ASK THE VET: 2-pound kittens are old enough for first set of vaccinations

Q: I found a litter of kittens and want to give them away to good homes. How do I determine their age and sex? They average 2 pounds and are eating dry kitten food.

A: Most kittens' weight in pounds correlates with their age in months. So, a 1-pound kitten is about 1 month old, a 2-pound kitten is about 2 months old, and so on.

If a kitten weighs less than a pound, look for these developmental milestones to determine age:

◼️ 3 days: umbilical cord falls off.

◼️ 7-10 days (range 2-16 days): eyelids open, though kittens don't develop normal vision until 30 days.

◼️ 9-11 days (range 6-17 days): ear canals open, but hearing isn't normal until 4-6 weeks of age.

◼️ 7-14 days: crawling.

◼️ 14-21 days: walking.

◼️ 14-28 days: front teeth (incisors and canines) erupt.

◼️ 21 days: kittens can eliminate on their own, without external stimulation.

To determine sex, compare all the kittens, looking at the distance between the excretory opening and the genital opening below it. The female's genital opening is vertical.

The male's round genital opening is farther down, below the scrotum, which may be flat and devoid of testicles in a young male kitten.

Since your kittens seem to be about 2 months old, they are ready for their first vaccinations. Before you place them for adoption, take them to your veterinarian, who can vaccinate them and confirm their sex.

Q: Greta, my 3-year-old German shepherd, has chronic diarrhea. After doing blood and fecal testing, my veterinarian said her pancreas isn't producing digestive enzymes. What causes this problem? My veterinarian prescribed enzymes; is there anything more I should do?

A: Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, occurs when the pancreas produces inadequate amounts of digestive enzymes.

The pancreas contains two types of glands:

◼️ Endocrine glands secrete insulin, which regulates blood sugar, into the blood.

◼️ Exocrine glands produce several enzymes that help digest food and release them into the small intestine. These enzymes include amylase, which breaks down starch; the lipase that digests fat; and protease and trypsin, which break down protein.

When the pancreas fails to produce sufficient quantities of these enzymes, food can't be digested and nutrients aren't absorbed. The result is malnutrition with deficiencies of many important nutrients, including vitamins.

Clinical signs of EPI include a thin body condition and weight loss despite a ravenous appetite, as well as an unthrifty hair coat (failing to grow normally), diarrhea and frequent defecation — large, pale and foul-smelling.

EPI is usually inherited, with German shepherds leading the list of affected breeds, followed by collies. Most dogs are diagnosed when young, though chronic, recurrent pancreatitis can cause EPI in older dogs.

Treatment is lifelong and consists of mixing digestive enzymes with the dog's food. These enzymes are usually in the form of a powder comprised of cow or pig pancreas.

Ask your veterinarian whether vitamin supplementation is needed. Dogs with EPI are often deficient in cobalamin, or vitamin B-12, and sometimes other vitamins.

If Greta doesn't respond well to the digestive enzymes, ask your veterinarian about medication to suppress secretion of stomach acid, which could inactivate the digestive enzymes you give her.

Fortunately, dogs with EPI that receive proper treatment enjoy a normal life span.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

[email protected]