DEVELOPMENTAL STAGES OF KITTEN BEHAVIOUR
Kittens will learn off their mother – calm cats most often have calm kittens. Handle the kittens often but always with care and make the experience as calm and delightful as possible. The brain continues to develop until 7 weeks of age and skills not acquired in the first 8 weeks may be lost forever.
The cat is an inquisitive creature that is receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kittenhood. Most cats are not considered to be full adults in body and mind until they are 2 years of age.
The general guideline for kitten development is as follows.
Neonatal 0 – 2 weeks
Kitten orients towards sound, eyes open within 2 weeks. Competition for rank and territory begins by 2nd week. If the cat is separated from its mother then it leads to poor learning skills and aggression towards people and other animals (including other cats).
Socialisation: 3 to 7 weeks
Smell develops by the 3rd week. Hearing is now full developed by end of 4th week. Can walk fairly well. play activity has commenced and teeth are starting to erupt by end of 4th week.
By the 5th week they can run, stalk, pounce and catch prey. Will now be grooming themselves and grooming other kittens.
By the 7th week they are starting to develop social play patterns and start to explore the world on their own.
Play period: 7 to 14 weeks
Social and object play is important. Leads to good physical and social skills. Most learning is done by observation of others especially their mother.
By the 12th week they can chase, pounce, leap, toss objects and generally have full social skills.
Ranking period: 3 to 6 months
Dominant and submissive behaviour starts to develop between the kitten and animals in the same environment – including the owmer.
Adolescence: 6 to 18 months
Heightened exploration of dominance including challenging humans. If not desexed with start sexual behaviour
The best time to train and adjust the animal to your environment and your family after the 7 weeks mark but before the 12 week mark. This is the time when the animal will “learn” easily and habits and dominance is set up that will remain with the cat for the rest of its life.
Remember that fear is also learnt during this period and can also affect the animal for the rest of its life
WHAT DOES CAT TRAINING INVOLVE?
- Start as early as possible before the problems become ingrained
- You need to demonstrate to the animal when the behaviour is acceptable (with treats etc) as well as being unacceptable.
- Try not to include yourself when punishing the cat so the animal does not develop an aversion to you
- Be consistent with the training – the animal only gets a reward when the behaviour is the way you want it.
- Be patient – the cat cannot understand your language and you must be willing to perservere until the animal understands what you want.
- Try to make any training (positive) to be fun and enjoyable.
- Never hit or injure the animal intentionally
- The animal only has an attention span of minutes – get your message over in as short a time as possible
- The cat only has a memory retention of seconds – punishing the cat a minute or more after the bad behaviour does not teach the animal anything.
- Be firm but gentle with any training.
Training your cat
Punishment is the application of a stimulus that decreases the chance of that behaviour will be repeated. It must coincide with the undesirable behaviour and must be unpleasant enough to deter the cat from repeating the behaviour.
Physical violence is NOT the way to train your cat. Hitting the cat only leads to a shyness between the owner and the animal. Plus the cat will continue to do the behaviour when you are not there.
If the cat is biting you or scratching you in play then you must demonstrate to the cat when the play is getting too rough. That may mean using hissing sounds, it may mean diverting its attention away from you. All play should be stopped immediately and the owner should remove the cat or themselves from the play area. Owners can use water pistols, hand held alarms or even a cap gun to make a noise to stop the cat from playing.
Introducing a cat to its new home
Bringing the cat home is stressful to the cat – it will need reassurance and time to settle in to the new environment. Do NOT introduce the new cat to other animals until the cat is familiar with its environment and knows where its bed is, where the litter tray is and where the food and water is kept.
This time could take a day or so before the new cat is allowed to be introduced to other animals in the household.
The new cat’s bed needs to be warm, dry and comfortable. It must be easily accessible for the cat and hopefully an area that it can escape from anything that is annoying it. One very successful bed is a strong box with a hole cut in the side.
If you can get a large pen – this can be ideal for providing a safe den for the cat to hold its litter tray and bed and can be used to introduce other animals.
The introduction process should be gradual, gentle and quiet. Keep exciteable children away from the cat and try to get the children to settle down, sit on the floor and allow the cat to come to them.
Introducing the cat to other cats or dogs must be done carefully. A bad experience and mean life time of trauma and stress for the cat. Keep the cat in a safe position in a pen or carry box and allow other animals to come and be introduced slowly (keep dogs on a lead and under control).
Introducing dogs to cats is a whole area that can be complicated and the owner may need special instructions on how to proceed so we encourage owners who are introducing a cat and a dog to give us a ring and discuss the case with one of our behaviourists.
Cats are very fussy with their toilet habits and most cats would have learnt from watching their mother use a litter tray. If this is the case you just need to show the new cat where the litter tray is. We recommend you place the cat on the tray early in the morning and after each meal or if the cat is starting to show signs that it is about to urinate or defaecate.
Place the commercially bought litter in a plastic litter tray and place the litter tray on a piece of newspaper to catch any of the litter the animal scratches out.
Place the tray in a quiet accessible corner where the cat will not be disturbed. Do NOT place tray near food or water.
Clean the tray with water and cat friendly disinfectants – NEVER use household detergents or Dettol. Always rinse the tray with water after cleaning.
If the cat is not using the tray it may be because:
- It is not clean enough
- Not big enough
- Wrong disinfectant and that annoys the cat
- Too near its bed or food
- Cat does not like the texture of the litter.
Owner needs to associate the unpleasant consequence with the undesirable behaviour. Try to administer the punishment without the cat seeing you.
The punishment must occur while the inappropriate behaviour is occurring.
Water pistols can be effective. So can noise devices such as a cap gun or even remote control noise maker (alarm).
When the owner is not around to supervise then the cat should be left in a room that has a litter tray, bed, toys and scratching area.
Another method is to make the area that the cat is misbehaving in to be very unpleasant or less appealing for the behaviour to occur in. for example – cat scratching furniture can have a piece of cloth hung over it that catches the cat’s claws in the material. A small pyramid of cans (empty) can be balanced on the arm of a chair so when the cat scratches the chair the cans fall down.
Taste deterrents can be useful for cats who want to chew or suck – Tabasco sauce works very well with most cats. It is important to use the most repulsive agent initially before the cat develops a habit. Never leave any area of object untreated until the cat learns to leave the object or area alone.