So many people think of cats as aloof and arrogant. Not so! Many cat owners know that cats love company, just in a different way to people and dogs.
Many cat owners assume that a veterinary visit is traumatic for cats and so cats may not be seen early in the course of illness due to owners fearing the trauma it may cause. Visits to vets are not traumatic for all cats…
Cats that benefit from socialisation and good experiences in a vet clinic at a young age are more likely to be less traumatised in future.
Tahani Blewett from Family Vet Centre in Albury and Wodonga has been wanting to hold kitten classes for years while working at other clinics. Now that she is with Family Vets, she has that opportunity. She approached me a few months ago for advice and we have been developing the programme along with the guidance of Kersti Seksel’s Kitten Kindy® recommendations. These guidelines were prepared after scientific study into beneficial methods for kitten development as pets in family homes.
We are aiming to start the programme in November, in line when most kitten are going to be of the correct age. Cats are seasonal breeders so there is certainly a seasonality to the common age of kittens. Unless you are a breeder bringing kittens to the programme, we would take kittens that are about 6 weeks old (see below in notes about feline evolution and kitten social development). If you are a breeder and would like to take advantage of the course, the kittens could potentially join earlier, but the whole litter should attend together.
There will be a limit to numbers so that kittens can be easily observed and will not be overstimulated in their critical period, so when we finalise the dates, it is likely to book out quickly.
One more thing: who says a cat can’t be trained.
Watch the clicker training video of me with my cat Fred: Freddy gives a high five
Feline Evolution and Kitten Social Development
Often people think of cats as asocial. This far from the truth! Cats are a social species, just like people, dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, goats… But the domestic house cat has a different natural social structure to people and dogs. The cat has domesticated in a very different way to dogs and it has not domesticated for as many thousands of years as the dog.
Cats have domesticated beside people with self-reliance rather than with a reliance upon people as did dogs.
Another difference with respect to socialisation of cats is their level of experience with other cats and people when in their critical social development period. It is very difficult for a kitten or puppy to gain social skills after their critical period of development has finished. In kittens, this period finishes at about 7 weeks so they are best to gain experiences very early. But a compromise needs to be made: early weaned kittens will struggle and have increased reactivity and fear responses. Kittens start the weaning process at about four weeks of age. Kittens who are removed from litter mates also have increased fear responses so a kitten will benefit greatly if a new owner takes them on with at least one litter mate.
There is a hereditary component to the outgoingness of cats. This comes from the father’s side. A cat that comes from an outgoing father and from a mother who nurtures and has good teaching skills to guide her kittens through their early development will likely be a more well-adjusted cat.
But many of our domestic cats may not come from such beginnings: as a veterinarian, I have nurtured many an orphan kitten. Also, many kittens are removed from their mother and litter mates before 7 weeks of age and yet are kept home without much social contact with other cats nor many different people. Or they are removed later but never had the chance to be socialised to humans and learn to enjoy our company.
Kitten classes such as those that we will run at Family Vet Centre can be highly beneficial for the bond between an owner and their cat, and to enable cats to enjoy veterinary visits.