Kittens a kndergarten session

It’s fun to watch a litter of kittens chasing and pouncing on each other. Are you thinking of  bringing some of that cuteness and energy to live at your house?

Kittens that have been handled in a positive way by a variety of people during their sensitive period (2-7 weeks) are tolerant of people and usually make good pets.  However, socialization continues past the 7 week mark.

Kittens older than 7 weeks in a wild cat colony would be spending time with their litter mates, mother, other female cats (babysitters) and maybe some indulgent males. They will be learning the body language of older cats and how to communicate with them.

When we adopt a kitten at 8-10 weeks, we interrupt the socialization process. There is some evidence that kittens who stay with their mothers and siblings until 12 weeks of age are more friendly with other cats and humans.

Rescue organizations already struggling to maintain facilities will incur more costs keeping kittens later. Is there a way to continue socializing kittens once they have joined their adopting household?

Resident Animals


Socializing kittens can continue if kittens join a household with well-socialized older cats and other pets, e.g. dogs. A word of caution here: It can be risky to introduce small kittens to adult cats and dogs.a kitten meets a well-behaved dog

Kittens practice fighting postures such as the arch and sidestep when they play with littermates.  As kittens reach 12 weeks or so, the arch and sidestep are seen less frequently – possibly the kittens are starting to identify these postures as aggressive, as part of a cat fight.  An older cat who has little experience with kittens, may interpret this activity as aggressive and react defensively, possibly injuring the kitten.

If you are in this situation, slow, gradual introduction is best until you know how the cats or dog are going to behave.

  • A barrier between the kitten(s) and older cat(s) or dog for the early visitations is a must. 
  • A helper is also essential.

Cats: You may want to consider using carriers or harness and leash when you reach supervised visitations (IF the cats are COMFORTABLE in their carriers and are COMFORTABLE with harness/leash).

Dogs: When you reach supervised visitations, make sure your dog has a comfortable harness to wear, is leash-trained, and is reliable with “down”, “stay”, “leave it” and a pay attention cue. If he gets too excited, you must be able to lead him out of the visitation area.

socializing kittens: making good memories


Kitten kindergarten is a program aimed at socializing kittens 8-12 weeks old. Kitten kindergarten tries to continue the socialization that began earlier during the sensitive period by offering exposure to a variety of humans and well-behaved adult cats and dogs. We hope to leave our kittens with some good memories that they can draw on later in life when confronted with human and animal visitors to their household.

Kitten kindergartens – Where? 

  • in the spring
  • veterinary clinics 
  • rescue organizations
  • typically runs weekly for 4 weeks

Who can come?

  • kittens 8-12 weeks of age
  • kittens older than 12 weeks may not be as accepting of interaction with other cats
  • the information and training still applies to older cats
  • if your cat is older, it may be worth seeing if you can attend virtually or without a cat.

Pre-Requisites for kindergarten

  • at least one FVRCP vaccine 5-7 days prior to the first class
  • dewormed
  • a negative FeLV/FIV test

The syllabus in kitten kindergarten can vary depending on who is offering the course, whether it is a veterinary clinic or rescue group. It typically will address cat handling, cat care (grooming, nail trims), and basic training, including harness and carrier training.

The goal of kitten kindergarten is not just socializing kittens – owner education is a big part of this program. Make sure to take advantage of the expertise of the class moderators and ask questions!

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Your cat’s carrier should be his castle. His carrier should be a place of safety and comfort, a little piece of home away from home. Cats are territorial and are attached to their territory.  When your cat travels, the stroller, backpack or carrier is part of his territory – it has his scent and is a “safe place” for him.

You may need different carriers depending on what you are doing.  Strollers and backpacks are more suited to walking or hiking with your cat. A kennel-style cat carrier is better for extended car travel and veterinary visits.

Cat in hard kennek
The top comes off this hard kennel, making it easy to load Gus in the carrier.

There are many kennel-style cat carriers that you can buy. Here are some tips when choosing a cat carrier that you plan to use for extended car travel or vet visits.

  • the carrier should be large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around.
  • it should have a rigid frame so that it does not collapse on your cat.
  • it should be easy to take apart or have more than one opening where you can easily remove your cat from the carrier
  • easy to clean
  • make your cat feel safe and secure – like a wildcat’s den

Tips for Choosing a Cat Carrier for Car Travel and Vet Visits…


Hard, plastic carriers


  • come in lots of sizes.
  • many have detachable tops which makes getting your cat in and out easy
  • they are easy to clean
  • can be covered with a blanket or towel to make your cat feel secure

Flexible, fabric carriers


  • attractive and are not as bulky as the hard plastic ones
  • some of these carriers tend to collapse in on your cat and are not as comfortable for him to stay in for longer periods of time
  • more difficult to clean than the hard, plastic kennels

Even if the carrier is rigid and has a top panel that zips open or unlatches, it can be difficult to put the cat in when he doesn’t volunteer to go in on his own. It can be hard to fit your cat and your hands through the top panels. Some fabric carriers have a zippered front and side mesh panels, making loading and unloading a bit easier.

Choosing a cat carrier that comes apart into two sections – a top and a bottom – can be really handy. If you need to get the cat out of the carrier, you can remove the top half and gently pick him up out of the bottom. You can put him back in the carrier in the same way. Your veterinarian can examine your cat in the bottom half of the carrier, where he feels safe. The bottom half can double as a basket to sleep in.

Fom the feline purrspective… being dragged bodily out of a place you are sheltering in is confusing and frightening. Be aware that a cat may feel threatened if you have to drag him out and may strike or even bite.

Choosing a Cat Carrier…Make your Cat’s Carrier His Castle


 

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME


Leave the carrier out at home and let your cat nap and play in it. Place it in a “neutral” area – away from food and litter boxes.

 

PURRSONALIZE THE CARRIER


Place a towel or blanket that has your cat’s smell in the carrier. Put some of his favorite toys and treats in the carrier.

 

FUN AND GAMES


You can also play games with your cat in and around the carrier. If your cat is fond of “treat toss” (tossing treats that kitty “hunts” down), make sure some treats go into the carrier during the game.

 

TAKE KITTY FOR CAR RIDES THAT DON’T END UP AT THE VET.


Start with short rides, maybe just around the block. Work up to longer rides to pleasant places – if you have a cat stroller you could work up to going for walks in the park. Remember, always move at your cat’s pace – if he is hunched and hiding, slow down and shorten the length of the ride until kitty is comfortable. Ask your vet about treating carsickness if your cat is prone to it.

 

CLEAN AS A WHISTLE


Clean your cat’s carrier regularly. When you are finished, spray the carrier and the bedding inside with Feliway, a synthetic feline pheromone that tells your cat that this a safe place. Make sure to give enough time for the alcohol in the spray to dissipate before using the carrier – 20 minutes should do the trick!

A Cat in his carrier
Marley is “king of his castle”!

Car travel – where to put your cat’s carrier in the car

The Center for Pet Safety recommends placing your cat’s carrier behind the front passenger seat or driver seat.
Crash tests have shown that the seatbelt used to secure a carrier can actually crush it in an accident.
Unless the manufacturer can show you that the carrier survives a crash test buckled up, don’t use the seat belts with your cat’s carrier. 

Carrier Training Your Cat


Cats tend to be homebodies. Most are not very fond of traveling. However, with some training and attention to their needs, trips to the vet and even cross-country do not need to be a traumatic experience.

Choosing A Carrier for Your Cat


There are lots of options out there. The traditional plastic box works well; it is secure and easy to clean. Make sure the top is easily removable – some carriers have more bolts (9+) than necessary. If you have one of these, you can often remove about 1/3 of the bolts even if your cat is heavy.

There are more and more styles of fabric carriers – if you are looking for one, choose one that has side panels that open up, or a top that zips open. Think: How will you get your cat out of the carrier?  How will you get him back in (if he is reluctant)?

Make sure the carrier is big enough. Cats are masters at squeezing themselves into small spaces but the carrier needs to be comfortable in case your cat must stay in it for a bit. Your cat should be able to stand up and turn around in her carrier.

Method #1- Feeding in the Carrier


 

Using method #1 for carrier training your cat, you will feed your cat in his carrier.

Place your cat’s food bowl near his carrier.  Over the next few days to a week, you will move the food closer to the carrier, then put it just inside the carrier, then finally put it in the back of the carrier.

Gus was trapped as a feral cat.  He was reluctant to enter the carrier, so we removed the lid for him.

Once Gus was comfortable eating in the bottom of his carrier, we placed the top on the carrier without the gate.

Once he was willing to eat in the carrier with the top on, we introduced the gate.

First, we had him eat with the gate open; the next step was to close the gate for a minute.  Some food on the gate helped him stay calm for this.

Feeding in Carrier Bottom

 

Cat eating in carrier

 

cat closed in carrier

Method #2 – Using Targeting


Carrier training your cat using method #2 is based on a clicker training technique called targeting.

  • you start by luring your cat to the back of bottom half of her carrier using the target stick.
  • once she will sit in the bottom half of the carrier calmly, place the top on the carrier. Have her enter following the target stick and then sit.
  • work up to having her stay for the count of 5
  • once she is calm with this, close the door and have her stay for the count of 5

Extra Credit:

Once your cat is comfortable in her carrier, lure her in with a snack or target stick, close the door and move her to another room. Upon arriving in the other room, open the door and reward her with a snack!

Make sure to take your time.  Cats are individuals and some learn faster than others. You may need to break up the training into smaller steps if your cat is reluctant to enter the carrier.  Gus, a former feral cat, is leery of things that may be traps – it took longer for him to accept the carrier than Zelda, who appears in the video above.