Lately it seems everywhere we look folks are sharing adorable kittens for adoption – grey ones, black ones, tuxedo ones…
We follow many animal shelters and rescues, and they are overflowing with kittens of all kinds. If you, like us, have caught “kitten fever” and are considering a new family member – Read On! Our veterinary behavior specialist, Dr. Leslie Sinn, DACVB has helped us with our blog entry this week and shares great tips for integrating a new kitten into your home so he or she is happy, healthy and confident.
Dr. Sinn sees clients in our TLC West building and helps many pets – from kittens to horses with behavior issues and has a wealth of experience to share. She’s given talks on Cat Behavior Myths and Enrichment for Pets at several local pet events, we’re pleased she could contribute to the blog!
For more information about Dr. Sinn please visit – behaviorsolutions.guru
Suggestions for Socializing Your Kitten
Bringing home a kitten is a big change for you, your family and your kitten. There are many things to keep in mind to have a healthy pet. Of importance, but often overlooked, is proper socialization. Socialization basically means introducing your kitten to her new world and everyone and everything in it in a way that your kitten loves! Here are some key points to keep in mind to help your kitten blossom socially and become a beloved member of your family.
The socialization period is very early for kittens. It takes place between 3-7 weeks of age and is best explained as that window in time when kittens learn about people, places and things in their environment. They learn by doing-we are all familiar with and love this endearing, interactive andexploratory period in our kittens’ lives. Once this period has passed, new objects, animals and people can be fear and stress provoking causing a strong fight or flight response in your kitten, therefore we want to take advantage of this period of behavioral flexibility to help to develop kittens that are socially adept.
In order to ensure that our kittens are at ease with their environment and the things and people in it, it is essential that they be exposed early on. For example, if you want your kitten to be okay with handling, then she should be handled not just by you but by a variety of people of different ages, genders and nationalities. If you want you kitten to be happy in a cat carrier, then the carrier should be introduced early on and used as a safe place and feeding location. See the wonderful video CatalystCouncil’s Cats & Carriers Friends not Foes. If you want your kitten to get along with other cats and dogs, then she needs early exposure to kitten-friendly animals.
As little as 5 minutes of handling of kittens per day can significantly increase friendly behavior directed towards people (Karsh & Turner 1998) so it doesn’t need to take a lot of time, just acommitment to daily, targeted interaction.
Training is another way to help increase friendliness and cooperation. Positive reinforcement trainingprovides the best results with cats. Karen Pryor’s book Getting Started: Clicker Training Your Cat is a great how to guide. Basic skills including harness training and entering a carrier voluntarily. Avoid the use of punishment. Punishment always has unwanted fallout and cats are prone to developing fearfuland/or aggressive behavior directed at the punisher, so don’t use it!!
Kitten socialization classes may be another option. Although just catching on in the United States, “Kitty Kindergarten” is a concept developed by Australian veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Kersti Seksel. The classes are design to provide owners with basic information on kitten behavior and health while providing the kittens themselves with a chance to meet and greet other kittens and their people.
Although you want to safeguard your kitten’s health, once they have had their first set of shots and havebeen checked for parasites, they should be ready to explore, mix and mingle. Don’t make the mistake ofbeing over-protective and isolating your kitten. Remember, they must be out and about in order to learn how to calmly interact with their environment, people and things. Tailor the experience to your kitten. The interactions MUST be enjoyable for her so that she forms POSITIVE associations with the people, places and things she will need to negotiate throughout her life.
Scheduled for publication this fall, Decoding Your Cat edited by Dr. Horwitz and written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is written with the cat parent in mind. Keep your eye out for this valuable reference on cat and kitten behavior.
Bear in mind that changes in behavior are often due to underlying medical problems so if your kitten isnot behaving as it should, don’t wait, ask your veterinarian for help. Common concerns such as house- soiling and aggression are symptoms and often signal a problem such as a urinary tract infection and pain. Don’t ignore behavioral problems-seek help sooner rather than later. Your kitten will thank you!
Dr. Leslie Sinn, DACVB Specialist in Behavior P.O. Box 116 Hamilton, VA 20159
Visit us at tlcvets.com for more information about our team of veterinarians and the equipment, diagnostics, and treatments we have available day and night.
Our phone number is – 703-777-5755 and we are located on Fort Evans Rd. across the street from the outlet mall. 165 Fort Evans Rd. NE Leesburg, VA 20176
Look for our building, so you are familiar with the location! It may save you time if your pet needs us.
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