Raising Kittens

Kitten season is upon us! Shelters and rescues nationwide are inundated with kittens, sometimes as young as just a few days old. Newborn kittens take a lot of work to get off to a good start. Good Samaritans spend many hours daily caring for these kittens. Foster parents are often so tied up in caring for kittens’ physical needs that behavioral needs can take a back seat. However, with a little bit of forethought and planning, you can nurture good habits that will last a lifetime. Some things that kitten caregivers can do while raising kittens are preventing house soiling, encouraging appropriate socialization, and providing environmental enrichment.

Preventing House Soiling

Kittens in a litter boxMany people believe that cats are born knowing how to use the litter box. However, by not teaching our kittens to use the litter box appropriately, we can be setting them up for failure. House soiling is the most common reason that cats are surrendered to shelters and euthanized. How do we go about raising kittens so they can faithfully learn to use the litter box?

  • Provide litter boxes that are easy to get into and easy to find. Young kittens don’t seem to have specific preferences about where the box is located or what type of litter is used. Make finding and using the litter box an easy task by placing litter boxes in convenient areas.
  • Shy kittens may be frightened to use a litter box in a high-traffic area. Dogs, other cats, and noisy appliances can be seen as a barrier to the box. Place litter boxes in quiet areas.
  • Kittens are clean creatures! Many kittens will not use soiled litter boxes and will instead search for a clean, absorbent surface. Comforters, piles of clothing, empty bags, and boxes are frequently targeted. Cleaning the litter box daily is a good way to make sure they keep going in the right place.
  • When kittens can’t be supervised, they should be confined to cat-proofed areas with food, water, litter box, toys, and a scratching post.
Encouraging Appropriate Socialization

Kitten playing with a ballAn important part of raising kittens is socialization. Every cat will eventually encounter other people besides their owner, and will often share a home with another pet. The most sensitive period for feline socialization ends at about 7 weeks of age. After that, kittens may be less flexible about their living situation. Socialization should be fun (or at least neutral) and never scary! Give them tasty treats after the following activities:

  • Introduce kittens to adults and children.
  • Introduce kittens to cat-friendly dogs and healthy, social kittens and cats.
  • Practice handling, like being touched, bundled into a towel, having their nails clipped, and receiving medication.
  • Teach kittens that going into a carrier can be a good experience. If possible, leave an open carrier out in their environment to investigate. Place toys and treats into the carrier and allow them to explore it on their own time.
Providing Environmental Enrichment

When raising kittens, a rich environment is essential for healthy mental and physical development.

  • Offer kittens the opportunity to hunt by hiding food and toys in tunnels and boxes. Portions of meals can be placed into food-filled toys. Play is important for communication and bonding. People should play with kittens daily, but discourage chasing or batting at hands and feed. Redirect kittens towards appropriate interactive toys like mice attached to strings.
  • Reward-based training shows the kittens what we want them to do; punishment elicits fear and can lead to aggressive behavior. Did you know that cats can be clicker trained? By devoting just a few minutes a day to training, you can improve the kitten’s communication skills and increase their predictability.
  • By providing kittens with scratching posts, we can teach them appropriate scratching behavior at a young age. You can provide them a variety of scratching surfaces like wood, corrugated cardboard, and loosely woven carpet, in vertical and horizontal forms. Kittens often will scratch after waking up from a nap, so we can encourage their use by placing posts near resting places and in prominent locations.

Remember that kittens have short attention spans. Training sessions should be kept short and always end on a positive note. Setbacks are expected, so don’t be too hard on yourself (or your kitten). You are building a foundation that will last the kitten’s lifetime; they will be forever grateful! If you have any questions about raising kittens, feel free to call us and speak to one of our veterinarians.