This kitty prefers her cardboard scratcher to a large cat tree.

There are scratching posts, there are cat trees with sisal rope attached to the supports, there are cardboard scratchers of all shapes and sizes – which scratching post should you choose for your cat?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.

cats and scratching: the “purrfect” scratching post


A recent study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science video recorded 36 adult cats to identify the cats’ scratcher preferences.

  • Adult neutered male cats preferred a standing scratching post over an S-shaped one – spayed females did not show a strong preference here.
  • Scratchers with sisal rope and cardboard were used more often than those covered with sofa fabric.
  • Catnip and silver vine treated scratchers were favored over those treated with artificial pheromones.

In this study, the catnip, silver vine and artificial pheromones were hung in a sock on the scratcher. Would it make a difference if the artificial pheromone was applied directly to the scratcher, mimicking how a cat would deposit these scents?

Still another study (2019) recruited 8 week old kittens from a shelter population. The kittens:

  • Preferred cardboard S-shaped scratchers over posts with rope.
  • Adding catnip to the scratchers did not attract the kittens (this is not surprising – the catnip response does not show up in kittens until they are 3-6 months old.)

A third study, this one an internet-based survey of 4015 cats in 39 countries, found:

  • Rope was more frequently scratched than cardboard or carpet.
  • Cats scratched more often when the post was a simple upright type or a cat tree with two or more levels, at least 3 ft high.
  • Unwanted scratching decreased as the different types/styles of posts increased in the home.

This survey concluded that the “Ideal Scratching Post” would

  • have sisal rope
  • have vertical scratching surfaces
  • be more than 3 feet tall
  • have two or more levels
  • have a base of 1-3 feet

So, should you run out and purchase one of those, large multi-level cat trees? Will this take care of all your scratching issues? Let’s take a look at four different cat scratching stations in a 4 cat household.

Station 1: Multi-level Cat Tree with Sisal posts for scratching


This tall cat tree is located in the interior of the house away from doors and windows. The younger cats (6 years), Zelda and Gus, use this tower to snooze on the upper levels or to get to the tops of the kitchen cabinets. Although it does meet the recommendations for the ideal scratcher, the cats don’t scratch on this tree all that much.

Station 2: Single Post scratcher and cardboard scratcher


This very tall post (it is 41″) with sisal fabric is at the front door.  It is popular with everyone, from the 17 lb Coon cat to the small senior at 8 lb.  All four cats scratch before going out for a walk or when they sit to look out the window in the front door.  The horizontal cardboard scratchers at the front door also see consistent use.  The cats tend to use these with all 4 feet on the scratcher.

Station 3: Large cat bed with sisal scratcher


The sisal-covered base of this extra-large cat bed is tall enough for the large Maine Coon to scratch. This cat bed is located in the bedroom. It was purchased for the Maine Coon cat but has been taken over by  8 lb Athena, who sleeps in this bed or in her heated bed at the base of the scratcher. When she gets out of bed, she stretches and scratches on this scratcher. This is used infrequently by the other three cats.

Station #4: By a litter box


This is a single pole covered with sisal rope. This post sees a lot of use by all four cats.

In this household, location appears to affect how much a scratcher is used.

Cats scratch to maintain their claws, to stretch and to scent mark. Most scratchers are probably used for all three purposes. So, which scratcher should you choose? Experts recommend starting with the multi-level cat tree with sisal rope supports.  However, cats are individuals and, if your cat does not take to this type of scratcher, offer different types and styles.

The Take Away


  • Have more than one scratching station.
  • Have a variety of scratchers.
  • Move them around and see where they get used the most.
  • Watch your cat’s habits – try to pick a scratcher that you feel will be appropriate for your cat’s age, size, and level of activity.

The next post will look at first aid for unwanted scratching – what you can do when your cat scratches where you don’t want her to.

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Kitten with adult cat

You have decided that you want to get another cat. Why not a kitten? A kitten is young; he or she should be adaptable and open to new experiences. Right?

Before you go to the shelter or call a breeder, think first of your resident cats: their ages, health and life experience.

Introducing Kittens to Older Cats


Scenario #1:  senior cats


Let’s say your oldest cat is ten years old, comparable to a 56 year old human. She still is up for a rousing game of “chase the feather bird” but she is not forever pouncing on toys. She is still jumping pretty well but does spend a lot of her time in sunny spots, snoozing and soaking up the warmth.

Her health is pretty good for her age but she most likely has started to develop arthritis. You don’t know much about her early life (she was a rescue) but she gets along fairly well with the now 7 year old male cat you adopted when she was 3 years old. You recall that it took some time for them to accept each other but they will snuggle together in winter and groom each other’s heads from time to time.

If you could ask your two senior cats if they want a kitten roommate, they would probably say “No, please maintain the status quo”.  An energetic kitten may be more than they want to deal with. However, the two cats form an established social group, know the rules of feline etiquette, so there is a good chance that introducing a new cat will be successful.

The newcomer may or may not be accepted whole-heartedly into this social group. You may end up dealing with two social groups – your older cats and the kitten. Think about getting two kittens, ideally from the same litter. They will form their own rough and tumble social club and the older cats will not need to join the fracas unless they want to.

scenario #2: the single young adult cat


In this case, you have a young male cat about 1 year old.  You adopted him when he was a 10 week old kitten and he has been the only cat in the house since.  He is still rambunctious and playful.  You feel he would benefit from a younger companion.

Although this cat is still young, his socialization with other cats stopped at 10 weeks. He may tend to view a kitten more as an object, a toy to be played with, than a member of a social group.  The introduction process could be more complicated than introducing kittens to older cats that have been socialized. This young, single cat will benefit from training and possibly medication to put him in a relaxed emotional state while meeting his new roommate.

The Nuts and bolts of introducing kittens to older cats


It is wise to follow the basic rules of introducing cats in both scenarios.  Give your resident(s) time to get used to the idea of sharing the house with a furry newcomer. Start with:

  1. Scent exchange
  2.  Time-sharing of common areas
  3. Visual introduction with a barrier in between.

Time with the barrier in between can give you an idea of how the older cat(s) and kitten(s) will react. Make sure everyone is offered high value treats and toys and consider having a helper so there is a person on either side of the barrier. Have a sheet or blanket to cover the barrier if needed.

cat on leash
Zelda walking indoors on her leash.

 

Consider harness/leash training both kitten(s) and adult cat(s).  The harness/leash can give you more control over the visitations by regulating how cats approach each other.  A leash can keep a rambunctious kitten from pouncing on a senior cat; a leash can help keep an overstimulated young adult cat from relentlessly pursuing a kitten.

 

 

A word to the wise…


  • Assess the medical and social history of your resident cat(s) when planning to adopt a new kitten or cat.
  • Go slowly when introducing kittens to older cats – an older cat can hurt a young kitten.  Supervision is a must!
  • Watch everyone’s body language: take a step back if there’s a lot of hissing and growling.
  • Always be ready to separate fighting felines!

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Kitten kindergarten programs are great ways to continue to expose kittens to new experiences and accustom them to humans. But what if you can’t find one of these programs near you? Consider introducing your  kitten to your friends and family in your own home.

Hosting a Meet and greet for your kitten


What you will need:

  • An area in your home your kitten is familiar with, large enough to accommodate 3-4 people
  • Hiding places for your kitten in the area – some cardboard boxes with holes cut in them can be fun for both your kitten and your guests.
  • Treats and toys that your kitten likes
  • A litter box
  • Plastic spoons for offering treats to the kitten

The Guest list


Expose your kitten to a variety of people – men and women of different ages and well-behaved school-age children. When hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten, keep the group small, about 3-4 people, but invite different guests each time you do it.

For your first “Meet and Greet”, consider limiting the guest list to adults. Once you are more comfortable, you may include children but start with one child (school age) at first and make sure to supervise directly. Be firm about the rules and how to handle the kitten. Toddlers require a lot of supervision and can hurt a young kitten. They will do better interacting with an older cat.

Let your guests know that the goal of the “Meet and Greet” is to help your kitten learn how to interact with humans. It is important that your kitten has control over his interactions with us so that he develops confidence.  Even if he stays in a box or carrier, he has taken the first step to learning more about humans.

The Rules for Meet and Greet Guests

  1. Allow the kitten to approach you; do not reach for or grab the kitten.
  2. If the kitten approaches you, offer him a treat in a spoon or a toy to play with. If he seems comfortable, rub his head and cheeks.
  3. To pick up the kitten up, slide one hand under her chest and use the other hand to support her hind end.
  4. If the kitten starts to squirm when being held, place him back down on the floor.
  5. Don’t let the kitten play with your hands or feet – redirect her to a toy.
  6. Don’t feed the kitten using your fingers (kittens have needle-sharp teeth that can hurt when they bite)
  7. Do not hand the kitten from person to person.

Setting Up a meet and greet for your kitten


  1. Have each guest wash his or her hands before the Meet and Greet
  2. Have everyone watch the Battersea cat handling video (it is about 3 minutes long )
  3. Review the Rules with the guests.
  4. Each guest will get a bag with a few treats and can select a toy to play with kitty.
  5. Have everyone sit down on the floor in a circle.
  6. Bring out the star of the show in his carrier and sit him next to you.

Activities


Lure your kitten out with treats or a toy. Allow her to approach people on her own – reward with a treat or play. Guests can take turns luring the kitten with toys, cuddling the kitten (if she accepts this) and offering snacks!

Being picked up can be scary for kittens. If your kitten is calm enough and approaches and greets a guest, the guest may pick him up, reward him with a treat, and see if he’ll sit with the guest. If your kitten gets squirmy, you may need to gently remind your human friend that your kitty friend needs a break!

After about 30 minutes or so, take your kitten to a safe place (another room) for a break and rest.
Treat your guests to pizza and a movie!

LIMIT how much the kitten is fed – the number of treats should not be more than what your kitten eats at a meal.

Kitten with adult cat

As you get the hang of doing a Meet and Greet for your kitten, you may want to introduce her to well-behaved adult animals. Make sure these adults are vaccinated and dewormed. Choose one pet for the “Meet and Greet”. Start with a barrier like a baby gate between the kitten and the adult animal. Have the pets play and have treats on either side of the barrier. For safety, the adult animal should be harnessed, leashed and have a dedicated handler.

Even if you keep the barrier in place, this is still a valuable experience for your kitten – he will get to see and smell these adult animals up close!

Other kittens around the same age are welcome IF they are vaccinated, dewormed, retrovirus- tested (FeLV/FIV), and are NOT vomiting, having loose stools, coughing or sneezing.  Treat them in the same way as the adult animals – apart at first and gradually bring them together.

Hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten will help her be confident and accept new experiences, for example, having a pet-sitter at her home. She will learn what appropriate handling is and this will contribute to her safety and well-being.

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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 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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