KITTEN KINDERGARTEN: Basic manners for kittens and their people
Teaching your kitten how to:
• Use the litter box
• Play gently
• Have safe and healthy habits
Welcome to parenthood! You and your kitten are about to experience a major life change together. The more patient and flexible you are, the more easily you and Tiger will adjust to each other. But the most important part of teaching Tiger good manners is to try and look at the world from a kitten’s point of view.
Kittens are babies – physically, emotionally, and mentally immature. They’re also busy growing, changing, and picking up clues about the world they live in.
They can’t learn overnight the difference between appropriate behavior and what is naughty or dangerous. But they can begin to learn, just as young children can absorb information and language before they actually use them.
Your kitten wants to be with you, seeking a loving caretaker who will provide the same nurturing and lessons of a mother cat. Now you’re the mom, so go ahead and teach!
Tiger plays too roughly with me, using sharp teeth and claws.
Tiger does need opportunities for rough play, but you shouldn’t be the victim! Never encourage rough play with a person’s hands or feet.
When wrestling with another kitten or cat, this kind of play would be accepted until it hurt the playmate. Then a sharp hiss, a swat, and “time-out” would send the message loud and clear just how much rough stuff is appropriate.
You can teach your kitten to play gently using the same methods:
Use slow, gentle movements whenever you touch a kitten. If Tiger becomes overly excited and bites or claws, you should freeze and firmly say “NO!” or hiss. Slowly and gently withdraw your hand. Ignore the kitten for at least five minutes to allow Tiger to calm down.
Don’t shout. It isn’t necessary and it’s frightening. Eye contact and a firm, deep voice are much more effective.
Give Tiger plenty of opportunities for wrestling with a kitten-sized soft toy or rolled sock (or a cat or kitten buddy!).
Keep Tiger indoors with plenty to keep a kitten’s mind and body occupied. A bored kitten is much more likely to be a problem child, anti- social and destructive.
Cats are athletes and need opportunities to jump, climb, and run…safely! Cats also love to watch. Window sills are “natural TV,” with birds squirrels, and breeze in the branches to watch. (Check that windows and screens are secure.)
I Want My Kitten to Use the Litter Box
Kittens naturally seek a place to neatly deposit and bury their waste. Your job is to provide Tiger with a proper way to follow that instinct.
Select a large, plastic litter box with sides low enough for the kitten to climb in and out. Provide one box for every cat in the household.
Avoid litters and litter additives with heavy deodorizers or perfumes which may offend Tiger’s sensitive nose and cause your cat to reject the litter box. To help absorb odors, try adding a handful of baking soda to the bottom of the box.
Cover the bottom of the box with two or three inches of plain cat litter or scoopable sand litter. Too much litter will just be wasted and may actually frighten some kittens when their feet sink.
Keep the litter box clean by removing wastes at least once every day; twice is better. At least once a week, dump the litter into a strong garbage bag (not your toilet) and dispose of it. Wash the box with hot soapy water, rinse and dry it well, and add fresh litter.
Place the litter box in a private, easy-access/ easy-escape location. Avoid places in high-traffic areas or too near your cat’s food or bed. Tiger prefers privacy, not a parade, around this important place.
Escort Tiger to the litter box four or five times a day for the first few days in your home. Set the kitten onto the litter and step away to give some privacy. Praise Tiger warmly for using the box or even just for digging.
Ideal opportunities for these reminders are when Tiger wakes up from naps, about ten minutes after meals, and after heavy play sessions.
If Tiger appears confused or nervous, make light digging motions in the litter with your fingers. Never scold or force the kitten to remain in the box. If Tiger associates the litter box with negative, frightening experiences – loud noises and voices or aggression – the kitten may avoid the litter box entirely.
I Want My Kitten to be Affectionate With my Family and Confident with Visitors
Kittens have individual personalities, just like people, and will show affection in their own ways. Many cats are uncomfortable being held, but will sit happily in a lap for hours. Some prefer to cuddle up beside their person whenever possible.
With this in mind, kittens can and should be taught to be confident and relaxed with people:
Never force Tiger into the hands of strangers. Ask visitors to follow basic cat-manners: let the cat come to you. Especially for a shy cat or kitten, encourage floor-level greetings.
Emotional stimulation is important: that means holding, cuddling, petting, grooming, and talking…but not too much. Don’t wear the kitten out, and respect the need for rest and privacy.
This is especially difficult to enforce with young children around, but an over-handled kitten could end up a stressed, antisocial cat.
Provide creature comforts to boost self- confidence. Warm places to curl up, perches to watch you from above, access to safe window sills, and at least one private place to hide…all help your cat relax and feel good about your home.
Groom Tiger regularly to help your kitten become accustomed to being handled. Long-haired cats need daily grooming sessions, and short-haired cats need a weekly brushing or combing. Always brush in the direction the hair grows.
Include a quick ear and mouth inspection (ask your veterinarian what to look for) and routine nail care (see SmartHeart pamphlet on claws). Help your kitten think of grooming as an excuse for extra attention and stroking; those sessions can be relaxing quality time for you both.
Routine is important to cats; they want to know what to expect. Make a schedule for feeding, litter box duty, and grooming. Decide who will be responsible for each job and make sure each task is performed as scheduled.
I Want my Kitten to Eat Right, but not be a Finicky Cat
It’s important to establish a routine for feeding your kitten. Feed Tiger at the same time and in the same place every day. Scheduled meals help you know how much Tiger eats and that the food is always fresh. In addition, making food available at all times (“free feeding”) may encourage overeating and obesity.
A high-quality dry food contains everything a cat needs, and the crunching helps to keep Tiger’s teeth clean, but you will need to make sure Tiger gets enough water every day. Canned cat food contains more water and makes a nice treat, but don’t allow your kitten to decide what and when to eat.
Feed Tiger a dry food meant for kittens, containing a balanced diet with the extra nutrition needed for healthy growth. Your veterinarian can recommend the right food and amounts to feed your growing kitten.
A kitten under ten weeks old may need to have a little warm water added to dry kitten food to moisten it and help tiny baby teeth chew.
Don’t feed Tiger table scraps, raw meat, bones, or dog food…you’ll have a begging, stealing, unhealthy cat! Even canned tuna destroys vitamins a cat’s body needs for good health. And tuna is addictive!
Provide a water bowl and keep the water fresh and clean. Get into the habit of emptying, rinsing, and changing the water bowl daily. A clean water bowl will help keep Tiger away from vases, sinks, and toilets.
Kittens over six weeks old do not need milk. For the cat or kitten who truly craves dairy products, ask your veterinarian if a half teaspoon of milk or a tiny piece of cheese occasionally is acceptable as a treat. More will cause diarrhea in most cats.
I Want my Kitten to be Safe and Healthy
Give your kitten a long, safe life with common sense and regular visits to your veterinarian.
Keep your home kitten-proof: any way that a toddler could get into trouble goes double for Tiger! Small objects that could be swallowed, toxic substances (medications, cleaning supplies, etc.), or breakables should be safely stored in cabinets with cat-proof doors.
String and yarn are not safe toys for kittens and cats! They can be swallowed and cause serious internal damage. Check toys for insecure strings, sharp edges, and any glued-on parts that could be swallowed.
If you don’t want Tiger jumping on counters or tables, teach that lesson early. “Booby trap” surfaces that are off-limits. Double-sided tape or foil feel unpleasant to Tiger’s feet and the kitten will soon learn that it’s more fun to stay off of those surfaces.
Digging in house plants can be discouraged by covering the dirt with medium to large rocks, pine cones, or small-mesh wire. Plant chewing is a much more serious problem; many house plants are toxic to cats. The safest plan is to prevent any problems by placing all plants out of reach. Since Tiger is skillful at climbing and jumping, that means VERY out of reach, preferably hung from the ceiling.
When Tiger is six to eight weeks old, it’s time for the first visit to the veterinarian for a check-up and vaccinations. Kitten vaccinations are usually given in a series of three visits. All of these vaccinations should be repeated annually, along with an annual physical examination (see SmartHearts pamphlet on cat health).
Have Tiger spayed or neutered as early as possible, usually between six and eight months old. A spayed or neutered cat will be healthier, better behaved, and will live longer.
Fleas and other parasites are part of living with pets, but they don’t have to be a threat to you or to Tiger if you take the proper precautions. Even a strictly indoor cat can have a flea problem…you bring them in! Fleas can make your cat very ill: they irritate the skin, carry tapeworms, and can make Tiger anemic, lowering the kitten’s resistance to disease.
So treat your home with sprays, powders, or foggers. Vacuum your floors and upholstery thoroughly and often. Use a flea comb as part of your grooming sessions, and protect Tiger with safe, high-quality products. Be a label-reader – some flea-fighting products are dangerous for cats and/or kittens and their labels will say so; ask your veterinarian. Labels can also help you know what products you use are safe when used together.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE FOR THE FAMILY WHO WANTS A HAPPY, HEALTHY KITTEN:
While a family pet offers children a wonderful opportunity to learn about responsibility and caring, regular pet-care duties must be carefully supervised by an adult.
Children forget. The responsibility for Tiger’s care and safety is that of the adults in your home. Tiger is not a toy or a privilege to be used as a bargaining chip between child and parent.
The relationship between your kitten and your child will be strengthened by your respect for Tiger’s needs and feelings. Teach by example that Tiger is an important family member, not a toy to be neglected and tossed away when no longer new. What better way to teach responsibility?
We hope that your kitten will be a member of your family for a long time. Indoor cats with responsible people can now live fifteen to twenty years!
This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.
The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.
The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.