How to bring up a Kitten
We all want our kittens to be healthy and well adjusted. And the best start in life will enable them to bond well with humans and enjoy a robust constitution. Here are ways, which can support growing kittens to ensure that the development process goes well.
Good mom care…
Nutrition: Even before a kitten is born, the breeder needs to ensure that the mother is well fed and no under stress.
Warm and cosy: From the moment a litter arrives, good beginnings will set a kitten’s development off on the right track. A secure, cosy and comfortable nest is a must as without this it will be harder for the mother to settle with her kittens and keep them warm and safe.
Early socialisation…a must
As the kittens grow, they go through a vitally important phase called the Socialisation Window. This is the period in a kitten’s life between two and eight weeks of age during which she imprints on and forms social bonds with humans and other cats. The socialisation that takes place during this time will decide how the cat reacts to humans for the rest of her life.
If human contact doesn’t take place during this period, the cat will never be able to become fully tame. Anyone raising a litter of kittens has the responsibility to socialise the kittens well in preparation for their lives as well-loved household pets.
Socialisation with household appliances: One of the best known of these is getting small kittens used to the sound of vacuum cleaners so that they don’t panic when they hear it in later life. The same can be done with other noisy household appliances, such as hair dryers, loud stereos and the general noise of a busy household. Kittens raised wrapped in cotton wool will be nervous and jumpy when they are shifted to a normal family home with its sounds and activity. Growing kittens should not be shut away in a kitten room all day but allowed to experience the hurly-burly activities of a normal household.
Socialisation by touch: However, the most important element of socialisation is lots of handling so that kittens are not only comfortable but also happy to be picked up and held, and will settle contentedly on a warm lap. Kittens should be handled thoroughly, not just held and cuddled, but also given the chance to get used to paws and mouths being felt and looked at. Some kittens may bite and scratch while they are being socialised, particularly during play and the breeder must discourage them from doing this with an appropriate response. A mother cat would hiss and gently push a kitten away so kittens understand what this means, even when it is done by humans.
Socialisation with people: It is good for young kittens to experience a range of different types of people, including adults and children, men and women, young and old. This helps to avoid them being too attached to just one type of person at the expense of others.
Socialisation with other pets: Introductions to other pets at an early age will help to ensure that they get on as adults. Introducing kittens to other cats is normally fairly straightforward, but more care may be needed with dogs. Plan introductions carefully, keep them short initially and make them positive with food and toys and plenty of reassurance.
It is vitally important to ensure that kittens start out with good litter tray habits. Litter training starts at the same time as weaning and provided that a litter tray is placed close enough for kittens to reach. They should follow the example of their mother and their own natural instinct to use it.
Use plenty of litter trays: When a small kitten feels the urge, she cannot hold on for long and might not remember where the tray is. So it is a good idea to provide plenty of trays and limit the area where the kittens are until they have got the habit of using them.
Use non-clumping litter: Some kittens try to eat litter, so training should always be done with non-clumping varieties which will not cause a blockage if swallowed.
Cleanliness is important: Kittens avoid smelly trays, so they should be changed often to make them as user-friendly as possible.
Taking care of accidents: Some accidents may happen while they are learning and these should be cleaned up as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Some kittens appear to have an instinct to toilet in corners or behind doors and they can be prevented from becoming attached to these places by putting down tin foil or a small bowl of dry food. Many breeders keep a vigilant eye open for a kitten getting into the ‘crouch’ position in an inappropriate place and quickly place them into a tray. Occasionally a kitten will start peeing in the bathroom and this has a simple solution: keeping two-inch depth of water in the bathroom for a few days soon puts them off.
Making weaning easy
Weaning is when kittens start to eat solid food, and this starts to happen from around three to fi ve weeks of age.
Making it easy: Breeders use various techniques to get kittens started. Once a little food is put in the corner of a kitten’s mouth they usually realise what to do and make attempts to lick and swallow. It takes a little while for them to master the technique but in a couple of weeks they are eating happily from a plate. Weaning should be done with good quality food and strict hygiene.
Giving variety of food: Once the kittens began eating they should be exposed to a variety of foods so that they do not grow up to be fussy. Rotating different brands will ensure that they don’t get overly attached to just one food. Kittens should be encouraged to eat dry food so that a bowl can be left available for them to nibble on at all times. Other food should be fed frequently at fi rst and less often as the kittens get bigger.
(Read more about veterinary check-ups, travelling, grooming and training in our next issue.)
(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.)