Kittens playing Bigstock
It always seemed to me that many of the problems people had with their cats was due to a misunderstanding of normal feline behavior and feline social needs. One result is that every year several million cats end up in shelters, and over a million of them are euthanized. Many of these cats are abandoned by their owners because of their behavior that the owners find unacceptable. These include aggression, urinating outside the litter box, scratching furniture, and others.
I wanted to keep more cats in their homes.
When I was a partner in a general veterinary practice, I devised and pioneered Puppy Preschool (puppy socialization and training classes) for many years. That led me to do my Masters Honors Degree looking at the short- and long-term benefits of these classes.
All the while, clients often asked when we were going to run similar classes for kittens. At the time we had many, many kittens looking for homes too. As one of my staff had also trained several cats for television commercials, I knew that cats can be trained even though many people don’t believe that is even remotely possible! So we started training and handling the kittens and we found that the ones we had trained to sit or come were easier to find homes for.
And so from our client’s questions and inspiration, Kitten Kindy® was born! (Yes, I’m Australian; we end many words that way, e.g. barby – barbecue.)
Kitten Kindy classes were designed to socialize kittens as well as to help owners understand normal feline behavior so they can start off life together on the right paw. It also aims to establish a close bond between the kitten, the owner, and the veterinary practice.
In general, the socialization period for felines is thought to end around seven weeks of age.
By six to eight weeks of age, kittens respond to visual and scent threats. At seven to eight weeks of age, they have developed good eye/paw coordination. Social play develops between six to 12 weeks of age. From week 14 and up, social fighting may start, so kittens should finish with Kitten Kindy classes by then. Although kittens should be no older than 14 weeks of age when they finish, that doesn’t mean owners with older cats do not or cannot benefit from the classes. Such owners are encouraged to come to class while leaving their cat at home.
The principal aims of Kitten Kindy are to:
- Socialize kittens
- Educate owners about normal feline behavior
- Teach owners how to interact and play with their kittens
- Train kittens to accept handling procedures
- Identify any problem behaviors and provide up-to-date, humane, and scientific advice
- Educate owners on all aspects of kitten development, pet care, and living with a cat in the family
Socialization has been defined as a special learning process where an animal learns to interact with and tolerate members of its own species as well as members of other species. This means that during this sensitive period of development in those early weeks of life, kittens need lots of contact not only with other kittens but also with humans.
Studies have shown that early handling of kittens in a gentle, non-threatening manner is important for their normal development.
Cats who have been actively socialized are more likely to be relaxed in unfamiliar situations and comfortable with changes in their environment and meeting new people. That includes going to the clinic!
Although puppy socialization classes have been around for a long time, kitten socialization classes are still relatively new, so finding one in your area might be difficult. Ask your veterinarian to consider starting one. If you can’t find one, ask your veterinarian to help you plan the right socialization experiences for your kitten that will help them become a confident cat. Kittens need to be wormed and started their vaccinations before attending class.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.