Tagged with " socialization"

Tips for Adopting a Stray Cat

Feb 2, 2014 by     6 Comments    Posted under: Behavior, Personal Opinion, Tips & Advice

It is easy to welcome a well socialized kitten into your home, but what about an abandoned kitten or a hungry stray cat who adopts you? Kittens (or cats) who have not had good early socialization can be guided along the path to a healthy happy relationship with people. Behavior is shaped by two opposing forces. One is repetition: each time we respond to a certain stimulus in a certain way, we are more likely to respond the same way in the future. The opposite force is extinction: the longer we go without repeating a behavior, the less likely we are to act the same way. For example, the more frequently you walk by a doughnut shop without stopping,the less likely it is that you will stop. These two principles will guide our behavior modification strategy as we integrate a new cat into our family.

It is helpful to view these felines as having low self-esteem and needing a wide personal space. Because of minimal or non-existent past socialization, these felines are always on high alert. When a person or animal enters that cat’s personal space, its defensive neurons prepare to fire. In the opposite situation, if we allow the cat to enter our personal space, the defensive neurons are subdued. Over time, if those neurons do not fire, the behavior they elicit ( e.g. running away, hissing, scratching) will be eliminated. Although, it is counterintuitive, the best way to make a cat feel safe is to ignore it. Do not make direct eye contact. Staring can be seen as a threat. Allow the cat to come to you for attention. When it feels secure, the cat will begin to join your social group, first by sitting at the periphery or choosing to come into the room. Gradually the kitty will get closer to you, perhaps sitting on one end of the sofa while the you sit at the other. One day the cat will sit next to you. Even then , for the first few times resist the urge to reach out and pat him. He may begin to rub his scent on you, thereby making you familiar to him. The same logic should be followed when you are standing. Once comfortable, you may be graced with a happy cat weaving in and out and rubbing up against your legs. Resist the temptation to reach down. ( We’ve all done that with a hunger aroused cat, only to be feel the claws against our skin!)

Monitor the cat’s level of socialization by observing his sleeping pattern. It is not uncommon for a client to note that a newly adopted cat will get up on the bed once the person is asleep, when cat knows he is safe from unwanted attention, and depart as soon as the person wakes up. At first the kitty will sleep at the end of the bed in case he needs to make a fast exit. Gradually he will come closer to sleep near or next to this now less threatening human.

When adopting a cat whose early life was not one of security and comfort, it is best to see things through the cat’s eyes. In the wild, cats are hunters for their food, but also prey for many other species. From that perspective, in your home, you are viewed as a predator and the cat is in alien territory. Ask yourself what would make the house a more welcoming environment? One solution would be provide multiple hiding spaces at different heights for escape during times of sensory overload. A threatened cat will go to a place in which he feels secure to process all the incoming information. Place food dishes in multiple places for the same reason- giving the kitty many options to sneak out and eat. The same logic is true for litter boxes. Use more than one box and place them far apart so he can establish safe routes to them. Creating a “safe room”, e.g. a spare bedroom where no other animals are allowed to enter, for a cat is also an option- with food, water, litter pan, and resting places- that he can call his own

The physical environment is not the only one to modify to help a less confident cat or kitten become well integrated into your family. A cat’s senses are much more acute than ours. Two more questions arise as you welcome this feline into your home are. What does my house sound like? What does my house smell like? Cats can hear higher frequencies even into the ultrasonic range. They can hear sounds 2.5 octaves higher than either people or dogs, have movable ears which allow them to pinpoint location of sounds. Their hearing is approximately 10x as sensitive compared to humans. Imagine what loud music sounds like to a cat! Even the noise of everyday life can be jarring; another reason why cats, are inclined to be nocturnal. The cat’s sense of smell is also markedly different than ours- they have 20 times the olfactory cells that people do. Many things we think smell good, cats find repulsive- citrus is one good example. It is best to keep the air clean. Avoid using scented candles, room air fresheners, potpourri.

The poorly socialized cat has a large hurdle to overcome. Because he responds to human contact the way he learned to survive outdoors, the cat may become labeled as unfriendly, mean, or nasty. It takes a great deal of patience, understanding, and time to convince a cat with this background that he will be loved and is being given a secure, comforting home. The reward however is great. Ask anyone who has welcomed a neglected cat or kitten into their home.

It makes a heart sing to see a previously scared, wide-eyed, ears back kitty ask for head bumps or curl up contentedly purring in one’s lap.

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

thefelinehospital.com | Profile Page | Directions

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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

thefelinehospital.com | Profile Page | Directions

More PostsWebsite

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