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Basic Health Care Advice for New Cat Parents

If you missed Part 1 - Choosing the Right Kitten for you: Behaviour & Socialisation or Part 2 - How to Create your Kitten's New Environment in our Kitten Care series, you can read these stories first.

In our third and final article, we will examine the basic health care responsibilities you should be ready to take on before bringing a new kitten into your home.

Cat Identification

A microchip is the approximate shape and size of a small grain of rice, which is implanted into soft tissue between the cat’s shoulder blades. When an appropriate scanner is used, the microchip’s unique number is displayed on the scanner and this is a way of positively identifying the cat. 

Any other information, such as the cat’s name and owner details cannot be accessed using a scanner alone, and microchips utilised for pet identification are not the same as GPS trackers. 

When a microchip is scanned, the chip number is then entered into an online registry database by someone with the authority to access the database, such as a veterinary clinic, animal shelter or local council. Animal and owner details can then be used to reunite lost pets with their owners.

Laws about microchipping vary between states so it’s a good idea to find out your responsibilities with microchipping prior to adoption. In some states, shelters, registered breeders and private individuals need to microchip dogs and cats before they can be advertised for sale or adoption, and most states require dogs and cats to be microchipped by 12 weeks of age. In some cases, proof of microchipping is needed to be able to register your cat with the local council.

The most important thing to remember about microchipping is that it will only help reunite a lost pet with its family if contact details are kept up-to-date. So, if you move house or change your phone number or secondary contact details, remember to update this information with the microchip registry. 

There are several registries operating in Australia. If you are unsure which database your cat is registered with you can check by entering the chip number at Pet Address ( and it will tell you which registry to contact.

In addition to a microchip, it is worth investing in a collar and identification tag for your kitten, even if you plan for it to be inside-only. Take care when choosing a collar – while it’s easy to be attracted to the bright colours and bling, the most important consideration with a collar is its safety

Collars with safety clasps/buckles are designed to open if your cat gets caught on anything, such as a tree branch. If you can’t easily unclasp a buckle, it is probably not safe for your cat because its own bodyweight won’t be sufficient to “release” the collar if it gets caught.

Remember to check the size of the collar regularly with your growing kitten. You should be able to comfortably slide two fingers between the collar and your cat’s neck; avoid it being too tight or too loose. Loose collars are more likely to catch on objects, or a cat can get a front leg through the collar and become stuck, sometimes with serious consequences. A collar that is too tight can cause neck wounds and skin conditions.

Cat Vaccination

When you adopt your new kitten, it should already have been given at least one vaccination from the “primary kitten course”, depending on its age. 

The basic cat vaccination covers 3 common cat diseases: Feline Infectious Enteritis, also called Feline Panleukopaenia, plus two viruses commonly referred to as “cat flu” (because they cause respiratory signs, however they are not influenza viruses): Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus
This x3 combination is known as a “core vaccine”, which every cat should receive. 

Depending on risk factors for individual cats, additional vaccines are available for other diseases, including Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

These additional vaccines are referred to as “non-core vaccines” because they should only be given to cats who are deemed at risk of these particular diseases (e.g. cats who have unrestricted outside access, or cats living with another cat who has the disease in question). 

It is a misconception that the more you vaccinate, the safer your cat will be, in fact over-vaccinating can do more harm than good and at best will be completely unnecessary. Therefore, discuss your new kitten’s individual risk factors with your veterinary team rather than automatically agreeing to any of the “non-core vaccines”.

Cat Parasite Control

Your new kitten will ideally have received basic parasite prevention, such as flea control and intestinal worming, prior to adoption. Find out from the shelter or breeder what treatment the kitten has already had and when it is due to be repeated. 

There is an abundance of products on the market for controlling creepy-crawlies, and it’s easy to be confused by all the options. The best course of action is to discuss parasite control with your veterinary professional at your first veterinary appointment, to ensure your kitten is protected from unwanted visitors.

Cat Desexing 

Desexing or “neutering” refers to the surgical removal of the ovaries +/- the uterus in females (ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy, or “spay”) and the removal of the testes in males (castration), to prevent them from breeding. 

Unwanted/accidental litters are a major problem throughout the world, particularly since cats can have several litters each year. Welfare of these cats is a major concern and many rescue groups run neutering programmes to prevent street cats from reproducing and thus control population numbers, rather than en masse euthanasia. These programmes are call Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR).

For domestic cats in Australia, laws between states vary with regards to desexing. Shelters and rescue organisations usually stipulate that all their adopted cats are desexed to prevent adding to the unwanted/stray cat population

Cats are either desexed prior to adoption, or owners agree to desex their new cat at a participating vet clinic and they are given a voucher to have this done free of charge or at a reduced rate (depending on the rescue group or shelter’s individual policy).

Previously, cats were usually not desexed until the age of 6 months, however some cats can reproduce from 4 months old and research has also shown that early desexing is safer for cats. This is because the surgery is quicker and easier in immature animals, kittens tend to recover from the anaesthetic sooner and the surgical wound is smaller and heals faster. Early age desexing (EAD) is usually performed between the ages of 8-12 weeks but can be done as soon as 6 weeks of age.

As well as preventing unwanted litters, desexing prevents or greatly reduces the chances of some serious health conditions in both male and female cats. The author strongly advocates desexing all domestic cats who are not part of a registered breeding programme.

In addition to the numerous health benefits and minimisation of the stray cat population, desexing is required by some states in order to receive discounted council registration.

Cat Dental / Oral Care 

Dental disease is one of the most common health concerns in cats, which affects up to 85% of cats over the age of 3 years ( 

Causes of dental disease include a cat’s breed, trauma, diet, and other diseases. There are many products on the market (e.g. diets, toys, chews, gels, water additives) which vary in their efficacy to contribute to preventative oral health care. 

However, even when these products work as intended, they alone are not enough, and the 'Gold Standard' in preventative dental care is daily brushing.

The best time to introduce brushing to your cat is while it is still a kitten, although most cats can learn to have their teeth brushed if the process is approached correctly. 

Kittens lose their deciduous (baby) teeth by 6-7 months of age; these are replaced by adult teeth which need to last the rest of your cat’s life. 

Oral disease in cats often goes unnoticed by owners, meaning your cat suffers with a painful condition in silence. Many pet owners report that after a dental procedure at the vet, their pet suddenly appears much younger and more active, which gives us an idea of how they felt prior to the dental procedure. 

However, don’t fall into the trap of believing you can “fall back” on a veterinary dental procedure as a way of treating your cat’s oral disease. Firstly, there are risks associated with all procedures requiring a general anaesthetic and no one wants their pet to undergo general anaesthesia (and associated costs and stress) unnecessarily. 

Secondly, if a veterinary dental procedure is not followed-up by daily brushing at home, disease-causing plaque immediately begins building up again. The best treatment for oral disease is prevention, and your veterinary professionals will be able to help you introduce an effective oral care strategy at home. 

The Cost of Veterinary Care 

Anyone who has ever received a bill from their veterinarian will know that veterinary treatment is not cheap!

With Medicare covering the cost of the bulk of human medical costs, many people don’t realise the actual costs of equipment and consumables needed to run a medical or veterinary facility. (The author has encountered more than one person who has refused to pay their bill because they have a Medicare card!). 

As with people, animals get sick and have accidents, so before you decide to bring a new family member home you need to have a plan for covering unexpected veterinary bills, as well as the usual preventative health care. Are you committed to maintaining your cat’s quality of life, for their whole life? This is a particular consideration as our pets get older, and are living longer than ever before, and as we increasingly expect our pets to fit in with our domestic lifestyles. 

There are a few options when planning for your cat’s financial needs. One is to take out pet insurance. As will other types of insurance, it’s necessary to shop around and to read the fine print of the policies on offer. 

Questions to ask yourself include

✔️ Is my cat inside-only or inside-outside? (inside cats are less likely to suffer dog attacks, cat fights, road traffic accidents etc.) 

✔️ Does the policy cover accidents only, or does it also cover against illnesses? 

✔️ Are there any procedures, treatment or diagnostics which are specifically not covered? 

✔️ Are there any breed-specific exclusions which would affect your cat? 

✔️ What options are there for older cats? (usually accident-only cover from the age of 9) 

✔️ What is the monthly/yearly premium? 

✔️ What is the policy’s limit? (how much will it pay out per year?) 

✔️ What are your out-of-pocket expenses if you need to make a claim? 

✔️ What are the rules regarding pre-existing conditions? 

✔️ Is this a policy I can maintain long-term? (if you change policies at a later time, any previous conditions you have claimed for are counted as pre-existing conditions and might be excluded from your new policy) 

✔️ How easy is it to make a claim? 

Choosing pet insurance is a very individual process for everyone because our own circumstances and the needs of our pets are all different. Therefore, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, but if you know people with pet insurance it’s worth asking them what their experiences have been with their policy. 

It’s not uncommon for specialist and emergency veterinary treatment to be well in excess of $10,000-$15,000 and there’s no doubt that many of these pets would not be alive without pet insurance because it gave their owners diagnostic and treatment options that they would not have had otherwise. 

Another option is to create a savings account for your cat

Rather than pay a monthly premium towards pet insurance, set aside a similar amount (or any amount you choose) into a separate bank account (preferably one which earns some interest, which right now is something of a tall order). 

This way, the money will gradually accumulate, rather than being “lost” if you don’t need to make an insurance claim. If your cat is inside-only, or confined to an escape-proof garden, this might be a better option for you, because the chances of your cat getting into accidents is greatly diminished. My own cat, the lovely Maggie, has her own bank account; if I’m nice to her and she’s feeling generous she gives me a loan occasionally… 

Veterinary clinics, in particular emergency facilities, usually have provisions for clients to take out a “veterinary loan” with an external company, which needs to be approved (identity and credit checks) prior to a treatment plan being finalised. This puts the onus for collecting payment onto the loan company, rather than the veterinary clinic. 

(The reality is that most veterinary personnel would rather spend more time helping animals and less time chasing up outstanding bills. We work in this field because we love animals; if we wanted high-paying jobs we’d be working in another field! We also mourn the pets we need to euthanase, especially those who die for financial reasons). 

While these types of loans are certainly a viable option for some, consider the interest rate and how much this adds to the total treatment costs, and how able you are to make the repayments. At a minimum, this choice can give you time to arrange funding for the loan repayments from elsewhere, while your cat receives the treatment it needs without delay. 

The most important consideration is that you never know what is around the corner and when accidents or illnesses will happen (and there’s never a convenient time!) It’s crucial that you have some kind of financial plan in place in case your cat is ever caught out in the rain

We love our pets and consider them to be vital members of our family, so not being able to provide them with the veterinary treatment they need to save their lives, or to improve their quality of life, is often heart-breaking for us as pet owners. 

It’s stressful enough for us when our beloved fluffballs aren’t well, without having to worry about whether we can afford the veterinary care they need.


These are just some of the considerations new kitten owners should take into account when bringing that fluffy ball of cuteness into their family. Remember that kittenhood lasts for a year and that the average lifespan of cats is around 14 years

The human-animal bond is special to many of us, with our cats and dogs considered to be important family members. As your cat’s designated human, your challenge is to ensure your feline friend has a life that is healthy, happy and which allows your cat to engage in its normal behaviours safely throughout its entire life. 

In return, your cat will reward you with its own brand of love and affection… on its own terms and when it feels like it! That’s one of the many things I love about them… 

written by Candice Drew for Australian Cat Lover (October 2020), all right reserved.

About the Writer

Candice qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in 2005, being awarded the Novartis Award for Outstanding Achievement in Veterinary Nursing in her qualifying year. 
She has worked extensively in Australia and the UK, and is a UK Registered Veterinary Nurse. Candice is experienced in general practice, shelter nursing and referral nursing (Surgery and Emergency & Critical Care [ECC]). 

She attained the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing (surgical) in 2009, qualified as a trainer & assessor in 2015, and completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing in 2018. Candice is interested in most aspects of veterinary nursing but her passions are feline nursing, ECC and working with students.
Candice is the happy slave of a 10-year-old rescue cat named “Maggie”, whom she adopted in January 2018.


1. Central Animal Records:
2. Day, M.J. et al: “Guidelines for the Vaccination of Dogs and Cats”, WSAVA, 2016,
3. International Cat Care: “Dental disease in cats”,
4. Pet Address:
5. RSPCA Knowledgebase: “Is microchipping mandatory for cats and dogs?” November 1, 2019, “Who do I contact if I need to change my contact details with my pet’s microchip registry database?” January 13, 2020, and “Early age desexing of cats and dogs”, December 2012,
6. “GPS implant for dogs: Myth or fact?” 10th August, 2020

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