Kitty-K Notes
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2007
Steve Dale

Steve Dale teaches kitten classes in Chicago, and has been talking about socialization for kittens at veterinary conferences for several years. He's a graduate of the North American Veterinary Conference Post Graduate Institute, where he first learned about those classes. He's a syndicated newspaper columnist, and is the host of three radio shows. Among his many awards, the American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award and he's been honored by his colleagues for Best pet newspaper column several times. He's certified in feline (and canine) behavior by International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. His website: http://www.stevedalepetworld.com.

Introduction

Classes for kittens are, in part, based on Guidelines created by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.1,38 If puppies can attend kindergarten, why not kittens? Just as socializing dogs saves lives, the same turns out to be true for cats.2 For one thing, people are more likely to tote their cats to a vet's office if they're willing subjects. The classes are an effective method for kitties to be desensitized to their carriers, to strange people even to dogs. Getting out in the world is enriching! When it comes down to it, puppy classes are about teaching people--same is true here, and topics included are why de-claw is not necessary and litter box 101. What's more, you can train a cat to do things; the benefits of clicker training for cats are discussed.

Veterinary behaviorists endorse kitten socialization classes.1,2,3,4 These classes were created about a decade ago in Australia by veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kersti Seksel.

Cats visit the veterinarian less than half as often as dogs, yet there are 20 per cent more dogs than cats in America.5

 Fear of the carrier

 Fear of car ride

 Fear of strange places, smells, sounds

Also, people may feel cats are more independent, and therefore, somehow don't require medical attention.6

More cats are abandoned or relinquished to shelters than dogs; more cats are abused than dogs.7 I believe even though there are more felines than canines--it's a good thing cats are have nine lives, they are somehow second-hand citizens.

There are just over 60 million dogs, and over 70 million owned pet cats in America, AVMA.5 (90 million cats and 70 million dogs according to the American Pet Product Manufacturer's Association.8)

It seems logical that if cats are acclimated to their carriers, to cars, and to the veterinary clinic--they are more likely to receive a more efficient exam, without a veterinarian doing a 'best guess' of blood work (for diabetes and kidney disease), detecting a heart murmur and getting a baseline for pulse and/or blood pressure. Fractious cats just can't possibly get the kind of thorough exam as calm cats asking to be petted.

For sure, what's most important--being positively predisposed to go to the vet office will get more cats into see veterinarians. The impact on their health is then undeniable. Ideally, all pets should visit their veterinarians twice annually for wellness exams.

Socialization period of cats:1

 4 weeks: Social play begins

 5 weeks: Predatory behavior starts

 6 weeks: Object and locomotory play starts

 6-7 weeks: Adult like locomotion

 9 to 14 weeks: Social play peaks

 16 weeks: Object and locomotory play peaks/territoriality may begin

Socialization is not about play. Socialization is learning to tolerate members of one's own species as well as members of other species.

Value of Kitty Classes

Behavioral enrichment. I'm glad that increasingly cats are indoors.9 But we have a nation of brain dead fat cats.

At least 30 to 40 per cent of pets are overweight; 25 per cent obese--and even greater number in cats.10,11,12 These tubby tabbies likely have:

 Change in metabolism

 Significant health issues

Kitty classes save lives!

 Cats must be vet checked before enrolling38

 They are desensitized to the carrier

 Desensitized to travel

 Desensitized to strange people, species (canines)

 Learn about proper care--which may enhance health, such as clipping nails, brushing their coats and brushing teeth

 Prevent behavior problems, before they occur

 Understand what is normal cat behavior

 Subtle signs of illness6,37

 Feline heartworm35,36,39

 Provides a resource should problems occur later

 To boost confidence, and just plain fun for kittens and for people.1,2

Dispel Myths

 Cats are not anti-social, albeit they are independent but social.13,14,21

 Cats can be trained2,19,20. You train cats to enhance the animal/owner bond, not for the same practical reasons as you may a dog.

Curriculum

Week one curriculum:1,2,15

 Introduction/Handouts

 Video on cat training from Steve Dale

 Keep cats indoors/environmental enrichment

 Pass the kitty

 Leash and harness--how cats can be safe outdoors

 Kitty play session

 Demo of nail clipping

 Brushing cat demo

 Clicker training explanation/demo

 Pass the kitty (at vet office in an exam room)

 Kitty play session

 Questions

Week two curriculum:1,2,15

 Clicker show 'n tell

 Bring out the dogs

 How to play with cats

 Kitty play session

 Introduction of dogs

 Litter box 101

 Pass the kitty

 Scratching posts talks and demo

 Tooth brushing demo

 Pilling demo

 Feeding the cats

 Pass the kitty

 Kitten play session (at vet office in exam room)

 Questions

Class Rules, General Class Information1,2

 Kittens must be vet checked with a signed health certificate.

 Only kittens 8 to 14 weeks of age, according to Dr. Seksel. I take kittens up to 15 weeks.

 Do not feed kittens within a few hours before class

 Carrier desensitization handout is emailed or Faxed before attending first of two classes. (Handout is at http://www.stevedalepetworld.com)

 Purchase leash and harness

 Purchase toothbrush (for pets)

 Health Certificate1,2,6,35,36,36,37,38,39 is at http://www.stevedalepetworld.com

Instructor provides:1,2

 Litter boxes (ready to be trashed or dumped if used)

 Clickers

 Assorted toys

 Assorted scratching posts (handout on why not to declaw at http://www.stevedalepetworld.com)

 Feliway diffuser

 Indoor garden

Why Do We Play Pass the Kitty

To sensitize the kitties to handling by strangers, and therefore have them be more accepting on vet exams, and even by owners who should examine their pets at home. Cats, in particular, are subtle about presenting signs of illness.6 Also, they will be acclimated to being handled by relative strangers, such as pet sitters or kids visiting your own children, for example.

Cats handled frequently at younger ages benefit physically, and also 'emotionally,' showing less fear and greater confidence and friendliness.16

Age Appropriateness1

 3 to 9 weeks, human contact and handling very important, even necessary

 Less than 12 weeks, handling and routine restraining

 7 to 12 weeks social play

 Over 14 weeks, learn to play fight

 We point out what is normal kitten behavior, and how cats signal/communicate17,18,21.

 We point out how cats learn20,22,23,24

 We encourage children in the class (under 8-years must have a second adult present)2

 Teach how to scratch in all the right places1,21,25,26,27,28 "Think Twice Before you Declaw" download from www.stevedalepetworld.com29

 We teach 'Litter Box 101' 1,30,31,32, 33,34

 Other topics include--but aren't limited to feline aggression, introducing a new cat, shy cats, etc.

Training Cats: Why Bother20

 Appropriate outlets for excess energy

 Better understanding, communication between humans and feline

 Exercise for the mind (as well as physical exercise)

 Learning begets learning--they learn to learn

If people better understand their kitties, and enhance their bond--perhaps they will be less likely to relinquish their cats if something does go wrong.

One quarter of pet owners with one or more cats statistically also have a dog.5,8 This is why we introduce cat friendly dogs into the class. Barking is actually a good thing so they are desensitized to the sound. However, too much--an overload of sound and/or handling (particularly if a kitty is already somewhat stressed) is not a good thing, and is too stressful.2

Where Classes Are Held

Advantages and disadvantages to holding classes in various locations, from veterinary offices (where they are exposed to that cold exam table, but finding enough kitties to participate from one practice may be impractical) to a dog wash to a bank.

Requirements for the location:

 Sanitary--cleaned if there were previous cats at the location, but the hope is that there were none

 Closed door--so kitties don't run off

 Size appropriate, too large a space offers kitties too much freedom; too small may not allow for chairs for people to comfortably sit

Marketing/Promotion of Classes

Without kitties, you have no class. Two or three minimum, with six to eight maximum. One veterinarian encourages clients by offering a rebate. You can work with a shelter, so when they adopt out kitties your class is mentioned. In return, any press attention is shared with that shelter. Print flyers. Send out press releases.

Enrollees must sign a waiver indicating their likeness may be used in the media.

References

Websites

1.  American Association of Feline Practitioners "Feline Behavior Guidelines" www.aafponline.org

2.  National Pet Wellness Month: www.npwm.com

3.  Healthy Cats for Life: www.catwellness.org

4.  American Heartworm Society: www.heartwormsociety.org

5.  Detailed Curriculum, Class Rules, Sample Health Certificate, Legal Release for Media Coverage, List of Favored Additional Resources/References, sample fliers and press releases are all available at www.stevedalepetworld.com (click on Kitty-K tab).

Cited References

1.  Feline Behavior Guidelines, American Association of Feline Practitioners (2005).

2.  Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Press, Flemington Victoria Australia, (2001), pgs. 39-41.

3.  Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, (1997), pg. 50.

4.  Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Dr. Lowell Ackerman, Saunders, New York, NY (1997), pgs. 39-45

5.  U.S, Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, American Veterinary Medical Association, (2002).

6.  Dr. James Richards, director Cornell Feline Health Center, at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY, My Pet World syndicated newspaper column, Steve Dale, (August, 2006)

7.  ASPCA, Facts About Animal Sheltering, (2002/2003)

8.  American Pet Product Manufacturers Association National Pet Ownership Survey, 2005/2006.

9.  American Bird Conservancy (August 1997) by Marketing and Research Resources, Inc.

10. Therapeutic Exercise and Weight Management, American Animal Hospital Association, 2005.

11. Diet and Weight Control, http://www.healthypet.com (AAHA site).

12. Purina® Study Confirms Link Between Body Fat and Certain Health Conditions, 2003.

13. Social Organization in the Cat: A Modern Understanding, Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, Dr. Terry Curtis, Dr. Rebecca Knowles, Journal of Medicine Feline Medicine and Surgery, 2004, 6, 19-28.

14. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, (1997), pgs. 45-47.

15. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Dr. Lowell Ackerman, Saunders, New York, NY (1997), pg. 42

16. E.B. Karsh The Effects of Early Handling on the Development of Social Bonds Between Cats and People, "New Perspectives in Our Lives with Companion Animals," University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (1983), pgs. 22-28.

17. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, (1997), pgs. 66.76.

18. Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Press, Flemington Victoria Australia, (2001), pgs. 9-12.

19. Think Like A Cat, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Press, New York, NY, (2000). pgs. 100-101.

20. Clicker Training for Cats, Karen Pryor, Sunshine Books, Waltham, MA, (2001).

21. Social Behavior Communication and Development of Behavior in the Cat, Sharon Crowell Davis, "BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine," British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Gloucester, England, pgs. 21-29 (2002).

22. Training Your Cat, Dr. Kersti Seksel, Hyland House Press, Flemington Victoria Australia, (2001), pgs. 29-35.

23. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Dr. Lowell Ackerman, Saunders, New York, NY (1997), pgs. 91-116

24. Dr. Bonnie Beaver, Modifying A Cat's Behavior, Veterinary Medicine Small Animal Clinic, 76:1281-1283 (1981),

25. Think Like A Cat, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Press, New York, NY, (2000). pgs. 89-90, 185-192.

26. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Dr. Lowell Ackerman, Saunders, New York, NY (1997), pgs. 342-345.

27. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, (1997), pgs. 153, 251-254.

28. Pet Behavior Protocols, Susanne Hetts, American Animal Hospital Association, Lakewood, CO (1999) pgs. 63, 65-68, 213, 233.

29. Think Twice Before You Declaw, Steve Dale, Dr. Lore Haug, Dr. Ilona Rodan, Beth Adelman, at http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/.

30. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall, Mosby, St. Louis, MO, (1997), pgs. 160-171.

31. Think Like A Cat, Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Press, New York, NY, (2000), pgs. 151, 153-181, 198, 227, 274.

32. House Soiling by Cats, Dr. Debra Horwtiz, "BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine" British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Gloucester, England, pgs.97-108 (2002).

33. Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, Dr. Lowell Ackerman, Saunders, New York, NY (1997), pgs. 376-377.

34. Pet Behavior Protocols, Susanne Hetts, American Animal Hospital Association, Lakewood, CO (1999) pgs. 63-65, 203-208, 215-2-223.

35. American Heartworm Society, http://www.heartwormsociety.org/FelineHeartwormInfo.htm approved by the Executive Board of the American Heartworm Society (Dr. Charles Thomas Nelson, Dr. Donald W. Doiron; Dr. John W. McCall; Dr. Sheldon B. Rubin; Dr. Lynn F. Buzhardt; Dr. Wallace Graham; Dr. Susan L. Longhofer, Dr. Jorge Guerrero, Dr. Carol Robertson-Plouch; Dr. Allan Paul)

36. http://www.vetmed.auburn.edu/distance/cardio/, Dr. Ray Dillon

37. American Association of Feline Practitioners, "Healthy Cats for Life" www.aafponline.org, www.catwellness.org

38. American Association of Feline Practitioners 2006 Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report, http://www.aafponline.org

39. World Veterinary Conference Proceedings, 2003, Feline Heartworm, Dr. Clarke Atkins; https://www.vin.com/proceedings/Proceedings.plx?CID=WSAVA2003&PID=6533&Category=978&O=Generic

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Steve Dale


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