Ready to Succeed

Starting Your Kitten Off on the Right Paw

Welcoming a new kitten into your home requires preparation, patience, and, of course, love. But a bit of know-how about potential behavior problems also comes
in handy.

Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, a behavior consultant at the Westwood Animal Hospital in Kansas, says that most kitty problems center on inappropriate litter box use, destructive behavior, or aggression.

Toilet training
For a good start in the litter box department, First, find a box with sides low enough to allow your kitten easy access, says Hunthausen. Then, set the box in a quiet area, away from household traffic. A baby gate placed high enough to allow the kitten to pass underneath, or cat door in front of the litter box area can filter out toddlers and dogs without filtering out the kitten.

Most kittens train themselves – you simply need to ensure that a clean box is in the right place at the right time. Placing the kitten gently in the box after each meal will help give her the right idea, adds Hunthausen. Because curious kittens may sniff, play with, or even nibble on the litter, Hunthausen believes that clay clumping litters, which may have the potential to clog tiny organs, can be hazardous at this time. Avoid scented litters and harsh disinfectants, as well.

By around 12 weeks of age, your kittens litter box habits should be well established. Still, shes likely to make an occasional mistake, says Hunthausen. Here, your best course of action is simply to clean it up. Any punishment – even scolding – is counterproductive.

To discourage the kitten from using this inappropriate site again, says Hunthausen, First get the smell out completely. Then, consider setting her food there – cats dont like to eliminate where they eat. Or, place a motion detector alarm there or a vinyl carpet runner, with points on the underside, upside down- cats dont like walking on the points. If the trouble spot is in the bathtub, try leaving a little water in it. If its in a plant pot, try covering the bare soil with pine cones or rocks.

Itching to scratch
Provide your kitten with a scratching post she likes, in a place shes fond of. The trick, says Hunthausen, is to make the scratching post appealing and your furniture unappealing. Buy a sturdy post that is covered in nubby material, or try a fireplace log. Set it in a convenient, calm place. Hang short ribbons or toys from it to make it even more interesting for your kitten, and keep treats handy to reward her every time she uses it.

You can cover your furniture with a tarp, blanket, or towels to reduce its scratchability. For further deterrence, Hunthausen suggests setting empty aluminum cans on top of the towel, so that the cans fall down when the cat begins to scratch. A squirt from a water gun or repellent spray on your furniture may also help. But whatever your approach, says Hunthausen, The cat should think the environment is doing the punishing – not you. Otherwise, shell simply learn to misbehave when youre not around.

Handle with care
If various household members play with the kitten every day, shell become accustomed to a variety of scents and handling styles. Supervise childrens interactions with the kitten, and teach them to treat her gently at all times. Take your cue from the kitten, says Hunthausen. If she is shy or nervous, proceed very slowly with socialization.

Never encourage a kitten to attack your fingers or toes. Remember that what is cute in an eight-week-old kitten will not be cute in an eight-month-old cat! When your kitten gets that look in her eye, you can help ward off impending ankle attacks by tossing her a toy you just happen to have in your pocket, notes Hunthausen. Feathers dangling from toy fishing poles, foil balls, ping pong balls, or even walnuts in their shell are all great fun for your kitten to chase. An open cardboard box makes a low-cost kitty playground. And treats tucked into a hollow ball can keep her entertained for hours while youre away.

Remember that kittens have a lot of energy and curiosity, says Hunthausen. You can avoid most problems by kitten-proofing your house – and simply not giving her the opportunity to misbehave.