How to bring up a kitten
Bringing up a healthy and happy kitty is an art. In the last issue, we discussed about good mom care, early socialisation, litter training and weaning. Here are some other ways, which can support growing kittens to ensure that the development process goes well.
The body of a small kitten is very vulnerable and her immune system is not as well developed as that of an adult one. This means that any bugs she picks up can be very serious, so breeders and owners should never delay seeking veterinary treatment for any potential infection. Diarrhoea, sore or gunky eyes, sneezes or sniffles should all be investigated.
A kitten exploring a dusty corner under a bed or behind furniture may give a little sneeze without cause for concern, but any discharge should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. Bad colds in growing kittens can cause permanent damage to the inside of the nose and long-term respiratory problems. Give them plenty of reassurance and take along some of their favourite treats while visiting the vet.
Making travelling easy
Some cats are also wary of travelling, so any journeys that kittens can be taken on while they are still young and open to new experiences will help to ensure that they feel comfortable on trips to see family, to cat shows, or to the vet. If kittens are going to be shown then they should get the experience of going to shows while they are young. It is a mistake to wait until they are old enough to be entered into adult classes, as cats shown as kittens tend to have a more confident attitude at shows. Kittens who appear a little more nervous can be taken to shows to be put on exhibition only for their first experience, then they will have had an opportunity to adjust to the sounds and smells of a cat show before they go back and are handled by judges. Most kittens love all the cuddles and attention they receive.
Making grooming fun
It is important for cats to be habituated to grooming from an early age, especially longhaired cats who will need more intensive grooming as adults. They should get used to being brushed all over, including the tummy and back of legs, having their ears cleaned and nails trimmed. If kittens are not brought up with this exposure they will often resent being groomed as adults and those with thick coats may end up with painful mats. Create positive associations with grooming for kittens by keeping session short and finishing with a food treat or play session.
Good behaviour training
Destructive behaviour can be a problem, especially with younger cats who have more energy and get bored more easily. It is a good idea to prevent boredom by providing playmates, toys and interactive playtime. However, a certain amount of training can help to bring up kittens with good habits. The earlier in life a kitten learns good house rules the more effectively they will take these on.
Kittens should be strongly discouraged from scratching furniture and encouraged to use a scratching post. If this is done they will associate the post with a need to scratch and seek it out. Other ground rules should be set out from the start and stuck to unswervingly. Kittens will just be confused if they do not get a consistent message about whether they are allowed on the kitchen worktops or in the bedroom.
Outdoor vs indoor
Another firm decision is required about whether the kitten is allowed outdoor access or not. There is no need to give cats outdoor access as all their needs can be catered to indoors. Once given outdoor access cats may not appreciate having it taken away. If a decision is made to provide outdoor access then ways of making this secure should be considered, such as use of leads, runs or cat-proof fencing. Cats should only be allowed out during daylight hours and will require microchipping first. A collar with an ID tag and vaccination against FeLV should also be considered. Owners can also ask their vets if their local area has a high incidence of FIV or airgun attacks.
Anyone with young kittens needs to give special attention to the way in which they bring them up. With the right care and attention they can be well socialised to make them friendly and outgoing, they can be given a healthy start and they can learn to happily enjoy the varied elements of life with a human family. A well brought up kitten should grow into a happy, loving and balanced adult cat.
(Anthony Nichols has been showing cats for about 20 years, starting with non-pedigrees, and breeding for about ten years. He has bred Devon Rex and Singapuras, but mainly focuses on breeding LaPerms in a range of colours, particularly the reds, creams, torties, chocolates and colourpoints.)