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.
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
Provides a resource should problems occur later
To boost confidence, and just plain fun for kittens and for people.1,2
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.
Week one curriculum:1,2,15
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
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
Feeding the cats
Pass the kitty
Kitten play session (at vet office in exam room)
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
Litter boxes (ready to be trashed or dumped if used)
Assorted scratching posts (handout on why not to declaw at http://www.stevedalepetworld.com)
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
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.
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).
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