Ask Ms. Kitty: Kitten Mythbusters
Dear Ms. Kitty,
We want to adopt a kitten, or a pair of kittens. We have not had a kitten in our family, and I want to understand how to care for a one before we make this decision. Can you give me some rules for raising a kitten to be a friendly, happy cat?
Looking for the right path
Dear Right Path,
Thank you for taking this decision to adopt seriously! As their substitute cat mom, you will be teaching your kittens how to behave. There are many kitten myths that can be very harmful to your new baby. Busting those myths can help you raise your lovable, playful kitten into your best cat companion ever.
MYTH: Get kittens as young as possible so they’ll bond with you.
BUSTED: Babies left alone during the workday will be very lonely, which can lead to illness or unwanted behavior. Kittens grow up more confident, have better play skills and entertain themselves better if adopted in pairs.
MYTH: A kitten can adapt to any lifestyle, even if it’s active and noisy.
BUSTED: A kitten who’s overwhelmed by a new environment may become fearful, shut down or defensive. A single loud noise can do a lot of damage, as kitten hearing is even more sensitive than puppies’. Create adaptable, confident kittens by introducing new things and other animals very gradually.
MYTH: If kittens do something wrong, they’re being spiteful and must be punished.
BUSTED: Kittens can be very sensitive and even a harsh word can make some very afraid of people. Instead, reward them with something they love—like treats or playtime—for what they do right and redirect from behaviors you dislike.
MYTH: Kittens love to play with hands.
BUSTED: This one is true! However, this teaches kittens that hands (and possibly feet) are for attacking. That may be cute when they’re tiny but teach them to be aggressive adults. Using cat toys will keep playtime fresh every day, teach them to be gentle…and save your fingers!
MYTH: Kittens are like stuffed animals you can do anything with.
BUSTED: If you make your kittens cower, run, duck or stop playing, they may end up shut down or always hiding: the classic scaredy-cat. Pet gently and let them tell you they’re happy by leaning into your hand and rewarding you with a purr.
MYTH: Kittens know what’s good or bad for them.
BUSTED: Since insects are one of a cat’s primary foods, kittens are masters at finding small, dangerous things to chew on, like cords, plastic, rubber bands, toys and toxic plants. Think like a kitten to find and hide things that could harm them.
MYTH: Cats hate having their nails trimmed or their coats brushed.
BUSTED: If you hurt your kittens with bad brushing or nail trimming techniques, you will teach them to be afraid of that. Good grooming and handling starts when they’re babies. Give them treats while gently handling or brushing to make this something they look forward to.
MYTH: All cats hate to go to the veterinarian.
BUSTED: For many cats, all it takes is one bad experience at the vet to be fearful for the rest of their lives. Before you travel, feed treats in the carrier so it becomes a comforting place to nest. Choose a vet who offers a quiet place to wait away from other animals and knows low-stress handling techniques.
MYTH: It’s normal for kittens to sleep all day and play all night.
BUSTED: This is true too, but can set them up for you to be upset when those nocturnal feline rhythms kick in. Set up regular playtime during the day and right before bed to wear them out so they sleep when you do.
Sara Ferguson and Melissa Shandley are founders of Happy Cats Haven. Ask Ms. Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven and managed by Colorado CATS Boarding.