Cat behaviour

You will not fail to be amazed by how quickly your palm-sized kitten develops into a sophisticated cat, with a personality all of his own. By undertaking the correct handling and care you can help shape the character of your budding feline. How kittens learn We may not be entirely sure how cats view their relationship with us, but you can be certain you can influence your kitten’s behaviour. We all get a little broody at the sight of a tiny bundle of fluffy kitten but what does a kitten make of us and his new world? The answer is ‘very little’ during the first few days of his life!

Behaviourist John Bradshaw suggests carrying out the following experiment to give you a similar sensation to that of a newborn kitten. You may want to draw the curtains first! He recommends blocking your ears with ear plugs, so that even very loud noises sound muffled. Then, lie on the floor and pretend you can’t move your legs and that your arms can only make clumsy, uncoordinated movements. Close your eyes tightly.

Finally, pull yourself around the room on your arms, sniffing as you go and working out where you are by the smells you come across. This may feel terribly bizarre but this is a three-day-old kitten’s perception of the world. Although his abilities are very limited, his sense of smell is already very acute and probably sharper than yours.

However, as he can’t yet see anything it is very difficult for him to make any sense of the odours he encounters. Fast learner Nurtured by a diligent mother a kitten rapidly  develops. Within days he will be able to hear, and his eyes will have opened by day 12. Gradually his coordination will improve but it won’t be until week four that he is standing and moving freely. In his book ‘The True Nature of the Cat’ John Bradshaw says this has been proved by putting kittens on a surface that has gaps or holes in it. “At four to five weeks of age most kittens just stick their paws straight out, whether there is something solid immediately below or not. In another week or so, they have learned to move their paws to miss the gaps, guiding them by direct coordination between eye and limb.”

Your kitten is now well on his way to independence and as soon as he is able to walk his world becomes that much more exciting. He can now enjoy toys that can be chased and pounced on but will probably prefer your curtains. Anything that moves will prove fascinating and once he’s looked, touched, sniffed and more than likely licked them, he’ll be ready for a game. Batting the curtain with a paw will keep it moving and will keep his interest for some time. This may be down to the fact that cats’ eyes are highly tuned to pick up rapid movements, writes John. “In fact they pay remarkably little attention to very slow movements and appear to be barely capable of noticing motion that is ten times faster than the slowest that we can detect.”

At this stage your kitten should also be ready to use a litter tray independently. Much like any youngster, everything finds its way to the mouth and must be tasted first and cat litter is no exception. However, since they will now have a few teeth, one crunch tells them this is not a new kind of cat food and kittens quickly take control of their own toileting habits rather than relying on mum. He is also ready to be encouraged to take solid food and will find mum is less accommodating when it comes to nursing. Like mum Well-socialised cats are more likely to produce well-socialised kittens. Kittens often mirror their mother’s attitude towards people, but you can play a vital role too. Petting, talking and playing with your kitten will help develop good ‘people skills’.

Our relationship It’s hard to know exactly how we are perceived through our kitten’s eyes but it’s safe to say that we are seen as much more than just a reliable source of food and somewhere cosy to sleep; probably more of a surrogate mother, whom he can depend on to provide a knee to knead from time to time. We also know that our actions can determine the adult cat he becomes and how well-socialised he is.

The important ‘sensitive period’ during a kitten’s life is considered to be between two and seven weeks and at this time kittens are really receptive to finding out about other species and their environment without any preconceived ideas. It is therefore important that we provide, and are associated with, pleasant sensations.

Kittens who are gently handled by people for 15 to 40 minutes a day during the first seven weeks tend to be more exploratory, more playful and better learners, so look for breeders/rescue centres who have been able to provide this for their kittens. While this stage is important, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kittenhood, so it’s important that interaction continues throughout life.

Cats don’t reach social maturity until they are 18 months old – although this can be as much as four years, dependent on breed and the individual. This means we have the ability to easily influence cat behaviours (good and bad) for along period.

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