Gentle handling between 2-7 weeks helps kittens build trust with humans.

We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born in April and May, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Like any other baby animal, kittens depend on their mothers for survival. What happens if the mother is killed or trapped? What if the mother abandons her kittens?

If part of a cat colony, the mother’s sisters would take over the care of the kittens. The females in the colony share the role of parenting the kittens. Females of the same social group who give birth around the same time will nurse each other’s kittens, allowing each other a chance to go off and hunt.

Not all cats live in colonies – some live a more solitary existence. If something happens to the solitary mother, her kittens’ outlook for survival is bleak. With human intervention, some of these kittens will survive. Will the kitten raised by humans make a good pet?

Raising kittens – the role of the mother cat


Kittens are born helpless, unable to regulate their own temperature. Their eyes won’t open until they are a week old. They are dependent on their mother for warmth and round-the-clock feedings. She must lick them to stimulate urination and defecation until they are about 3 weeks old. (Bringing up a litter of kittens)

time to grow up and learn to hunt


  • When the kittens are 3-4 weeks old, the mother cat begins to bring back “dead” prey to them
  • In the next few weeks, mom brings back fatigued or injured prey. The kittens start to practice their hunting skills.
  • If a kitten loses control of the prey, mom is there to recapture it.
  • The kittens see their mother eating the prey so they eat the prey.
  • The mother cat shows the kittens how to bury urine and feces at this time. (Veterian Key)

weaning


As the kittens begin to eat solid food, the mother starts to restrict their nursing.

  • she leaves the nest for longer periods of time
  • she makes it harder for the kittens to nurse by crouching or lying on her stomach
  • she may hiss or growl at them when they try to nurse
  • she climbs out of their reach for extended periods of time.

This is a frustrating time for the kitten – he or she is hungry but cannot have milk and must find other food to eat; this frustration encourages the kitten to turn his attention to his hunting and survival skills. His first prey may be a crunchy insect!

 

the kitten RAISED BY HUMANS


Fosters of pre-weaned orphan kittens are some of the unsung heroes of the animal rescue world. In addition to feeding kittens up to 10 times in 24 hours, keeping them warm, and stimulating them to urinate and defecate before and after feeding, fosters must try to mimic the social stimulation (see below) that the mother would provide. (Hand-rearing kittens)

  • kitten being brushed
    A kitten is brushed with a soft toothbrush.

    Mother cats lick their kittens overall to clean them, provoke urination and suckling, provide comfort, and strengthen their social bond. Human caregivers may use brushing to mimic grooming by the mother cat.

  • Fosters must show kittens how to use the litter tray at 3-4 weeks.
  • Fosters must wean the kittens and transition them to solid food.
  • Fosters should expose the kittens to a variety of people and friendly pets.

The “Tarzan” kitten – The kitten raised by humans


Kitten starting solid foodA human caregiver cannot replace a kitten’s mother – after all, we are not cats. For example, how does a human foster mimic the frustration accompanying weaning that encourages the kitten to get his own food?  Kittens raised without their mothers and siblings are prone to behavioral issues – they don’t know how to deal with frustration; early separation from the mother may cause changes in brain function.

 

Some behavior problems commonly seen in orphaned kittens:

  • fear and aggression toward people and other cats
  • fear of new things
  • lack of social skills
  • overly dependent on caregiver
  • lack of bite inhibition – the kitten does not know how hard to bite
  • “wool sucking” – sucking on fabric, other kittens or human earlobes. The kitten could hurt the litter mate or person or ingest something harmful.

(Maddie’s Fund)

These behaviors often can be managed with gentle handling and training.

tips for adopting the kitten raised by humans


  • Adopt a kitten that was raised with her litter mates or other adult cats – she will learn how hard to bite, since her litter mates will bite back; older cats will also offer a response to inappropriate play behavior.
  • Adopt 2 kittens around the same age, from the same litter if possible
  • Choose kitten(s) that were exposed to a variety of people when they were 2-7 weeks old
  • Ask if the kitten(s) had different environmental experiences: car rides, television, vacuum cleaners.

Whichever kitten(s) you choose, please consider training your kitten(s).


Patience, gentle handling, and training can help the kitten raised by humans become a valued member of your household.

Kitten season can be overwhelming for rescue organizations.

Want to help?

  • Adopt
  • Foster
  • Donate

What if you find a litter of kittens by themselves?

  • Keep an eye on them – the mother could be out hunting
  • Contact your local cat rescue
  • If she does not return after several hours or the kittens are in danger, you may need to act

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Kittens at Kndergarten
Kittens at “kitten kindergarten” session

What makes A good pet cat?


We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born about 2 months later, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Many of these wild kittens will end up at the shelter; some may be adoptable.

How do I know if a cat will be a good pet cat?


Nature and nurture are parts of the puzzle that determine how a cat will behave towards people.

Nature:

Nurture:

The science of epigenetics studies modifications to our DNA that don’t change the DNA sequence. The epigenome refers to chemical compounds that are attached to your DNA. Exposure to pollutants, what you eat and stress are some things that can result in certain compounds attaching to your DNA and turning particular genes on or off. These changes can remain as cells divide and may pass from generation to generation.

Nurture : The “Sensitive Period” in kittens


Kittens learn most efficiently when they are 2-7 weeks old.  This time is called  the “sensitive period”, when rapid growth of neural cells makes learning easier. The learning that happens during the “sensitive period” prepares a kitten for the social and physical environment she is born into. A cat who will be a good pet cat needs to be exposed to humans and where humans live during her “sensitive period”.

Human contact


Kittens who are handled kindly and gently by a variety of humans during the “sensitive period” quickly learn to accept people and enjoy being with them. The positively socialized kitten  generalizes what he learns about individual people to people in general.

Rough, insensitive handling during the “sensitive period” can make a kitten aggressive and fearful of people for life.

Exposure to Human households


Kittens exposed to the environment in human homes during the “sensitive period” adapt quickly to electronic devices and appliances, other animals, and living indoors. For example, they learn that the noise of the vacuum cleaner, although unpleasant, is not life threatening.

Diet


Kittens are more willing to try new foods at this time, although they follow their mother’s lead (if she is there) in choosing what to eat. Good nutrition helps a kitten’s brain and body develop – malnutrition early in life has been linked to epigenetic changes.

 

the end of the “sensitive period”


At 7 weeks, this “golden time” of learning closes – the fear reaction becomes established in the kitten. She will become more cautious and careful from now on. Caution and wariness are crucial to her development in the wild as a solitary hunter. She will continue to learn and develop socially but will not be as open to new experiences.

socialization after the “sensitive period”


By the time the sensitive period ends, kittens have been weaned and are eating solid food. In a wild cat colony, they will continue to play with other kittens and interact with adults. The kitten will learn how hard he can bite when playing- his litter mates will bite back! This is when he will learn the body language of adult cats, how to approach other cats, and improve his hunting skills by observing other cats.

thinking of adopting a kitten?


  • Think about adopting 2 – they can keep each other occupied and cats that grow up together often form strong bonds and a social group.
  • If possible, adopt kittens who are at least 12 weeks of age. These kittens will have spent some time with their mothers and litter mates, learning how hard they can bite when playing. They should also recognize some basic social signals given by adult cats (important if you are bringing them into a multi-cat home).
  • Above all – try to adopt kittens that were handled gently and kindly by people during their “sensitive period”. They are familiar with humans and enjoy being with them. Ask the adoption center about the kittens’ experiences when they were 2-7 weeks old!

 

If you opt to introduce kittens to older cats, SUPERVISE AT ALL TIMES. Make sure your older cats are vaccinated for upper respiratory diseases and feline leukemia (if they go outdoors). Gradual introduction is still recommended. A pair of kittens may still be your best bet in this situation and give you time to introduce all the cats at their own pace.

 

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Aggression Between Cats After a Vet Visit


Zelda, my 5 year old Maine coon cat, went into the vet clinic on a Tuesday to have her teeth cleaned and to finish her lion cut that I started the day before. Zelda did well with anesthesia, teeth cleaning and lion cut. Upon returning home, Zelda stayed in the master bedroom for a few more hours for her anesthesia to wear off.

In the past, there has been some aggression between cats after one of the cats comes back from his or her veterinary visit.  In particular, Gus, my former street cat, has been aggressive towards the other cats when they come home from the hospital.  So, I made sure that the Feliway multi-cat pheromone diffuser was plugged in and bagged up the blanket Gus sleeps on for Zelda to use in her carrier on the way home.

In spite of all my precautions, Gus was agitated and aggressive not only with Zelda, but also with the older cats, Marley and Athena, when I let Zelda out of the bedroom for dinner. Not only did he strike at the other cats when they got too close, he went out of his way to strike at them if they were out of reach.

Cat in his safe place
Gus is in his chair in his safe place, the back office.

The aggression between cats continued into Wednesday and I found myself starting to lose my patience with Gus, who was the instigator. So time for some “tough love” – Gus was asked to go to his safe place. The door was closed and he spent the afternoon in the back office with some treats and his snuffle mat.

His attitude was much better when he was released at dinner time. The next morning, Thursday,  Zelda greeted him with a quick lick that he was not overly enthused about but he accepted.

What is the take-away here?


The smell of the vet clinic is disturbing to Gus – he associates it with unpleasant experiences. I also think he finds it confusing and frightening when his housemates smell like the hospital – he is not sure who they really are and this makes him anxious and afraid. 

The safe place smells familiar and is quiet. It conveys a feeling of calm and safety and this helped Gus change his emotional state. By the time dinner came around, Zelda’s “hospital” smell had faded a bit more and the dinner routine helped reassure Gus. He remained calm and did not go out of his way to swat the other cats.

Going to the safe place is not a like the time-out used with human children. The time-out spot for children is a spot with minimal stimulation and away from other people. The idea is to remove the child from whatever was reinforcing the undesired behavior and have him/her calm down, link his or her behavior to the wrongdoing, and change it. 

Your cat will not link misbehavior with being isolated (human toddlers have trouble with this also). The safe place is not a punishment – it has all your cat’s resources (litter boxes and toys) and allows you to remove him from whatever is stimulating the “bad” behavior, in this case, the aggression between cats. The safe place should convey a feeling of calm to your cat and change his emotional state, from one of possible arousal and fear to one of calm and security. Once your cat feels calm and secure again, you will be able to interact with him and communicate with him – he should be able to respond to any training he has had.  In this case, if reintroduction is not successful after some “quiet time”, you may need to try a more gradual reintroduction.  See Introducing Cats: A Short Guide

Easter Egg

 

Happy Easter from The Feline Purrspective! Click on the egg for cats playing an Easter game!

 

Cats Protecting Other Cats?


I take my cats on walks around my townhome complex. The grounds are quiet with mature trees and open spaces between the clusters of homes.

The other day, Zelda, the Maine Coon cat, and Gus, my ex-street cat, were ambling along the sidewalks,  stopping to smell things and poke around in the vegetation. Zelda was a few feet away from me. Gus was over noodling around in what was left of a snowbank. 

A mixed breed terrier (about 25 lbs or so) lives in one of the townhomes near where we were walking. She is an active little dog who usually runs around to check out the cats but typically the cats stand their ground and the dog is recalled by her owner.

Today was different. The terrier rounded the corner behind us and made a beeline for Zelda. Startled, Zelda ran; I lunged for Zelda but was not quick enough and the dog went off in hot pursuit. Zelda runs like a baby elephant – she is not a sprinter! The dog was closing in on Zelda.

Cat protecting cat

 

I started after her when something grey streaked by on my left – Gus was running with the terrier in his sights! He reached the terrier just as she was reaching Zelda and collided with the dog. The terrier returned to her owner tout de suite!

Gus turned his attention to Zelda. At first, I was worried about a possible cat fight, but  he proceeded to herd her back to the front door of our house. I found the two of them sitting quietly by the front door. Needless to say, our walk was over for the moment.

I did not expect that Gus would run the terrier dog off but I was sure glad he did, because I was not going to get there in time to prevent any injury to the dog or Zelda.

We expect this kind of behavior from mother cats protecting kittens but not from cats that did not grow up together.


Cats are known to be solitary hunters that group together to take advantage of plentiful food sources. Cats do not hunt together like a lion pride but the females can share the work of raising and feeding the kittens as do lions. What motivated Gus to help his housemate?

There are numerous videos online where cats protect children, dogs run off coyotes attacking cats, and mother cats protect their kittens from dogs and humans. Videos of  cats protecting other cats are scarce. Of course, the video would be hard to get – the last thing I was thinking about was filming the whole thing!

Years ago, a similar incident happened with my two older cats, Athena and Marley, while on our daily walk. Marley had gone ahead to the pond. I was behind Athena when a large red fox (they weigh about 30 lbs) showed up on the walk.  Athena froze. Before either Athena or I had a chance to move, the fox bolted past us with Marley on his heels. Once the fox was on his way, Marley returned and greeted both Athena and me.

Why would a cat be aggressive toward another species in these situations?


  • Threat to his territory?
  • Threat to a his own safety?
  • Hunting trigger – was the dog or fox behaving like prey?
  • Cats protecting other cats?
     

Why not avoid the predator, slink away and keep yourself safe?


Although the myth persists that male cats will eat kittens, many cat colonies have affiliated male cats. These males will band together with the female cats to protect the kittens from strange male cats(Organization in the Cat: A Modern Understanding) Presumably, the colony might band together to a drive off a threat such as a coyote or pack of dogs.

Gus was a community cat – he grew up living with other cats on the streets. Perhaps Gus has experienced a situation when he was a street cat where his group of cats banded together to protect the kittens or the colony from a pack of dogs. Although he and Zelda did not grow up together, they groom each other’s heads when meeting, indicating that they are part of a social group, an ad hoc “colony”.

Affiliated cats
Gus and Zelda are not a bonded pair but do groom each other.

More than just the availability of food “glues” the cat colony together. Perhaps another benefit is member cats protecting other cats: they have “got each others’ backs!”

A lifelong cat owner, I had an indoor-outdoor cat as a child. I continued to have cats as I grew older, gradually spending more and more time with them. When I took a break from work for two years to sail from California to Maryland via the Panama Canal, I took my two siamese cats with me and I am relieved to say that they both made it home and lived to be 17 and 18 years old.

When we moved to Colorado, I began to supervise my cats’ outdoor activities due to the number of predators that were around. For several years, we lived in a house that bordered on an open space. At night, you could the coyotes howling and hunting in the open space behind the house.

Cats could only go out with a human supervisor. At the time, I had two long haired cats that would follow me and stay close by while I gardened; our domestic short hair preferred to stay indoors exclusively.

Cat in a Lion costume

 

Around this time, I read My Pride and Joy by George Adamson of “Born Free” fame.  Adamson was known for rehabilitating captive lions and returning them to a wild existence. He would take groups of these captive-raised unrelated lions and establish artificial prides. One of the daily exercises the “pride” engaged in was a walk. I wondered if walking cats together would help them get along better.

And so started the ritual of walking cats every morning. The townhomes I live in are an impromptu retirement community. The grounds are spacious with older trees and a pond. The roads in the complex are quiet with little traffic.

After several attempts at walking cats on leashes and having to let them climb trees with leashes dangling as they tried to escape the neighbors’ dogs (often on leashes), we changed to a “freedom” walk. The cats were not leashed and followed me around. I reinforced this behavior with treats.

(Update: I have found that I have to leash Gus, my formerly feral cat. He is still inclined to roam and get into cat fights.)

Cats on the morning walk

 

 

None of my cats are littermates. Some of the cats  engage in friendly behavior (grooming each other) but others are aloof from their housemates indoors. Social Groups of Cats

Being outside is a different story. The four cats will band together, for example, if a strange cat approaches. They don’t fight amongst each when the intruder shows up. 

One  cat may growl at another if he is further away, but once close up, they will  touch noses and confirm that they are part of the same group.

 

 

George Adamson established “artificial” prides; we establish “artificial” colonies when we house unrelated cats together. Like a colony of free-roaming cats, the indoor “colony” has its own signature scent which the members recognize each other by.

I guess it is a case of
“Better the Devil You Know than the Devil You Don’t”,
or, from the feline purrspective,
“Better the Devil who Smells Like You than the Devil Who Doesn’t”

Cats staring

Do you have a cat that is picked on by your other cats? Everyone else seems to get along okay but this one cat seems to be singled out for torture.  He or she does not fight back, just tries to slink away and hide. You may have heard the term pariah used for such a cat – a pariah is an outcast, someone who is not part of the general social group.

Often, one or more cats will pick on the “pariah”. These feline bullies may..

  • stalk and track their victim
  • stare directly at their victim
  • attack her or him
  • prevent the pariah cat from using critical resources – litter boxes, food, sleeping places.
  • Bullies can exist within any multi-cat household – like human bullies, they tend to pick on the timid, old or sick that respond to threats.

Why should you intervene when cats don’t get along…

  1. The victim may develop a stress-related illness due to the constant threat presented by the bully.
  2. A out and out cat fight may result – fear and anxiety can lead to overt aggression on the part of the bully or the victim.
  3. Unlike the outdoor colony, the victim cannot vote with his or her feet and leave.

In an outdoor colony, “membership” is loosely “managed” by the group of core females. If a cat pushes the limits with bullying behavior, the core females may drive him or her off, if they perceive a threat to their kittens or resources.

Our indoor colonies rarely have a group of mother cats at the core – as the surrogate mother cat, the cat guardian must police the bullies and promote harmony in the group when cats don’t get along.

When cats don’t get along: the bully/pariah emergency

First Aid: Separation

  1. Separate the cats involved. You may need to redirect the bully (with a laser pointer, wand toy) to allow the other cat to escape or separate the cats physically and herd them away from each other
  2. Remember cats are socially flexible – they can live alone or in groups. Put your pariah cat in a room of his or her own with litter box, cat tree, food and water while you figure out what to do.  The pariah may need to remain in this room for several weeks.  Make sure to give him or her attention and play time!

Assess the Situation:

  1. Identify the social groups in the house : identify the bully(ies), the pariah(s) Social Groups of Cats
  2.  Evaluate resources – enough litter boxes, feeding stations, water sources? Are these separated so that all cats have access?
  3. Is there enough room for cats to avoid each other? Try to “think like a cat” and draw the paths a cat must take to get to his food, water and litter boxes.  These paths must give enough room for cats to pass each other comfortably. Beware of potential ambush spots – you may need to move some furniture.
Houseplan cat resources
A sketch of your home can help with locating resources, eg. litter boxes

 

Your cat is indoor-outdoor and is being bullied by a neighborhood cat…

  • keep your cat inside or accompany her when she goes outside
  • identify the aggressor cat and where he or she comes from
  • if possible, speak with the owner and find out when the bully cat goes out and see if a time-sharing arrangement can be worked out

 

Restoring Harmony…

Once you have gotten the cats separated, consider veterinary exams to determine if any of the cats are sick. Sickness can be frightening to healthy cats – their housemate may not smell right or behave quite right.
If all cats are healthy, make a plan to reintroduce cats slowly and gradually with some environmental modifications if needed. Introducing Cats: A Short Guide

Other Options if Aggression continues or become worse…

  1. Consider re-homing the victim.
  2. Under the direction of your veterinarian, give the victim and/or bully anti-anxiety medication and implement a behavior modification plan. If you decide to choose this route, make sure you are willing to work with your cats daily to desensitize them to each other. 

When Cats don’t get along: A Tale of Two Siamese Cats

Demian and Rupert were two neutered Siamese cat who had lived amicably for over a year. Rupert would bully Demian, stalking and attacking him; there were no injuries.  The tables turned one day and the victim became the aggressor – Demian stalked and attacked Rupert and backed him into a corner behind the toilet in the one bathroom in the 1 bedroom apartment.  Demian would not let Rupert move. After separating the two cats, Demian went to stay with a family member for about 10 days.  Fortunately, we were able to reintroduce the two cats afterwards.

Social Groups of Cats Within the Cat Colony


If there is plenty of food around, free-roaming cats tend to form groups called colonies. The core of the cat colony are the females, typically a mother, her sisters, and her daughters. These females share the care of the kittens – they nurse each others’ kittens and even help each other give birth.

Male kittens are driven off by their mothers at maturity to avoid inbreeding. They can become solitary hunters like their wildcat ancestors or become attached to an unrelated colony if accepted by the females

Within the colony there are smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats will often

  • sleep together
  • groom each other
  • rub against each other
  • “play fight”.

These groups of cats are more comfortable sharing resources: food, water, litter boxes, sleeping and resting places. Often these are cats that grew up together but that is not always the case.

The Dog Pack vs. the Cat Colony


The dog pack has a more rigid social structure than the cat colony.

The Dog Pack


  • The dog pack is a social group
  • the dominant animals breed and members of the pack cooperatively care for the young pups.
  • The dog pack has a hierarchy that is maintained through certain behavioral signals.
  • Using these signals, dogs lower in the hierarchy are able to “appease” more senior members to maintain harmony and cooperation in the pack..

The Cat Colony


  • A cat colony may have a number of smaller social groups in it
  • Affiliated females in the cat colony will share care of the kittens
  • All animals can breed
  • The cat colony does not have the distinct hierarchy of the dog pack
  • Cats do not have a system of signals to “make up” after a fight – they try to avoid the fight in the first place.

 

Resource Management in the Cat Colony…


In the cat colony, cats will “time-share” resources. A cat will wait until another cat is done before using a critical resource, say water or litter area.

Cats with stronger personalities (more dominant) may shove another cat over to access resources, although they are often likely to wait their turn. 

Social Groups of Cats Indoors – Managing the Multi-Cat Home


 

Identify Social Groups


 

  • Look for affiliative behavior: sleeping together, grooming each other, rubbing against each other, play fighting
  • Look for non affiliative behavior : time sharing or guarding resources, blocking passage to resources, staring
A simple sketch of your house can help with locating litter boxes.

Make Time-sharing Easy


  • Spread resources out
  • # litter boxes =  # social groups + 1
  • Feed cats individually and out of sight of each other.
  • Cats in the wild (other than mother and kittens) do not share food.
  • Daily play time for each cat
  • Sleeping, resting places – have secluded and elevated choices

Some social groups of cats will require their own room(s) with their own resources. The owner may have to organize the time sharing, allowing each group access to the common areas while the others are in their rooms.

 

A Multi-Cat Household and its Social Groups


There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.

Social Group 1

Athena forms her own social group.  She is a 15 year old spayed female. She recognizes her colony mates but prefers to spend time by herself or with her owners

Social Group 2

Marley (14 yr neutered male) will hang out with 4 year old Zelda. They will rest together, “share” snacks (they do not “steal” from each other.) They will occasionally “play fight”.

Social Group 3

Zelda will ask Gus, 3 year old neutered male, to groom her head.

Gus and Zelda go on walks together with their owners.

In the typical multi-cat household, humans have chosen unrelated cats to live together. Like school classmates, some cats will become friends, others will merely tolerate each other and still others will be simply incompatible to the extent they will need to be isolated from each other. Our cats’ most valuable resource are us, the owner-guardians. They may look to us to manage their colony.

Socialization in Cats – How Much is Enough?


Socialization in cats continues until they are 3-4 years old. However, they learn best when they are younger, ideally at 2-7 weeks of age.

How much socialization does a cat need?

Early Adoption…


A kitten’s instruction in the language of Cat begins with his mother, aunts, and litter mates in the cat colony. Once weaned, he continues his studies with other juveniles and adults in the colony. When we adopt a kitten at 8 weeks or so, we interrupt socialization in cats.

If the kitten joins a home with friendly, well-socialized cats, she will be able to learn the nuances of cat social behavior. She should thrive and prosper.

Adoption into a household of where the cats are not socialized or where our kitten is an only cat may result in a confused and fearful kitten.

Orphan Kittens…


These are kittens where the mother cat is absent due to death or abandoning her kittens. Kindly human volunteers will undertake the raising of these kittens by hand, bottle feeding them, cleaning them, weaning them, providing play and social opportunity.

Without interaction with other cats, an orphan kitten will grow up like a “feral child” and may never be able to respond to social cues from other cats. Aggression towards humans is common among hand-reared kittens.

 

The Tarzan syndrome
Tarzan, a fictional character from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, is a human child raised by apes after the deaths of his parents when he is an infant. He miraculously learns to speak and briefly joins society as a young adult.

Accounts of “feral children “are not science fiction like Tarzan. These children are often fighting and competing for food with the animals they join. The outcome of these cases depends on when (at what age) the children are abandoned to survive on their own and when they are brought back to society. Many of these feral children may not ever be able to speak and socialize normally with other people

  • Keep hand reared kittens with their litter mates for socialization. The kittens can learn from each – if one kitten bites another, he will get bitten back. He will learn boundaries this way.
  • If you are planning on an early adoption (kitten is less than 6 months old), consider adopting two kittens, preferably members of the same litter or kittens of a similar age.
  • It can be risky to introduce small kittens (less than 16 weeks) to adult cats. Adult cats who have no experience of kittens will not know how to deal with them.

If you opt to introduce kittens to older cats, SUPERVISE AT ALL TIMES. Make sure your older cat is vaccinated for upper respiratory diseases and feline leukemia (if he goes outdoors). Gradual introduction is still recommended. A pair of kittens may still be your best bet in this situation and give you time to introduce all the cats at their own pace.

Not enough socialization…


Bonded cats often sleep together.

After the euthanasia of their male cat, owners of a female cat decided to adopt a new cat. They were smitten by two 10 month old male cats they found at a rescue for dogs. The two cats were litter mates and had been at the rescue since birth. 

During several months of keeping the young cats separate from the older female cat, gradual introductions, pheromone therapy and time-sharing, the larger of the two young cats repeatedly attacked the female cat.

What happened?


  • The young cats were not able to read the social cues  (body language, olfactory cues) of the older cat. Their time at the dog rescue did not include socialization with cats other than their litter mates.
  • The larger male kitten was fascinated with the older cat but also fearful of her.  He attacked what scared him.

A Happy Ending


The “aggressive” cat has since been re-homed as single cat to another household. He is affectionate to his human family and doing well. The remaining male cat has started to bond with the older female.

The Cat Friendly Home: Maintain the Colony Scent

Odors not only tell cats about their world ; they also carry messages from other cats.

Free-roaming cats live in colonies if there is enough food in the neighborhood. Each colony has its own signature scent. Members of the colony identify each other by this scent. This colony scent also marks the core territory of the colony, where the members feel safe, can eat, rest and play.

Our homes are our cat’s territory; we are members of our cat’s colony. Our homes have the colony scent that makes our cats feel safe and secure.

How do we maintain the colony scent in our homes?


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Cats deposit pheromones  and signature scents using glands on their faces. You may see your cat rubbing the corner of a wall or furniture; you may also see him rub the same place again later the next day – he is marking the area as safe and familiar.

Pheromones and communication

Placing scratching posts around your home at windows, doors, and near where your kitty sleeps also provides boundary marking. Glands in kitty’s feet release pheromones and odors when she scratches which are deposited on the scratching posts.

Scratching Basics

Litter boxes are also part of the kitty network – urine and feces can carry messages and identify individual cats within the house.

Litter Box Basics

Disturbances in the Scent…


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.
A well marked wall.

Cleaners


  • Avoid using strong smelling disinfectant or scented cleaners.
  • Some of the disinfectant cleaners linger on surfaces for a long time after you have used them for cleaning. Cats can be notorious counter surfers and they lick their paws.
  • Also avoid cleaners with essential oils – most essential oils are toxic to cats.
  • Visit the Environmental Working Group site to learn more about the cleaners you’re using.

Environmental Working Group

“Whisker Walls”


It is best to leave those “whisker walls” where the kitties rub their cheeks untouched for as long as you can. If they are just too unsightly, try unscented castile soap (made out of plant sources) followed with a rinse. After cleaning, spray with Feliway Classic (Comfort Zone Calming)

 

Litter Boxes


Cleaning the litter tray can be done with mild cleaners, for example, dishwashing soap. If you do use bleach, make sure to dilute it and rinse the tray thoroughly. The CDC recommends diluting 1/3 cup unscented household bleach with 1 gallon of water for cleaning surfaces.

Avoid cleaning all the litter boxes at once – stagger the cleanings. Scooping daily if you use clumping litter, will allow you to empty and clean the litter box ever 2-4 weeks.

Hydrogen peroxide (3%) has good disinfecting properties and breaks down into just oxygen and water.

  1. Start with a box that has had all solid waste and old litter removed.
  2. Spray a fine coating of hydrogen peroxide on the inside of the box. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Scrub the inside thoroughly. Completely rinse the hydrogen peroxide out and dry the litter box before replacing the litter.

The Bark Space

Veterinary visits and hospitalization


When your cat goes to the vet, make sure that some of her familiar bedding goes with her for reassurance. If you have other cats, take along some other bedding the other cats sleep on in a plastic bag for the trip home. Ask that it be put in your cat’s carrier before picking her up. This helps maintain the colony scent when your cat is on her way home.

My youngest cat formerly was a street cat. He will be aggressive with the older cats returning from a day at the vet if we do not include some of his bedding for his roommate to come home with. I also make sure that the Feliway multi-cat diffusers are working in the common areas.

Managing new smells at the front door…


  • Place footwear and shopping bags at the door when you return home – allow the cats to examine these items before moving them further into the house
  • Wash your hands before greeting your cat or cats
  • Change your clothing if you have been in contact with strange cats and dogs

Pheromones help maintain the colony scent…


  • Feliway Classic (ComfortZone Calming) diffusers help the cats feel safe in their sleeping and litter areas
  • Multicat diffusers keep harmony in the common areas.
  • Wipe down new items with a cloth sprayed with the Classic or Calming  pheromone.

The Cat Friendly Home: Predictable and Positive Interactions Between Cats and Humans

What is the predictable and positive way to greet a cat?

What makes cat-human interactions predictable and positive?

Greet your cat in his language…


When there is sufficient food in an area, free-roaming cats will often live in colonies. Cat colonies are groups of related cats. The core of the colony is the mother cat, her kittens, her sisters and their kittens.

Each cat colony has a scent…


Cats live in a landscape of odors – their sense of smell is 1000 x more sensitive than ours and they communicate by scent. The cat colony has its own scent – each member has this scent.

 

Scent identifies members…


 Colony members often greet each other by touching noses, confirming the “colony” scent.

They also groom each other (allo-grooming) mostly on the head and rub against each other (allo-rubbing). All of these actions exchange scent, confirming the “colony odor” and membership in the colony.

You are part of your cat’s “colony” and share the “colony” scent, marking you as a colony member. You also have your “signature scent”, that identifies you as an individual to your cat. Greet your cat by letting her smell you and confirm that you belong to the colony.

Your cat may be a highly skilled hunter but he is also a small animal who is prey for larger carnivores such as dogs and coyotes. We are much larger than he is and don’t want to scare him and make him feel like prey. If you get on your cat’s level, you will seem smaller and not as threatening.

Meet and Greet – A Predictable and Positive Hello


 

 

 

Athena accepts a greeting by rubbing her face against my hand

Get on your cat’s level by bending down or by interacting with her on a higher surface. Extend a hand or a finger and allow her to smell you.

  •  If she wishes to continue the interaction, she will rub against your hand (allo-rub).
  • Handle your cat on her head at first. This mimics the “allo-grooming” of friendly cats, where they groom each others’ heads.
  • A friendly or bonded kitty may allow her back to be stroked after accepting a head rub – like the “allo-rubbing” of colony cats.
  • Your colony membership is up to date!

If you cat does not lean into your hand or rub your hand on greeting, save the petting session for later – like us, there are times your cat does not want to be touched.

Other Predictable and Positive Interactions between cats and humans…


  • grooming, treat time or play time – Make this POSITIVE – choose something your cat enjoys
  • have a session the same time each day, say, after dinner or before bedtime
  • cats are in tune to the household rituals that mark the passing of the day more than the time on the clock.
  • this “schedule” allows you to communicate with your cat. He will be looking for the clues that tell him that treat time is around the corner – he may show up and solicit the interaction with a chirrup or meow.
Athena sniffs her comb prior to being groomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have more than one cat?  Make sure each kitty gets some premium time!

These activities will strengthen the owner-pet bond. This time can also be used to train behaviors that are beneficial to both owner and cat – for example, conditioning your cat to accept kibble in treats to reduce stress when she needs oral medication.

Do you ever wonder why cats like us?


People are the ultimate resource – we provide food, shelter, play and safety.
To our cats , we may seem to be large, clumsy and somewhat unpredictable cats.
Let’s eliminate the unpredictability by greeting our cats in their language and providing positive interactions that they can predict.