Dear Ms. Kitty: How to raise a healthy kitten

By: Melissa Shandley Special to The Gazette
April 7, 2014 Updated: April 7, 2014 at 7:45 am

As a cat behaviorist, I see too many adult cats that have behavioral issues due to inadequate early socialization. These issues can result in cats not receiving necessary health care, living with unhealthy chronic stress and even getting abandoned.

When puppies are adopted, it is routine for guardians to enroll them in puppy classes. Unfortunately, kittens often are adopted at a critical time in their development and placed in a home with little training and support.

It doesn't have to be a roll of the dice. You can train your kitten to be a well-adjusted companion that is confident and enjoyable. Adult cats can change their behavior, but it is much easier to prevent issues with early training.

Kitten Kindergarten is an excellent place for guardians and their kittens to get educated. The concept of kitten classes was popularized in Australia by Kersti Seksel, a veterinary behaviorist, about 10 years ago. Now these classes are offered by humane societies, veterinary clinics and animal behaviorists. In Colorado Springs, classes are a joint effort between the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and Happy Cats Haven.

Kitten Kindergarten takes advantage of a kitten's socialization window, between 7 weeks and 15 weeks. At this age, kittens are open to new experiences and can learn that traveling and meeting other kittens and people can be fun. If kittens have not been trained to accept novel experiences, they grow into fearful cats that are resistant to new things.

Healthy kittens up to 15 weeks that have had their first set of vaccinations can attend Kitten Kindergarten. Family members also are encouraged to attend. Young children accompanied by a second adult will learn proper ways to handle and play with kittens. Guardians of kittens that don't meet the criteria can come to learn what to do at home.

Before the first class, guardians are instructed to introduce the carrier in a positive way with toys and treats. Traveling to class will allow kittens to learn about car rides. When kittens arrive at the class, they will find other kittens, toys, scratch posts and litter boxes. Kittens then will be handled gently by new people, play with other kittens and be introduced to grooming, including teeth brushing, nail trimming and a standard health exam.

Guardians receive information on how to make introductions to other animals and people, proper diet, health care, clicker training, and leash and harness walking.

Often kittens are removed from their families too early, and they miss critical lessons such as bite inhibition and emotional control. When these kittens are raised without playmates, their guardians must provide for developmental needs that usually are taught by the mother and littermates. Introducing kittens to family members, guests and other pets requires a clear understanding of cat behavior.

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