In the first few weeks of life, kittens absorb a wealth of information from their mother and their siblings. However, the importance of bringing up a kitten through human contact cannot be overstated. This combination of learning from different sources is the best way to prepare your kitten for its journey through life.
The cat mother will take care of the socialisation aspect: she will do everything she can to make ready her kittens for whatever comes their way and give them the wisdom to thrive as fully-fledged cats. The motto? Learn by doing.
Your job is a little different: the first task is to make your new friend understand that the furniture in your home is not intended as a scratch post. It is generally helpful to understand why your cat does this before trying to change behaviours. Everyone knows that dogs use urine to mark their territory, but it is a lesser known fact that scratching releases odours to that serve as territorial markers. This scent is undetected by the human nose, but does not escape cats and other animals. Scratching also keeps claws sharp and healthy, while allowing cats to stretch and shake off any lethargy.
So, scratching is totally normal behaviour for cats, and you should simply direct their attention away from your prized furniture and towards one of these cat trees or perhaps a scratching pads or boards. As long as you are patient and kind, you should easily be able to get this across to your cat.
Cats are easy enough to bring up – with a little bit of luck
It is important to keep in mind that cats tend to be lone animals rather than forming a pack. This means that they don’t follow any commonly seen subordination routines seen in the wild, and don’t see their human as an alpha either. This also means that they don’t always listen since they do not have the same understanding of authority. However, following these general rules should make things go as smoothly as possible:
- Be decisive: if you see your cat somewhere it shouldn’t be (on a table, keeping its claws sharp on your curtains) say “no” softly but firmly and pick your cat up / carry it to the scratching post
- Place your scratch post(s) somewhere where they can be easily accessed. Another top tip is to place them near to objects your cat tends to target. To make the scratching post irresistible, try using some catnip spray to entice your cat.
Being swift and decisive when faced with a misbehaving cat
When your cat does something it shouldn’t, you only have a few seconds to let your cat know that this is wrong, so time is of the essence. To really make positive/negative reinforcement work, you must act quickly. If you follow up good behaviour with positive reinforcement, it will become much easier for your cat to pick up on your signals.
Give your kittens as much time with their mother as possible
It cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to keep kittens with their mother for as long as possible. This proximity to their mother is paramount for the kitten’s mental and physical wellbeing. Early separation from the mother can lead to negative side-effects like increased anxiety levels in kittens. This obviously reduces the kitten’s quality of life, as well as making the task of bringing them up much harder. Kittens, like any other sentient being, are more receptive when they feel safe and emotionally balanced.
Aids for positive reinforcement
You have several tools at your disposal to help you raise your kitten just the way you like. One of, if not the most, famous is the clicker : this gives out a marker signal that positively reinforces the behaviour of your cat. In theory, it should be possible to raise all kittens using a clicker like this one, but there is no one-size-fits-all and individual responses can vary a lot across different training methods.
The clicker works through the unique sound that it makes, a sound that does not exist in a cat’s natural environment. When used as a positive reinforcement tool, it is an unambiguous signal that the behaviour just engaged in was a good one. After using the clicker, your window of opportunity to complete the signal by giving your kitten some kind of treat is again very brief (1-2 seconds).
Clicker training can also be used for more advanced training techniques like teaching your cat how to perform a trick. This is how they do it in the movies! Once you and your pet have familiarised yourselves with the way of the clicker, all it takes it time and patience to come to master the kind of conditioning needed to wow spectators.
Rewarding your kitten with treats and tenderness
It is worth noting that, although popular, the clicker is by no means universally accepted. Some experts feel it is too impersonal, and that education should be about building and maintaining a deep, trusting connection between human and kitten.
Critics of the clicker method often say that a combination of food, treats, and lots of praise and affection are enough to show kittens that their behaviour was positive. This also allows you to share your genuine pleasure at seeing how your kitten grows.
So, constructive reinforcement (with or without a clicker) is a fast and reliable way of making a positive difference to the behaviour of your kitten. At the same time, punishments like splashing kittens with water are strongly advised against because they will break down any trust that exists between you and your kitten. And, this connection is the cornerstone of raising your kitten.
If your kitten is being cheeky, the best thing to do is to calmly, but firmly, say “no”, taking care to annunciate clearly. At the same time, pick up your mischievous kitten and put them down softly where they should be. This will let your cat pick up what it should and should not be doing.
House-trained in a hurry!
Taking care of their physical urges is another thing that cats pick up very quickly. That’s not to say that there won’t be a few mishaps along the way, but as long as you approach these mistakes calmly and patiently, they should be few and far between. When they occur, pick your cat up and move it to the cat tray while offering gentle reassurance and maybe even a head pat. Then it’s best to slip away quietly and let your kitten get on with its business.
As soon as one kitten goes to the litter tray, it becomes the latest craze and all its siblings want to join in too. It’s not unusual for kittens to share a tray or box as they grow up, but once they reach a certain size it simply becomes impractical; each cat should have its own cat litter box or tray.
Don’t stroke one spot for too long
As much as cats love a cuddle, their receptors are incredibly sensitive, and prolonged stroking of the same area can set them off. This could spark a less than friendly reaction, so it’s better to not let these things become an issue in the first place.
We're sure that you and your new kitten will enjoy each other's company for years to come, and you can find everything the pair of you could need on our dedicated kitten page.