Sharing our homes with the soft padding feet and contented purrs of a feline companion can be one of life’s greatest joys. Cats keep our laps warm on cold winter afternoons, greet us with happy mews and waving tails when we get home after long days at work, and lull us to sleep with their rumbling little purrs at bedtime.
Adopting a cat as a kitten ups the ante with the super adorableness of tiny kitten paws, extraordinarily soft kitten fur and the delightful amusement of watching the young of any species learn their way around this bright new world.
But cat ownership can also go crazy wrong, resulting in destroyed furniture, aggressive attack cats, and even lost relationships (“My Cat From Hell,” anyone?). At a minimum, there’ll be unhappy cats and owners and even when the owners honor their commitment and continue to care for the cats, that’s no way for either to live.
Your choices during her first year with you will have a strong impact upon your kitten’s health and the relationship you’ll share with her for life. So make them good ones! 🙂
Here are eight common mistakes that new kitten owners often make, and what you should do instead.
Taking their kitten away from her mother and siblings before the 12th week. Bringing your new kitten home at too young an age can set her up for trouble in her relationships with other cats later on. That period between eight and twelve weeks is when kittens learn feline social manners. They fight and wrestle, mastering the art of playing nicely with others and learning just how far is too far to push another cat. This is also when they begin to recognize and use the fine nuances of feline communication… critical information if they are to have favorable cat-to-cat relationships later on.
Adopting only one kitten. This matters whether you already have an older cat at home, or no cats at all. Kittens have tons of energy to expend, and if you aren’t around to be their playmate, they’ll redirect that energy at your older cat – who will almost certainly not appreciate it – or your home furnishings. Two kittens will entertain and wear each other out! (Click for more on why two are better than one…)
Feeding their kittens processed food products. Kittens should be started on a varied diet of fresh foods at the earliest possible opportunity. Quality nutrition is critical for a healthy life, and processed foods are even more detrimental to the health of your kittens than they are to you. Information on balanced homemade diets is readily available, and these meals can be as complex or as easy as suits your lifestyle. (Click for more on the importance and ease of fresh food diets…)
Spending too little time socializing and training their kittens. Dog owners play constantly with their new pups. They understand the need for socialization and routinely bring them to puppy training classes. Your kittens need the same level of attention. Several bouts of interactive play time should be part of your daily schedule, and your kittens should be exposed to as wide an array of experiences as you can provide. Kitten training classes are growing in popularity and these are great ways to acquaint your kittens with strange people, other animals, leashes, crates, etc. If you don’t see one offered in your area, contact a local behaviorist and ask for one! (Check out these other fun ways to socialize your kittens…)
Declawing their kittens. No matter how benign a procedure your vet makes this surgery out to be, it is a barbaric, cruel practice rightfully banned in over two dozen countries around the world. It is the equivalent of cutting off your fingers and toes at the last joint and often causes lifelong mental and physical problems, including chronic pain, biting and litter box avoidance issues. Cats use their claws to engage in instinctive scratching and stretching behaviors that are necessary to their well-being and denying them such behaviors increases their stress and lowers their quality of life. Protect your kittens and don’t let anyone convince you declawing is a good option. (Learn more here.)
Neglecting the litter boxes. Your kittens’ sense of smell is 40 times greater than yours, and their desire to be clean is at least a match for yours… how comfortable are you sitting down on a toilet that has been used but not flushed? Do you and them a favor and just keep their toilets empty. 🙂 (Everything you need to know about litter box maintenance.)
Failing to provide a proper indoor environment. Although this varies to a degree between countries, most of you will be keeping your cats inside for safety’s sake. This incurs on you a responsibility to ensure that, although deprived of nature’s stimuli and the ability to engage in the hunt, your kittens won’t lack for environmental enrichment and adequate attention to their instinctive needs. They need to be able to access elevated “perches”, for instance, to feel safe and confident. And they need plenty of toys, routinely refreshed, that are interesting and mentally engaging. Your kittens, even when full grown, are not built to be bored, and a bored cat is often a stressed cat, and sometimes a destructive cat. (More tips on environmental enrichment.)
Finally, and most important of all… too many cat owners don’t understand what makes a cat a cat. Cats are often expected to behave like dogs, or even humans, but they are both more complex and simpler than that. Your kittens occupy a special niche in the animal kingdom – they are amazingly efficient killing machines, and they are the prey of other carnivores. This makes their perspective on the world unique, and affects their behavior patterns and motivations. As good owners, you’ll recognize this and take the time to learn what going on inside your kittens’ adorable and fuzzy little heads.
So before you bring your 12 week old pair of kittens home, pick up a copy of Pam Johnson-Bennett’s Think Like a Cat, or Mieshelle Nagelschneider’s The Cat Whisperer: Why cats do what they do and how to get them to do what you want. Both books will give you a good understanding of your new kittens motivations, moods and needs. And Jackson Galaxy’s Catify to Satisfy will help you create in indoor environment you and your kittens can enjoy for a lifetime.
Adopting kittens requires forethought and preparation, and caring for them properly is a lifetime commitment. The reward, however, is an amazing gift of gentle purrs, warm face rubs and loving companionship.
Do you have cats you adopted as kittens? What would you add to this list?