Stray kittens are vulnerable to catching parasites and developing diseases because of where they have been living since they were born. Bringing home one that’s not in the pink of health is bad not only for the animal itself but for other indoor pets, too. Knowing how to tell if a stray kitten is healthy is a must before you attempt to adopt it.
In total, a healthy stray kitten has crust- and discharge-free eyes and nose. Its ears are free of a build-up of substance that looks like coffee grounds. The animal is free of bald spots or skin flakes. A healthy stray kitten is not lethargic, limping, or trembling, and its gums are not pale.
Observing a stray kitten’s overall physical condition can help reveal the presence of currently existing health-related issues.
The good news is that you don’t need to have a degree in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) to tell whether or not a stray kitten is in good shape. Having a keen eye and knowing what to look for are sometimes enough.
Below, you will come across a step-by-step physical assessment of a stray kitten — so don’t stop reading now if you want to be sure that the cuddly animal you are about to welcome into your home is healthy.
10 Signs of a Healthy Stray Kitten
Bright and Clear Eyes
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul.
When assessing a stray kitten’s overall health status, checking out its peepers allow you to get a glimpse of its eye health. Because a homeless baby cat has an immune system that is yet to reach full maturity and is exposed to microbes, having eye problems is not unlikely.
Conjunctivitis is one of the most common types of eye infection in kittens, stray or otherwise.
Also called pink eye, conjunctivitis in young felines is commonly caused by a virus, such as the herpesvirus or calicivirus. One of the signs of conjunctivitis in stray cats is the presence of eye discharge. The color and consistency of the eye discharge can vary, depending on the microbe responsible for it.
Swelling, redness, inflammation of the third eyelid, squinting, blinking a lot and constantly pawing the affected eye are other telltale signs of conjunctivitis. If the stray cat is trying to stay away from the light, it could be that the light is hurting its eyes, which is a symptom of conjunctivitis.
Other eye problems common in kittens include:
- Corneal disorders
When inspecting a stray kitten’s eyes, check that they are bright and clear.
Ears Clear of Ear Mites
A very common ear problem in stray kittens is the presence of ear mites.
It doesn’t come as a surprise since baby cats without a home can easily get mites from the environment and other stray cats that have them. The problem with ear mites is that it’s not specific to the animal’s species. This is why stray kittens can get it from stray dogs, too.
When checking for the presence of ear mites, most of the time, there is no need to peek inside a kitty cat’s ears.
Does it seem like the cat is shaking its head all the time? Then it’s very much likely for it to have ear mites — it could feel those tiny critters that feed on earwax and skin oils moving around in its ears.
Aggressive scratching of the ears, head and neck is also a sign of ear mites. The presence of this extremely common ear-related issue in stray kittens can be confirmed by a substance in the ears that looks like coffee grounds.
That coffee ground-like substance is made up of different things. They include wax (ear mites stimulate the wax-producing glands in the ears), blood and debris. The ear mites themselves are also components of the coffee grounds-like ear substance, which, by the way, has a horrible smell.
And because ear mites can cause the stray kitten to scratch a lot, bloody sores may come into being. When bacteria invade those bloody sores, an infection may strike, requiring treatment like ear mites.
White Teeth and Pink Gums
Gently lifting the edge of the stray kitten’s mouth allows you to inspect its teeth and gums.
Even though small cats consume nothing but breast milk, they are still susceptible to cavities. The same is true with human babies. According to doctors, while very healthy, breast milk still contains sugar. It’s because of this why babies can still wind up with cavities even if they are breastfeeding exclusively.
Going back to stray kittens, check that a young feline’s teeth are white and free of tartar. But even if a baby cat’s teeth do not appear pearly white, that’s okay — they will be replaced with permanent teeth at around four months old.
Besides the teeth, you should also inspect the gums of a stray kitten. The gums should be pink, not white. Gum paleness can be due to things such as low blood pressure and internal bleeding. However, one of the most common causes of pale gums (in kittens, adult cats and humans, too) is anemia.
In cats, anemia can be blamed on different things. In some instances, it can be due to exposure to bacteria or virus that can cause the blood condition. Sometimes, it can be because of parasites such as fleas and worms.
Other signs of anemia in a stray cat are fast heart rate, weakness, lethargy, increased thirst and decreased appetite.
Nose Soft and Damp to Touch
When it comes to knowing how to tell if a stray kitten is healthy, the nose knows how to give all the right clues. This is why you should carefully inspect the nose and look for some revealing signs of some health problems.
The tiny nose of a baby cat is usually soft and damp to the touch. However, it’s a different story if its nose is dripping wet. A runny nose is typically a sign that something is wrong with the kitty cat’s respiratory system, in particular its upper respiratory tract. It can be due to problems such as:
- Bacterial or fungal infection of the nasal cavity
- Nasal polyps
However, in kittens and adult cats alike, a runny nose is sometimes an indicator of feline upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). This is especially true if it’s accompanied by sneezing, coughing, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, conjunctivitis and eye discharge — yes, in felines, a problem with the respiratory tract can also affect the peepers.
Feline URTIs can either be bacterial or viral in nature. Up to 90% of all URTIs in cats are due to the herpesvirus and calicivirus. The problem with viral URTIs is that all infected cats will have the herpesvirus, which can be activated by stress, illnesses, surgery, etc., in their bodies for life. About half of all infected cats will be calicivirus carriers for good.
Needless to say, a stray kitten with a viral URTI could infect your other pets not only while it’s still young but also when it’s already a fully grown feline.
Nasal Passages Not Clogged
Other than looking for discharge coming from the nose, you should also pay attention to the cat’s breathing.
In some instances, a stray kitten with an upper respiratory tract issue will not have a dripping and crusty nose.
However, paying attention to the little animal’s breathing will reveal the fact that there’s congestion. If there’s a wheezing or whistling sound each time the baby cat breathes in or out, it’s a sign that its nasal passages are clogged.
Because of its stuffy nose, it’s not unlikely for the stray cat to breathe through its mouth, which can be a heartbreaking sight — ask any cat lover you know!
Take the stray cat to a vet right away if it’s in respiratory distress, which is evidenced by:
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Continuous panting
- Long, drawn-out breathing
- Abnormal movement of the chest and abdomen while breathing
- Inability to settle
- Bluish gums
- Standing with the neck extended and elbows pointed outward
Skin Free of Sores and Bald Spots
There are many skin problems that stray kittens could have, which is completely understandable since they live outside and are exposed to a host of pathogens that can cause various dermatological issues to strike.
Many of the skin-related concerns in a stray baby cat can be transmitted to other animals.
So, in other words, welcoming it into your home can put your other pets at risk of developing the same skin problems that it has. Mange is one of the most serious skin problems that can affect not only stray kittens but also all cats.
We talked about ear mites earlier. Well, mites are also responsible for mange in stray kittens.
Mites responsible for feline mange bite the animal’s skin. This causes inflammation, itching, flaking and hair loss — we will talk more about hair loss and other important matters about coat inspection in a few, so don’t stop reading now.
Anyway, the problem with mange is that it can cause secondary infections. It can be quite easy for a stray kitten with mange to end up with secondary infections as the skin condition can cause severe itchiness. The good news is that mange can clear up fast, provided that the stray kitten suffering from it is seen by a veterinarian without delay.
Besides mange, other common skin conditions in stray kittens include:
- Feline acne
- Yeast infections
- Allergic dermatitis
When inspecting a stray kitten’s skin, check that there are no sores, flakes, and bald spots.
Coat Free of Fleas
Healthy kittens usually have a smooth and shiny coat.
That’s because they get all the vitamins and minerals necessary for keeping the coat in excellent condition via their diet. Also, a contributor to having a beautiful coat is the fact that healthy kittens feel good enough to groom themselves on a regular basis.
On the other hand, an unhealthy stray kitten usually has a patchy and scraggly coat, which is a sign of malnutrition.
The presence of bald spots could also indicate a dermatological problem, such as the ones we talked about earlier. But no matter the cause, in many instances, the coat of a stray kitten can look nice once again if the problem’s root cause is addressed by taking the animal to the veterinary clinic.
When inspecting a stray kitten’s coat, look for the presence of fleas.
In some instances, you may come across specks that resemble ground black pepper. Those are called flea dirt, which is not dirt but flea droppings that consist of the fecal matter and blood meal of blood-sucking fleas.
Besides making a poor kitty cat feel uncomfortable and itchy all over, fleas can also cause anemia. In severe cases, anemia can be fatal in kittens because of the large amounts of blood their fleas are drinking.
Claws Clear of Infection
The claws of a stray kitten may be smaller and shorter than the claws of an adult cat alright.
Still, they are sharp enough to scratch or pierce your skin. It’s because of this why you should refrain from picking up and hugging a kitten that you find on the street or your property unless it’s showing signs that it trusts you and sees you as a friend.
Speaking of which, it’s also a must that you check the claws of a stray kitten to have an idea if it’s in the pink of health or not. Two of the most common claw disorders in kittens are paronychia and onychomycosis.
Put simply, paronychia is a bacterial infection of the nail bed. It causes the tissue surrounding the nail to become inflamed. On the other hand, onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nail or claw itself. Just like paronychia, it can also cause inflammation of the nail bed.
The two claw disorder types in kittens may share some signs, but they are caused by different microbes.
Claw disorders are uncomfortable for kittens. This causes them to fiddle with their paws a lot in an attempt to figure out or get rid of the cause of the problem.
If the stray kitten seems to have difficulty walking, give its claws a quick look.
Kittens are quite clumsy, which makes them even more adorable. However, while little cats move in an awkward manner, they should still be coordinated. Otherwise, they could be suffering from neuromuscular disorders.
Neuromuscular disorders are disorders that affect the nerves that control the voluntary muscles. In kittens and adult cats, there are a number of neuromuscular disorders that may strike. However, many of them share the same signs and symptoms. Some of them include:
- Uncoordinated movements
- Muscle weakness
- Absence of reflexes
- Crouched stance
In stray kittens, neuromuscular disorders can be inherited or congenital (present at birth).
They can also be acquired by the little cat, such as after trauma, exposure to a toxic chemical, and infection with a bacteria, virus, or parasite. Either way, a veterinarian can identify the cause of the problem and recommend the best management, too.
High Energy Levels
Last but not least, another way on how to tell if a stray kitten is healthy or not is simply by observing it go about its everyday activities. A kitten that doesn’t seem to have enough strength and energy could have a health-related concern that needs to be identified and addressed.
Newborn kittens spend 90% of their day sleeping. As they get older, they spend less time in dreamland. Still, kittens like to catch some z’s a lot — kittens that are six months old spend 16 to 20 hours sleeping!
When it’s awake, a stray kitten tends to spend plenty of time playing with its mother or siblings (or a fallen leaf, crumpled piece of paper, an unsuspecting insect). If it seems like a stray kitten is not as playful as other kittens its age, there is probably something wrong with it health-wise.
Just Before You Bring Home a Stray Kitten
There is no need for you to be a licensed and experienced vet to have an idea of whether a stray kitten is in perfect or questionable health. All you have to do is make a simple examination.
From head to tail, many warning signs can be observed that will reveal the little cat’s current health situation. But no matter if the animal seems to be in a tip-top or bad shape, it’s always a good idea to take the stray kitten to the vet before welcoming it into your home for the benefit of the kitty cat and your other pets, too.
The goal is to bring home an adorable purring pet, not parasitic fleas and serious diseases.
And also, make sure that the stray kitten is not someone’s missing pet. If the animal has a collar or tag that bears the owner’s contact details, pick up the phone and arrange for a drop-off or pick up.
The stray kitten may also be microchipped — most veterinarians and animal shelters agree that kittens as young as eight weeks of age may be microchipped. Bring the kitten to the nearest veterinary clinic or shelter to see whether or not the animal has a microchip that will allow the identification of its owner.
Before attempting to adopt a stray kitten, do everything that you can to find its previous home.
Photo credit: ©canva.com
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.