep." Generally, the only discomfort is when the needle is first put in the vein, the same as any IV injection.