The secrets of socialisation in their first few weeks. Why scratching is normal and important. How to keep them playful and purring with fun toys.
Kittens and Cats: Behaviour
In this section we’ll look at:
- Kitten socialisation
- Scratching (claw conditioning)
- Cat flaps
Imagine you are a kitten. The world seems huge. Everything is new: sights, sounds, smells, people and animals. There’s something different around every corner. It can be a little bit scary. We call this sensitive time ‘socialisation’ and it lasts for a kitten’s first 8-10 weeks.
Your kitten’s experiences in its first few weeks are crucial in shaping their behaviour as an adult cat.
So we need to try to make them good. They need to get used to the things around them including people, other animals and the sights and sounds of everyday life at home – the washing machine, vacuum, microwave and so on.
Good, early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted adult cats which are less likely to be scared. Sadly, without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous, which often leads to behaviour problems.
Choose a kitten that has had good socialisation from the breeder or owner of the litter. The kitten would normally still be at home with its mother and should have mixed with other people and pets, seen every day sights and heard normal household sounds at the breeder’s home.
Even when you bring your kitten back to live with you, help it to feel at home with lots of positive experiences.
Most cats love to play. It lets them behave naturally and provides good exercise. Many people think that kittens stop playing as they get older, but many adult cats enjoy daily play with their owners, using suitable toys.
The best types of cat toys are those that encourage chasing and hunting-type behaviour. They move quickly – unpredictably. Good examples are fishing rod-type toys that hang down, or balls intended for cats and kittens. Cat toys are available from most pet shops, pet supermarkets as well as from PDSA's my pet store.
Scratching – claw conditioning
Scratching, or ‘claw conditioning’ is a natural part of cat behaviour. It keeps their claws healthy and leaves scent marks.
Try a scratching post for your cat to help prevent damage to your furniture or carpets. Ensure it’s stable and tall enough for your cat to exercise at full body stretch. If it isn’t, your cat may choose your furniture instead!
A cat flap is a good way to give your cat access to your garden. But a conventional one also allows other cats to enter your home. This intrusion can be very stressful for cats and can be linked to stress-related medical problems. But a solution is easy: choose a cat flap that operates by a collar or microchip, so it will only open for your cat.
View more information on cat flaps on our Sureflap page.
PDSA reveals the state of our pet nation each year in a comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK – The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.
Since 2011, over 21,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children have been surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for. Here are the findings for cats and their behaviour:
A good, safe and effective socialisation programme is essential for young kittens. It leads to friendly, well-adjusted cats. Without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous – often leading in later life to behavioural problems, such as aggression.
Key findings from our most recent report:
10% of cats show aggression towards other pets every week. In homes with two cats, this figure increases to 16%.
42% of owners don’t know what socialisation their cat has had. This is unsurprising as 8% of cats were strays and 36% were acquired from rescue centres, so the owner is unlikely to know the cat’s history.
Cats are more aggressive to other pets than dogs – 13% in multi-cat households compared with 5% of dogs.
26% of cats scratch the furniture regularly. This suggests that scratching posts are either the wrong type or there aren’t enough.
Improve one thing today ... Play with your cat using a variety of toys to keep them mentally and physically healthy.
“The social life of domestic cats is relatively complex compared to dogs, as cats will generally only tolerate living in close proximity to cats they have grown up with; other cats are often seen as a threat. Therefore, it is sadly not surprising that aggression increases with the number of cats in the household. Owners should think very carefully, and take appropriate professional advice, before introducing additional cats into their home.”
Jenna Kiddie BSc MSc The Royal Veterinary College.