Friday, April 11, 2008

bringing up baby: what you need to know to meet your kitten's vital needs

Providing good kitten care will help to ensure that your new bundle of fur will grow up to be a confident, healthy cat. It can all be very exciting having your first kitten, but it does come with a responsibility to play an active role in their upbringing. However it is a fine line between spoiling them and giving them the confidence to interact in the human world. Too much spoiling and cosseting and the kitten may grow up not possessing the skills to look after themselves properly.

Kitten care during the first seven weeks.
Kittens are born without having any sense of fear, which is great news for us humans, as we want the kitten to see us as their friends and not as a big scary giant. These first few weeks are a vital time to socialise the kitten to humans. Without this contact during this time a cat may never become accustomed to people and so become feral cats. It is very rare for a feral cat to become truly domesticated. My sister homed a feral kitten, he was older than seven weeks and so even though he lived in a domestic situation from that young age he never really got on with people. In fact the only person able to go near him was my sister, everyone else would end up covered in scratches.
This seven-week window is known as the “sensitive period”, where experiences during this time will effect and mould the sort of cat they will become. During this time it is important that:

The kitten is handled by at least 4 different people of all genders and ages.

They are introduced to other family pets, especially if there are dogs in the family.

Be exposed to lots of different noises and family activities, like the washing machine, Hoover, television etc.
The more experiences introduced during this “sensitive period” the better and it is a very important step in providing good kitten care. As the kitten has no fear during this time they will explore and get used to all the sounds, smells and different types of creatures in their world. Kkittens that do not receive these experiences will often grow into very shy scared cats that like to keep them selves to themselves. It is very difficult to change this behaviour in later life.
NOTE: When re-homing a kitten from a shelter or from a breeder it is important to find out as much as you can about their upbringing so far. Kittens that have not been properly socialised will need far more of your attention and even then they may never become easy pets to live with.

Early Lessons
Most cats are excellent mothers and will teach her new brood all the catty things they need to know but as an owner we must stand by to give her a helping hand or to reinforce certain lessons. This type of kitten care can often be overlooked as we think that the mother cat will teach them everything they need to know, but without our intervention, sometimes things can go a little awry. The mother cat will teach her kittens about hunting, play, toilet training and which food to eat, your role in helping with these lessons are:
When the kittens are ready to move on to solid food (around four weeks), provide cat food especially formulated for kittens and also offer them lots of different flavours. This way they will be less fussy eaters when they grow up.

Kittens will start to use a litter tray around five weeks old. Provide soft litter, which will be easy to dig and will not hurt paws and put them off. Also make sure that the litter tray is easily accessible for a kitten to get into. If they have only positive experiences of using the litter tray during this time it will avoid any toileting issues later on.

Play pouncing and hunting games with your kitten but never let them play with your hands. This could develop into a learned behaviour and although it doesn’t hurt now when they are kittens, it certainly will when they are fully grown. It will be very difficult to reverse this behaviour later on in life and by not encouraging this type of play now will avoid problems in the future.
Kitten care, not punishment.
It is very tempting for kitten and cat owners to punish their pets when they do something wrong, just like we would our children. However cats do not have the same understanding of punishment. They do not automatically associate a punishment with a certain misdemeanour; instead they will associate it with the person. So instead of providing a positive outcome i.e. stop chewing the chair for example, you are creating a negative one between your cat and yourself. This can lead to aggression towards you and even avoidance, which in some extreme cases could result in the cat going off to find new owners.
So from an early age it is important to practice these rules and teach your furry youngster the right and wrong way to behave.

Reward good behaviour always with a positive experience, something that your particular cat really enjoys, it could be:

A treat
A game
A cuddle etc.

Reward bad behaviour with a negative experience by taking something away that your cat enjoys. The most powerful of which is the removal of attention. So:

Stop playing the game immediately
Walk away from the kitten, preferably out of the room.
Remain silent
Have no eye contact with the kitten
The cat will perceive this as a bad experience and will not want to repeat it.

Final words on kitten care
It is easy for us to look after a kitten nutritionally and medically these days, as everything is so accessible. Special kitten food can be bought from every supermarket and our local vets can carry out vaccinations and neutering relatively cheaply and easily. But too often the important kitten care of socialisation and early training experiences are overlooked and this when done correctly from the beginning will prevent many future behavioural problems and will ensure that you have a happy contented confident cat who will bring many benefits to the family for many years.

No comments: