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Raising an Intelligent Cat
Understanding the stages of cat development will go a long way toward raising a smart feline.
Most people who call my cat shelter are looking for a kitten…the smaller the better. The common
The belief is that the younger ones will be more satisfied with the new family or the owner, and they will more easily learn the routine of their new home.
However, the next question is always, “Is he litter box trained?”
Somehow, people expect what is basically a baby to be well trained to minimize any potential for
accident, as well as socialized for human contact, but naive enough to fit in with the members of a new family, with no problems to solve.
That’s a pretty tall order for a baby!
Human babies have to wear diapers until they are about 2 years old, and are not expected to know many words until they are 5 or so. Kittens, however, are expected to be “potty trained” before the deadline set by Nature. (Fortunately, this behavior comes quite naturally.) They are then expected to learn quickly to bond with the new family and their home routine. In fact, they hope to know things they cannot yet understand. Some people think that instinct is a form of intelligence in animals. In a way, that might be a valid concept, but animals are not driven by instinct alone. Their ability to learn is affected by the conditions in which they have to live.
Considering the normal stages in the development of the kitten as it becomes a cat, perhaps one can learn to be patient with the “new babies” in the house:
From birth to 2 weeks, kittens’ eyes just open, usually around 10 days. They follow sound, and are completely dependent on their mother. If they are separated from him now, they will become slow learners in life, and will often be aggressive towards people and other pets.
During the 3rd week, they can locate things they cannot see and smell, especially their mother.
Four weeks: Sense of smell is well developed, as is hearing. They can walk very well and start playing with their friends.
Five weeks: They are playing hard now, which is part of their schedule to learn the various skills they will need as adults, such as jumping, chasing and running. At this point, they are also learning how to use their feet, as cats are masters of swinging and grasping. Claws are now essential equipment. They also begin to groom themselves during this stage, as well as each other. Gooming sharing is a social mechanism that helps them learn to bond with others. Removing the cat from its mother and siblings now interrupts this process and they may not learn how to form relationships. This may explain why some cats never accept a companion or a new pet into the household later in life. They never learn this skill!
From 7 to 14 weeks is the stage where they are most active, where play is not just for fun, but to learn valuable skills they will need as adults. This is a critical time in a kitten’s life, and appropriate toys are essential if they are not playing with a companion. Separation from mothers and siblings at this stage is very common, and new owners must understand the essential use of play, grooming and gentle handling.
From 3 to 6 months, kittens learn about the “totem pole,” that is, their social ranking. They can become aggressive if necessary to survive due to rough handling either by humans and/or by other pets, such as dogs or larger cats that may see them as intruders.
At this age, kittens can be considered “adolescents,” a time when they experience new feelings, especially those associated with the onset of puberty. If they are not spayed or neutered at this time, they will begin to try to dominate others in the household, including humans.
This is normal and is quite necessary in the “wild” to survive. But your home is not a wild place… or shouldn’t be… and dominance shouldn’t be needed to survive. At this time, people should be trusted completely, but it must be earned. Cats, more than dogs, will not respect someone who mistreats them. They will become distant, living up to the perception that cats are distant, and may even become aggressive with all or most members of the household.
Treating a new kitten with respect, gentleness and love, along with proper nutrition, will result in a loving, well-adjusted and intelligent cat!
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