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At Beverly Oaks Animal Hospital, our cat-owning clients often mention inappropriate behaviors expressed by their cats. These problems include;
not using the litterbox appropriately;
attacking the owner’s ankles as he/she walks through the house;
swatting or biting after a very short interval of petting;
pouncing and playing in the night, or attention seeking when the owner wants to sleep;
vocalization in the middle of the night
Many of these behaviors stem from behaviors that would be considered NORMAL in the wild, outdoor-living cat. But they are unacceptable when the cat relocates indoors. Therefore it is important to provide the kitten with an appropriate socialization process early on, so that we cultivate the expression of the behaviors we want, rather than the behaviors that would be acceptable in a wild cat. Remember, cats are somewhat amazing in their ability to go from wild to domesticated in a single generation!
The key to having a happy, loving, social cat in the house as a beloved pet lies in early handling and socialization.
The peak age for socialization for kittens is between 2-8 weeks—much earlier than for puppies! We know that even a small amount of gentle handling by people at this age can make kittens with less friendly fathers more friendly to people as they mature. (Did you know? The father cat’s personality is more likely to determine kitten personality than the mother’s!) In fact, many veterinary behavior specialists tell us that failure to expose a kitten to different things, people, animals, etc. at this age may be more detrimental than at any other age.
By 6 to 8 weeks of age, kittens respond to visual and scent threats.
At 7 to 8 weeks of age, they have developed good eye and paw coordination.
Social play develops between 6 to 12 weeks of age. From week 14 onwards, social fighting and fearful playing start.
Want to know when to start your kitten’s vaccinations? Read more here: vat cat kittens
So what do we do to socialize kittens?
We expose them to the life situations they are likely to encounter, such as cat carriers, travel, and handling, including nail trimming. We allow them to be handled by strangers, and to have positive experiences at the veterinary hospital. The goal is to help kittens develop into normal friendly sweet confident adults.
Want to know more about acclimating your cat or kitten to the cat carrier so that he/she is a happier traveler? Read more here acclimating cat to carrier.
Another component of kitten socialization is OWNER EDUCATION. Each year, more and more people become cat owners, but maybe they didn’t grow up with cats. And maybe they grew up with some common misperceptions of cat behavior. So an important part of kitten socialization is helping owners understand normal cat behaviors, so that they can understand their pets responses in the home, as well as be alert to the subtle signs of disease in their pets.
DID YOU KNOW, in a recent study conducted by Bayer, 58% of owners said that their pet cat HATES to go to the veterinary hospital?
This statistic is alarming because it suggests many owners don’t bring their cats in for early care, because of the stress to them, and the stress to the cat. Early detection of illness goes a long way to helping your cat live longer. Again, this points to the benefits and the importance of early kitten socialization.
Tips for taking your cat to the veterinarian: www.catalystcouncil.org/resources/video/?id=89
And “Scotty’s first trip to the veterinarian:” www.catalystcouncil.org/resources/video/?Id=120
CALL US NOW TO MAKE YOUR CAT OR KITTEN’S APPOINTMENT: 818-788-2022 OR 818-788-7860
AT HOME -TASKS FOR KITTEN OWNERS
Feel the legs and touch the toes, and eventually trim nails.
Lift the lip and look at the ears and teeth. You can start acclimating the cat to a toothbrushing regimen by gently rubbing a cotton ball alongside the teeth.
Accustom the cat or kitten to a brush, and grooming.
Start accustoming the kitten to the cat carrier. Leave the carrier out, with the doors open and a snuggy towel or plush blanket inside. A lot more information on acclimating the kitten follows below.
Feed the kitten a variety of canned and dry foods, formulated for “growth” or for the kitten lifestage. Since kittens can develop very specific food preferences, it is important to feed a variety, so that if you need to switch their diet later on, for health related reasons, the cat will accept the new diet. For very young kittens, if you are offering a dry kibble product, choose a brand called “Baby Cat.” The kibble size is very small, for very small mouths and tiny teeth.
Combining all new exposures with positive reinforcement, like treats, brushing, cat nip or play can help ensure that the kitten, and adult cat, comes away enjoying the experience.
Cats that are accustomed to this type of handling have much happier and more pleasant veterinary hospital experiences !
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER GOOD TIPS TO HELP YOUR KITTEN BECOME LESS AFRAID OF THE WORLD AROUND HIM/HER?
1. Use lots of treats to reward the kitten. Depending on the size of the treats, you may need to cut, or break, them up into small pieces.
2. Be positive – never yell at, or use any sort of physical reprimands that could scare your kitten.
3. Allow your kitten to warm up to a situation or new person with gentle encouragement. When bringing your kitten home, start the kitten out in a small room, such as a bedroom. This is plenty enough territory to explore. Sometimes too large of a space is intimidating and frightening to the kitten, so start small and let the kitten feel confident in his/her surroundings, before expanding the territory into which the kitten is permitted.
4. Never force your kitten into a situation. Slow and easy is the way to go. If your kitten is acclimated to the carrier, make sure the kitten has the option to run back to the carrier as a safe haven from which to observe, and decide about a situation.
5. Reward your kitten with treats during the exposures to new people, new situations, new experiences.
6. If your kitten is overwhelmed, back up from the site or situation until the kitten is relaxed again. Start from this new distance to build up your pet’s confidence. Gradually get closer.
7. Allow your kitten to play with other kittens. This is where he/she will learn how to play appropriately with other cats.
8. Refine your socialization – Over time your kitten will become expert at meeting new people, seeing new sights, hearing strange sounds and so on. Don’t stop! Continue the process!
9. Go to the vet for a “fun visit” on a day where your cat/kitten is not scheduled for vaccinations. Expose the kitten, from the safety of a carrier, to the sights and sounds of the main reception area and the treatment area. Have the kitten go into an exam room and be placed on the exam table, with plenty of treats to make it worth his/her time! Ask the hospital staff to give him/her treats, too. Always leave on a positive note! Do this regularly in the kitten’s first year of life. Some veterinarians will schedule 10 minute appointment slots to expose your cat/kitten to aspects of the vet visit such as handling the feet for a nail trim, being up on the table, etc.