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by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS

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Q:  Why are feral kittens so hard to tame after 7 weeks of age?

A:  Kittens enter their primary socialization period at 2 to 3 weeks of age when the brain is primed for attachment to other beings. As early as  7 weeks of age, the willingness to accept others decreases. 


Q:  Why are some cats more skittish than others?


A:  The critical socialization period for cats ends was early as 10 weeks of age. If kittens are not gently handled by people before this time, they may be forever "skittish" around new people. Some cats are also aloof , fearful or aggressive due to genetics.


Q:  What can be done to help a cat bond to the people in the household?


A:  Poorly socialized cats can gradually learn to accept individual people, but only after a lengthy period of trust building and positive learning experiences. Hand feeding is one way to build trust.

Ideally, kittens are handled gently on a daily basis in the first 10 weeks of life and introduced,  in non-frightening ways, to households, other pets and people of all ages.

Q:  What is the goal of cat gentling exercises?

A:  The goal of gentling exercise is to develop a gentle friendly adult cat. Gentling can begin immediately after birth as  the newborn kitten has a sense of smell and can imprint early  humans. Ideally, the kitten would be picked up and gently massaged and rolled and cuddled in various positions for about 60 seconds per day.

Q:  What are gentling exercises?

A:  Gentling begins by hand feeding a hungry cat and learning where your cat likes to be stroked. On a daily basis, continue the hand feeding and stroking. Begin by stroking the cat's cheeks and face and gently lifting the tail. If the cat tenses up or ears go back or tail twitches - the cat is getting stressed. Go back to the favorite areas or stop and go more slowly the next day. The goal is for the cat to be relaxed and trust you to stroke every part of his body.

Q:  What are the most important things to do when bringing home a new cat to start out on the right paw.?

A:  Confine the cat in a small room such as a bathroom. Put food and litter box at opposite sides of the room. Add a cushy bed near the food a
nd water. Keep the cat confined for at least a few days and spend as much time as you can in the room hanging out getting to know each other. Put on a breakaway collar and ID tag with phone numbers on it.
Do NOT allow a new cat outdoors for a couple of weeks, or unsupervised for a few weeks after that. Cats can NOT always find their way home.

Q:  What can be done to help multiple cats get along well together?

A: If there are other cats in the house, when you introduce a new cat, extend the access to rooms the new cat goes into gradually. Cats naturally seek out and claim territory. Too much too soon can overwhelm the new cat, create cat fights, and lead to behavior problems. If you have more than one cat, feed hungry cats treats on either sides of a to give a good impression with the scent exchange. Increase the resources such as cat beds, litter boxes, scratching and climbing posts, available food and water. s.

Q:  Why do cats stop using their litter boxes?

A:  Cats value cleanliness.  Some cats have litter box and litter preferences. An unscented, clumping type litter is the number one choice for most cats. Some will avoid covered litter boxes or boxes in high traffic areas. Others find one litter box inconvenient in a large home.. In multiple cat households, one cat may claim and guard the litter box. The most common reason that cats house soil is to find a clean toileting area. Scooping twice daily is ideal, once daily may not be enough to avoid problems. How would you like to use a toilet that hasn't been flushed? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Q: Why are some cats aggressive to people?

A:  One way to create an aggressive cat is to physically punish the cat, creating defensive aggression. Allowing kittens to pounce on fingers and toes and playing slap-boxing games with cats can also encourage aggressive behaviors. Depending on genetics, some cats  tolerate tough situations without showing aggression. Some cats can only tolerate small amounts of stroking and may bite the hand that they invited minutes earlier.

Q:  Can you train a cat?

Cats are learning all the time.  They may run into the kitchen at the sound of a pop top or can opener. They may see you pick up the cat brush and run away to toward you if they enjoy being groomed. Cats learn to vocalize when they want to be let out or in a door. Some learn to open cupboards and doors. A social cat will repeat behaviors that earn praise and your attention. Some cats will learn how to come and sit for a treat. Many cats learn to come when called unless the owner makes the mistake of doing something unpleasant even one time after calling the cat them. Cats can be trained much like puppies using positive lure-reward methods. Cat treats should never make up more than 10% of the cat's diet. 

Q:  How do you teach a cat to come when called?

A:  Before you feed your cat, put a treat in front of your cat's nose, the slowing walk backward. As the cat follows the treat, say your cats name and a happy, "Come!" or whatever word or sound you want to use every time you call your cat. After moving back a couple of steps, give the treat. Repeat 5 to 10 more times. Use very small treats. Begin to call your cat before every meal. Shake a treat jar, and call your cat. Throughout the day, when your cat is in sight, call and give a treat. You can also use food treats to lure cats into a sit position and say the word "sit" to teach them the word for the position.. It's fun to train your cat. ALWAYS use one word or sound to mean the same thing. Never punish poor results, ONLY encourage and praise. The goal is quality time together and bonding.

Q: Why are some cats so unruly?

It is helpful if you decide from day one what your house rules will be. For example, most people do not want cats on the counter or tables. If the cat jumps up where he or she is not allowed, then make shu-shu-shu sound and clap your hands. If the cat responds quickly by jumping back down, praise and reward the cat. If your cat does not respond, you may need to get sneaky and use a squirt gun. The cat must think the water is coming from the place not from you. Do NOT let the cat see you or your cat may learn to avoid you not the counters. You do not want your cat to associate you with anything bad. You can also make counters and tables unattractive by putting tin foil or contact paper - sticky side up - on these surfaces. Provide other options for your cat to get up high such as an indoor scratching and climbing post. Cats like to be up high. Praise and offer treats when the cat hangs out in places that are acceptable. Try catnip or treats on top of the posts to make them even more attractive to the cat. 

Q:  Why should I put an ID tag on my indoor or outdoor cat?

Start your kitten with a nylon collar with an identification tag attached. Put your last name and two or three phone numbers on the tag. You don't want to put the kitten's name or your address on the tag to prevent someone bonding to your pet or burglarizing your home. The best time to ID chip or tattoo your kitten is while your kitten is under anesthesia for a spay or neuter at 4 to 6 months of age.

Early spay or neuter is strongly recommended to help prevent the millions of unwanted kittens.

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