Show Them the Love: Some Basics for Happy Kittens & Cats.
Establishing and reinforcing good habits helps create a happier, more peaceful household. It also makes it easier to exercise the best possible care for your kitten or cat.
Socialization gives kittens and new cats a foundation for being comfortable with new people (and pets) down the road. Introduce your feline companion to other people and animals early and often. Before making any introductions, though, be sure all your pets are healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations and protection against parasites like fleas.
Grooming early and regularly will help reduce the chance of hairballs and may make trips to the veterinarian easier. Brushing also gives you the chance to examine your kitten’s or cat’s ears, eyes, nose, mouth and paws.
Litter Box Training
Place your kitten or new cat in the litter box whenever you think an accident may happen. If your kitten or cat has an accident, wipe up the waste with a paper towel and place the waste in the litter box. This response teaches your kitten or cat to associate the litter box with waste.
Tip: Do not use an ammonia-based household cleaner to clean up accidents, as ammonia imitates urine and invites further misuse of the area.
Your kitten can be spayed or neutered at around 6 months of age or as directed by your veterinarian. If your kitten is a male, at about 6–12 months you may notice him urinating to mark his territory. If you wait until this stage to neuter him, he may continue to do this even after surgery.
Like you, your kitten or cat generally wants to do the right thing. Encourage the behaviors you appreciate! For many cats and their people, this means the temporary use of treats to reward good behavior. For example:
- Set up a scratching post. When you see your cat using the post, give her a treat while she’s using the post (and tell her she’s awesome). It’s helpful to reward a good behavior while it’s in progress. Do this consistently.
- When the post becomes your cat’s go-to place for scratching, start moving away from treat giving, but keep praising your cat. This moves the association with good behavior away from food and links it with a positive response from you (and maybe still an occasional treat).
- If you do use positive reinforcement, try not to indulge in treats outside the training context. You might reward or possibly strengthen meowing or other begging behavior.
Reducing the Stress of Veterinary Visits
Positive reinforcement (see above) can help reduce everyone’s anxiety around veterinary visits. There are some other simple things you can do:
- To reduce or eliminate the association between carrier and vet visits, try setting your cat’s carrier out at random times. Leave the carrier door open so your cat can explore and see that the carrier is a safe place (or even a spot for hide-and-seek). You may want to place a treat in the carrier at regular intervals, or give your cat a treat for going into the carrier voluntarily.
- Bonus tip: Carriers should be big enough for cats to stand and stretch—the way they do in some of their favorite cardboard boxes.
- A lot of cats just don’t like cars—especially since, as with carriers, the only time they’re in one is to go to the veterinarian. You can make the car friendlier by taking your cat for short drives around the neighborhood. As your cat gets used to the routine, lengthen your trips.
- Before a visit, give your cat an extra-long brushing, engage in an extended play session, etc. Choose something you know your cat likes and associates with positive interaction. After the visit, repeat the activity.
- Before going into the waiting room, cover your cat’s carrier with a towel or blanket from home to reduce potentially frightening stimuli.
- Take your cat for regular wellness checkups. Regular visits help your cat become comfortable with the veterinarian, the veterinary technicians and the place itself. It also lets the clinic gain a better understanding of your cat. When illness or other issues arise, the clinic can then factor in its detailed knowledge about your feline companion.