before you take in a stray cat adopt a kitten from a shelter
or obtain a kitten from a friend.

I had the unfortunate experience of losing an adorable kitten to what I suspect was feline distemper. This doesn't happen very often, but I wish I'd known a few things before I brought this kitten home.

1. If you adopt from a shelter, ask if they have a resident vet who examines all animals before they're placed for adoption, and if all kittens and puppies are tested and vaccinated. Many shelters can't afford a resident veterinarian and rely on people who adopt to take the animal to a vet.

2. Make an appointment with a local veterinarian right away, and have the kitten tested and vaccinated. My vet has a policy of not vaccinating for a week, waiting to see if the kitten develops any symptoms. If you're faced with that situation, it's doubly important to take the following precautions.

3. Keep the kitten isolated from other animals in the family and from small children. Put him or her in a small room (a bathroom or laundry room is ideal) with newspapers on the floor, and a clean old towel you would normally use as a cleaning rag to provide a soft surface to sleep on.

4. Use a disposable litter box, because some of these communicable diseases are shed in feces. The lid of a sturdy cardboard box works well for a small kitten. Buy an inexpensive plastic litter scoop from the Dollar Store, in case you have to throw it away later.

5. Give the kitten fresh, cool water in a small glass bowl. Wash this bowl well every day and refill. Do not use several different bowls, because if the kitten gets sick, you'll have to make sure this bowl is not used for another animal. Do the same thing with a food bowl.

6. Always give a kitten a commerical food designed for kittens. Adult cat food isn't a good choice until the cat is about a year old. Don't feed table scraps, tuna, milk, or anything else but kitten food. If the kitten vomits, you want to make sure it isn't because you fed something that irritated his delicate digestive system.

7. Pay careful attention to any symptoms. If the kitten is coughing, sneezing, vomiting (even just a tiny bit), or has diarrhea, call the vet right away. A danger sign I didn't know about was lethargy. This kitten didn't seem interested in play, which isn't normal.

8. Play a radio station with soft music to keep the kitten company. Go into the room to pet and play with the little one, but don't take him out into the rest of the house until you're sure he's not carrying a disease.

9. These diseases are NOT communicable to humans. But they linger in the environment and can be passed to another pet long afterwards. If you should lose a kitten or puppy to distemper or something similar, be sure to ask your vet how long you should wait before adopting another animal, and how to take precautions to disinfect things the kitten or puppy came in contact with.

10. Learn how to care for your cat by checking some of the  reliable websites run by veterinary schools. Ignore information from non-experts.
              A few websites to check include:   Cornell:,   Tufts:
                                                                       Univ. of California-Davis:
A complete list of veterinary schools in the U.S. can be found at:

The Cat Writers' Association,, has many knowledgeable members who run rescue and shelter operations, work for the Humane Society of the U.S. and the ASPCA, and includes eleven veterinarians. CWA members have published several comprehensive books on pet care, including care for kittens, senior cats, health, behavior and training. Some of these books are listed on the Resources page of this website. 

And after you bring your kitten home, please read Training Your Cat Like a Dog

If you're considering declawing your new kitten, please read the following articles first: