2012-08-17 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

Kitten Behavior
Commentary By Jay Rogoff And Allan Simon, DVM

We often get asked what information should a client have who wants to add a kitten to their family.

We believe that preparing a kitten for success takes careful selection, proper socialization, and suitable environmental management and enrichment. Purebred or Mixed-Breed?

Owners should determine which physical and behavioral traits they find most important. Such as, do they want a cat with long hair or what size feline fits best in their home? In cats, genetically related behavior problems have been kept to a minimum primarily because of the lack of selective breeding and a diverse genetic pool. Paternal genetics do play a role in sociability, but in most cases knowledge of paternal personality traits is unlikely and unnecessary. When is the best time to adopt?

Adoption before six weeks of age is not recommended. This important developmental time accommodates weaning and the early formation of substrate preferences learned from their mother. Kittens taken from their mother before two weeks of age can be markedly fearful and overly aggressive toward humans and other cats. They require hand feeding and are a responsibility.

However, it is important to get the kitten into the new home during the sensitive period of socialization—seven to nine weeks of age—as research has indicated that early handling may result in less fear-based behavior toward humans later in life and the kitten is better able to bond with its new family. To encourage socialization we encourage owners to introduce their new kitten to as many different people and places as possible during this time as well as during the entire first year. The kitten should have a microchip implanted so that if he or she becomes lost they can easily be returned to its owner. This process is not painful and very quick, but very important. Bringing the Kitten Home A Safe Place

A safe place (with food, water, litter box, toys, and a bed) should be created to help the kitten become acclimated to its new home. Daily supervised excursions into the rest of the house will allow gradual investigation of the new surroundings. The kitten should be returned frequently to its safe place for rest and elimination. Litter Boxes

Litter boxes should be tailored for the kitten, with lower sides and easy access but away from busy areas. Litter boxes must be kept clean, scooped twice daily, and emptied, washed, and refilled weekly. In larger homes, litter boxes may need to be placed on all floors. If other cats are already present in the home, at least one litter box should be provided for each cat. Early Crate & Harness Training

Kittenhood is the best time to acclimate a kitten to crates and car travel to make traveling to the veterinary hospital less stressful. Often the only time a feline is placed in a carrier is to visit the veterinarian. Therefore they become fearful of the carrier. There are many different types of crates available. Once owners obtain a crate, they should leave it out and open in a common area. Treats and comfortable bedding should be placed inside and the kitten praised and offered a treat each time the owner sees it in the crate. Kittens can also be taught to wear a harness and leash for safe outdoor access. Meeting Daily Needs

Play is an important aspect of kitten development; it fosters appropriate and strong bonds between the kitten and owners and meets exercise and enrichment needs. To avoid injury to people, all play with kittens should occur with toys, never with human hands or feet.

In multicat households, safe intercat play can be encouraged by placing a long ribbon with a toy on each end underneath the closed door to the kitten’s safe place. The resident cat(s) and new kitten then have an opportunity to interact through play activities during the acclimation period.

Predatory play behavior is an integral part of kitten play, and appropriate outlets can be provided using commercial feeder toys that allow a daily food ration to be dispensed through play and manipulation, mimicking a more natural feeding behavior. Declaw or Not?

It is not necessary to declaw a cat for it to live in harmony with furnishings; however, training must start early.

Scratching is a normal behavior that cats use to mark their territory, stretch, exercise, and condition their claws. Kittens need a scratching surface that is appropriately sized and attractive. To encourage use, owners should offer different options (horizontal, vertical, sisal, carpet) until the kitten has decided its preference. Tips to Increase Acceptance of a Scratching Post

Location is everything when it comes to getting the kitten to use the provided scratching material! Place one preferred scratching surface in the kitten’s safe room and another where it spends family time. Make the scratching surface appealing and fun, integrating perching, climbing, play, and resting areas. Sprinkling catnip on the post or mat can make it more attractive.

Making areas where you do not want the kitten to scratch unpleasant can also help. You can call us at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways at 718-474- 0500 or stop in at 114-10 Beach Channel Drive to discuss any problems and get more suggestions. Creating Lifelong Bonds

Handling exercises and introducing the kitten to different people and places may make later medical treatments and routine care less stressful to your pet. We encourage owners to use gentle handling techniques several times a week, such as grooming the kitten with a soft brush, touching its feet and ears, and opening its mouth. The best time to do this is when the kitten is quiet and relaxed. Try to keep handling sessions short. Use delectable food treats before, during, and after sessions to help associate them with good things.

Getting a new kitten is an exciting time filled with joy and many decisions. We have many good booklets and treats to share with your new pet. Should you ever have to leave your cat while on vacation or for any other reason, we have a separate cat boarding area. We provide cat TV and they play on large climbing gyms. A totally feline friendly environment created just for them. Please visit us or check our website www.animalhospitaloftherockaways.com. We look forward to meeting you and your new kitten soon at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways.

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