Pet Info

Kitten Training and Play

This article appears courtesy of Dr Kim Kendall
East Chatswood Cat Clinic
329 Penshurst St. Willoughby NSW 2068
Ph 02 9417 6613 (24 hours)

The Perfectly Behaved Kitten

If only there were such a thing!

Everyone loves the 'play hunting' that kittens do, but not when their hands and legs are the objects hunted. Cats are very intelligent and very agile. During play a kitten or an adult cat is providing itself with mental and physical challenges and will make full use of its surroundings to do so.

Moving objects, particularly mouse-sized, and moving at rodent-speed will intensely attract your cat's attention. It will investigate new things on ground level or on elevated surfaces. Play allows a young animal to practice the skills they will need if they are to survive in the wild, and just because you are going to be the provider doesn't mean the kitten can bypass this stage.

Running, jumping, pouncing and hiding during play perfect the skills that may be needed later when hunting for food or escaping an enemy. Play gives you an opportunity to teach acceptable behaviour to your cat Avoid forms of play that encourage a cat's aggressiveness. No cat should learn that it is acceptable and fun to pounce on, grip, bite or scratch any part of a person's clothing or body.

Attacking fingers, or toes under the bedcovers, could lead to problems later; as what your kitten plays with now is what it will hunt when older: The cat's attention should be directed away from humans to a variety of toys for your cat to chase, such as light-weight balls or toys suspended from string or wire. That way your cat can perfect their attacks without risking injury to anyone. If your kitten continues to attack your person, and draw blood, you need to take preventative action.

Children should scream loudly and fall over- the over-dramatisation will tell the kitten they have hurt their friend, and they will be more gentle next time. Adults should 'hiss' at the kitten when they see it coming in attack mode (ears back. pupils dilated, body in a low crouch), or firmly 'scruff' it and then use 'time out' (for three minutes only) to interrupt the game. That way, the kitten learns the rules safely and does not grow up attacking and drawing blood when their teeth and claws can do real damage.

Young cats often appear to respond to some 'phantom' enemy during normal play. The pet may pause as if to listen or look at something and then race away. Some people believe that during such episodes the cat is reacting to an imagined object or intruder: It is also possible that the cat is responding to a real stimulus that people cannot detect.

Juvenile cats are usually very active, sometimes overwhelming their owners. Cats tend to be more active during evening and night-time hours and frequently disturb their owners' sleep. Cats are naturally crepuscular (more active at dawn and dusk) because their natural prey makes use of darkness as a cover: If your cat is exercised sufficiently before it gets to your bedtime, chances are good that you can change their time-clock for peak activity so it will gradually match yours. If your young cat tends to nap during the day, wake it up to play when you arrive home or make sure that some of the playtime is during daylight hours.

Though cats frequently seem to amuse themselves, they need additional social interaction with you, especially if they are kept indoors most of the time.

To increase your chances of sleeping through the night, play appropriate games with your cat and perhaps help with maintenance by brushing them, before retiring to bed. Provide a variety of interactive and attractive toys to entertain your cat so it is less likely to awaken you. Once you have gone to bed, consistently ignore your cat's attempts to get your attention and it will eventually stop disturbing you.

'Cat-proof' your home by removing or preventing access to valuable or hazardous objects that will attract your cat Install screens on windows to prevent accidental falls or intentional escapes. Cat will always 'go high'to investigate elevated surfaces (tabletops, mantel) in its territory so safeguard your valuables that may be accidentally destroyed while adventuring. If your cat damages items in certain areas, it may be necessary.

to close the door to that room. Another option to discourage your cat from returning to an area is to make it an unpleasant place to visit. Strips of sticky tape placed sticky side up are an unpleasant surprise for cats to step on, as are shallow baking trays filled with water: If your cat is destructive or harmful with its claws during play keep them well trimmed to reduce damage, but really it is a training issue.

Most young cat 'behavioural problems' are related to insufficient, inappropriate play compounded with very insistent hunting instincts. Give your kitten consistent rules (or get another feline as a friend to do it for you is even better) and everyone will enjoy the hunting game.