What to Look for When Adopting a Kitten

Oct 24, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Personal Opinion, Tips & Advice

The excitement surrounding the decision to bring a kitten into your household is only surpassed by the act itself. When choosing your kitten, some knowledge of kitten development or socialization will help you pick the best kitten for your family.

Socialization in kittens begins at 2-9 weeks of age. During this period gentle handling by people helps kittens build self- confidence, while learning to interact with other animals and people. This experience will carry over into other social situations throughout the cat’s life. If kittens have not been properly socialized, they are at increased risk to develop negative traits: They are more likely to be fearful of human contact and to be less able to adjust to unfamiliar situations. For example, a cat who is as gentle as a lamb at home, may become a ferocious tiger at the veterinary clinic.

When choosing a kitten, it is easy to be swayed by a beautiful coat, color or markings . It is also tempting to choose a kitten by sex. Yet, the most important trait is temperament. Here are a few guidelines to maximize a successful introduction and to prepare your newest member for a lifelong place in your family. Whether you adopt a kitten from a private family or shelter, or purchase a kitten from a pet store or breeder, it would be ideal if you could observe the kitten interact with its siblings. Kittens learn much from playing with each other.

The little mewing of “Ouch, you’re hurting me” as one kitten is chomping on another kitten’s ear, begins the feedback to learn what is too painful for play. Watch the kittens carefully: Which kittens are actively engaged in play with each other? When you meet them, who comes up to explore? If you pick up a kitten does it nuzzle into your arms, crawl up your shirt, or otherwise give indications that it is comfortable being held? These behaviors (exploration, play and a willingness to be held) indicate that the kitten has been well socialized.

Now the rest is up to you. Construct an environment in which your kitten will flourish. Teach your kitten the proper way to play. Do not use your hands as a toy. Having an eight or ten week old kitten chew on your fingers may seem harmless; the same behavior in an adult cat will be painful. Always hold something in your hand when playing, even if it is a pen, to reinforce that your body is not a plaything. Cat play is often aggressive. It is often initiated by one kitten leaping up and biting another and running away in hopes of being pursued. This is how your kitten expects you to behave when it begins a game of “ankle attack” as you walk down the hallway. Do not respond: have a toy to redirect his attention. Schedule regular play time. Keep in mind that cats are nocturnal. Many of our feline friends get what I call the “ten o’clock crazies” – just when you are ready for sleep, 15 minutes of energetic play in the late evening will help defuse potential kitten trouble and let you get a good night’s sleep.

Take your kitten for rides in the car in its carrier. This will expand his confidence by making the carrier and the car familiar parts of his routine instead of the vehicle whose only purpose is to transport him from the safety and security of home to anxiety and unfamiliarity of the veterinarian’s office. Carriers should be brought out on a regular basis to be explored with no imminent trip scheduled. Place treats in the back of the carrier, leave the door open and walk away. What a pleasant surprise as the kitten explores the “new space” and discovers it contains treasures. When the time comes for a veterinary visit, the carrier and the car will be tranquil extensions of home which will allow the kitten to arrive in a secure state of mind. These kitten visits are good times to make sure your new family member is growing well both physically and emotionally. They also offer you the opportunity to ask questions and receive professional guidance

Nevertheless, kittens or cats who have not had good early socialization, can be guided along the path to a healthy happy relationship with the humans in their lives. Those strategies will be discussed in my next blog post.

Dr Kathleen Keefe Ternes

Dr. Kathleen Keefe Ternes grew up in western Massachusetts. She received an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1974; a BS degree in 1978 and a DVM in 1979 from Michigan State University. Dr. Keefe Ternes returned home to New England in April 1980. In 1984, she achieved one of her professional goals by opening The Feline Hospital in Salem, MA. . Dr. Keefe Ternes, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), initially certified as a companion animal specialist in 1990. She became certified as a feline specialist in 2000 and recertified in 2010. Dr. Keefe Ternes is a member of AAFP, the AVMA, the MVMA, and her local organization, the Veterinary Association of the North Shore (VANS). Her involvement in organized medicine includes having been a past president of VANS and current member of the board of directors. She is also a case reviewer for the ABVP and recently joined the Feline Welfare Committee of the AAFP.

Dr. Keefe Ternes lives in Salem with her husband and two college age daughters. Her two senior cats Toby and Petunia keep her on her toes medically.

The Feline Hospital
81 Webb St
Salem, MA 01970

Phone: 978-744-8020
Email: thefelinehospital@gmail.com

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