Thursday, November 18, 2010
Socializing and Training Kittens
Written by Jennifer Evans, DVM
Kittens sure are fun! I have two, twelve week old kittens at home right now and I had forgotten how entertaining they could be! I had also forgotten how much work they can be! These two hooligans came to me as orphans at 3 weeks old, and I have put a lot of energy into socializing and raising them to be good feline citizens. Sometimes people think that kittens are easy to raise and puppies are the hard ones. While it’s true that puppies do tend to require more socialization and training than kittens, kittens definitely benefit from deliberate training and socialization. This can help prevent many behavior problems when they are adults.
One of the most important things to teach a kitten is how to play appropriately with people. Do not ever use your hands or feet to play with kittens, always use a toy. It can be cute (if a bit painful) when a tiny kitten is grabbing your hand and doing the ‘bunny kick’ with their hind legs, but it isn’t so cute when a 1 year old, 12 pound, grown cat does the same thing! Kittens have an abundance of energy and need safe ways to expend it. Having several 10-20 minute play sessions each day where they chase a laser pointer or other cat toy, will help wear them out and keep them happy. Providing self-entertaining toys as well will help keep them out of trouble when you are busy elsewhere. Kittens should be kept in a safe area when left alone; otherwise they can chew on electrical cords, destroy curtains and generally wreak havoc. A bathroom is a good place that is fairly easy to kitten-proof. It is not cruel for a kitten to spend the day in the bathroom while the people are at work, as long as the kitten gets plenty of attention and exercise the rest of the time. Kittens tend to make toys out of everything in the house, especially the more fragile things! Squirt bottles usually work pretty well to teach them what is acceptable to climb and play with, and what is not. They also work well to teach them when they are playing too rough or pouncing on walking feet!
Teaching kittens to accept nail trims by handling their feet and rewarding gradual step-by-step trimming will make life much easier when they are grown. Handling them and touching them all over in a calming way will also make it easier to handle them when they are adults. Taking kittens for car rides, and teaching them to enjoy it can help lessen the trauma later in life when they have to travel to the vet or elsewhere. Just be sure to put them in a carrier or other safely confining method when traveling. Visiting friends’ houses where they can interact with different people and surroundings can also help create a calm, mellow cat that can handle whatever life dishes out. While raising a kitten may not be as simple as just feeding and vaccinating them, the extra effort is well worth it when your feline friend is calm and unafraid as an adult!!