Kitten Behavior and Socialization

We would like to congratulate you on the acquisition of your new kitten. Owning a cat can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it is also a large responsibility. We hope this handout will give you the information needed to make some good decisions regarding your kitten.

First let us say that we are grateful that you have chosen us to help you with your kitten’s health care. If you have questions concerning any subject related to your kitten’s health, please feel free to call our hospital. Our veterinarians and staff will be happy to help you.

Environment

A cat is naturally inclined to investigate its new surroundings. Cats are inquisitive and adventuresome, which frequently gets them into trouble. You will need to cat proof your home just as you would for a toddler, to prevent accidents and illness. It is suggested that the kitten’s area of exploration be initially limited so that you can supervise its activities. After confining the cat to one room for the first few days, you should slowly allow access to other areas of the home.

Introduction

Most kittens receive a hostile reception from other household pets, especially from another cat. The other cat usually sees no need for a kitten in the household and these feelings are reinforced if it perceives that special favoritism is being shown to the kitten. The existing cat must not feel that it is necessary to compete for food or attention. The new kitten should have its own food bowl and it should not be permitted to eat from the other cat’s bowl. Although it is natural to spend time holding and cuddling the kitten, the existing cat will quickly sense that it is being neglected. The new kitten needs lots of love and attention, but the existing cat should not be slighted. In fact, the transition will be smoother if the existing cat is given more attention than normal.

The introduction period will usually last one to two weeks and will have one of three possible outcomes:

The existing cat will remain hostile to the kitten. Fighting may occasionally occur, especially if both try to eat out of the same bowl at the same time. This is an unlikely occurrence if competition for food and affection are minimized during the first few weeks.

The existing cat will only tolerate the kitten. Hostility will cease, but the existing cat will act as if the kitten is not present. This is more likely if the existing cat is very independent, has been an only cat for several years, or if marked competition occurred during the first few weeks. This relationship is likely to be permanent.

Bonding will occur between the existing cat and the kitten. They will play together, groom each other, and sleep near each other. This is more likely to occur if competition is minimized and if the existing cat has been lonely for companionship.

Play Behavior

Encouraging appropriate play activities is very important from the first day in your home. Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in kittens and have an important role in proper muscular development. If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to use family members for these activities.

Most people who have pets enjoy playing with them and giving them toys. Unfortunately, unlike with children’s toys, there are no regulations to ensure that toys made for dogs and cats are safe. Many that are available in pet stores and supermarkets are unsafe.

Check any toy you purchase for parts or pieces that could come off and be inhaled or swallowed. ‘Googly’ eyes, little bells, small pieces of glued on felt, feathers and strings are some things to watch out for. Never purchase any toy that looks like it could come apart.

The best toys are lightweight and movable. These include wads of paper, small balls, and heavy string, rope or ribbon. Kittens should always be supervised when playing with string or ribbons because these items can cause serious intestinal problems if they are swallowed. Any other toy that is small enough to be swallowed should also be avoided. Popular toys include little plastic balls with bells inside, the balls that can be batted around inside a large, donut-shaped plastic tube, the long piece of fabric on a stick, and assorted cat nip filled animals. Be sure to throw away any toy that is getting frayed or broken, before threads or pieces are swallowed by the cat.

Whatever toys you choose, it’s a good idea to rotate them. Putting a toy away and getting out a different one every few days can help avoid having the cat or kitten get bored with the same old thing. Keeping a cat occupied with a different toy each week may also prevent him from finding excitement knocking over wastebaskets or scratching the furniture.

Discipline

Disciplining a young kitten may be necessary if its behavior towards people or property is inappropriate, but harsh punishment should be avoided. For most kittens, hand clapping and using shaker cans or horns can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior when you are present. However, remote punishment is preferred. Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior. Examples include using spray bottles, throwing objects in the direction of the kitten to startle, but not hit, and using booby traps that make loud noises. Remote punishment is preferred because the kitten will then associate punishment with the undesirable act and not with you.

To Prevent Problems:

Spend lots of time playing with your kitten so his energy is used up more constructively. An empty paper bag can give your cats hours of enjoyment! A cat dancer, a string on a pole with an object such as a feather on the end can be waived around while you are watching television. Similarly a focused light source can be pointed on the floor or walls for your cat to chase after. DO NOT play with your kitten by wiggling your fingers or toes – this encourages biting.

Do not hit or strike your kitten for being naughty. This will only frighten or anger him and frequently leads to biting and clawing behavior. Punishment is the least effective training method for cats.

Keep a squirt gun or bottle handy. A squirt of water in the face deters most kittens from doing things they shouldn’t do, especially jumping up on counters or playing too aggressively, and it doesn’t hurt them.

Never force a kitten to stay in your lap if he or she wants to get down. Do not grab at your cat or scare him, or he may learn to bite. Rough and tumble play also encourages aggression, so play gently, using a toy and not your fingers.

Confine your kitten to one room when you aren’t home, one that has no plants or dangerous objects. Swallowing or choking on small objects is very common in cats and kittens. Beware of things such as rubber bands, pencil erasers, needles and thread, small toys, metal objects such as paper clips, scraps of fabric, earrings etc. Anything smaller than 1″ diameter can probably be swallowed and needs to be kept out of a kitten’s reach. Don’t give your kitten string or yarn to play with! These are among the most common causes of potentially deadly intestinal obstructions.

Provide at least one scratching post for your cat to use. Even declawed cats like to stretch and knead their paws. Rubbing catnip on the post will encourage its use, as will keeping it in a handy place where you and the kitten spend a lot of time. Cats usually prefer a larger post that they can climb up and down. Some cats like wood or rope-wrapped posts instead of carpet. The more your kitten likes his post and the more he is encouraged to use it, the less he will scratch at the furniture or rugs. Use your squirt bottle if you see him scratching where he’s not supposed to.

To prevent chewing on cords or shoes, use unscented, roll-on antiperspirant on these items once or twice a week. Cats don’t like the drying, bitter taste and will soon shy away.

Try putting aluminum foil around your plant pots or lay sheets of it on counter tops or tables, especially when you can’t be home to use your squirt bottle! Cats don’t like the shiny, noisy foil and will generally avoid it. Many types of plants are poisonous to your pet, so it’s best to keep them all out of reach. Double sided sticky tape works well on couches and chairs – cats don’t like the sticky feel on their feet. Just peel the tape off when it’s no longer needed.

Be especially vigilant in the laundry and kitchen areas. Laundry soap and bleach are toxic when licked off a cat’s paws when they’ve walked through it. Many cats die each year after exploring the washing machine, taking a nap in the dryer, or jumping on or in a hot stove or oven. Cats are also good at learning how to open cabinet doors!

A collar and ID tag are a good idea, especially if your cat tries to escape outdoors. Use breakaway collars to prevent choking. Microchips are also available now to safely and permanently identify your cat if he or she becomes lost.

To prevent litter pan avoidance be sure the pan is easily accessible and in a quiet place where your cat will feel comfortable. If your house is large it is best to have more than one box.
We also recommend multiple litter pans with more than one cat in the household. Scoop the boxes daily and empty them completely once a week – many cats won’t use a dirty litter pan. Avoid heavily scented litters – cats don’t like perfume. Never physically punish a cat for going outside the litter box – they quickly learn to sneak and hide their accidents. Many times litter box avoidance is caused by a physical problem such as intestinal parasites, colitis or bladder infection. Any time a cat stops using its pan he or she should have a physical examination by a doctor.

If at any time you are having problems with the behavior of your cat, call us right away. Most behavior problems are easily treated if caught in time.

Additional handouts available upon request or on our website:

  • Kittens getting off to a good start
  • Keeping an indoor cat happy
  • Kitten play and investigative behaviors
  • Controlling undesirable behavior in cats
  • Feline scratching
  • Multi-cat household – the pros and cons