QUESTION: My cat passed away recently, and I have just adopted another kitty. I was wondering what food you recommend to get him started right for a long and healthy life. My last cat was overweight and had urinary tract and other health issues. He ate what I considered to be a good quality dry food all his life, but I am hoping to find out if there’s a better alternative for my new kitten friend. Any suggestions?
ANSWER: The choice of what food is best for our feline companions has become a complicated issue in recent years. The pet food industry is a multi-million dollar business that produces an ever-increasing and changing number of products every year. Their marketing departments bombard us with advertising that promotes the benefits of this or that food. Dry foods, we have been told, are good for cats’ teeth. They are now made in formulations for kitten, adult, seniors, sensitive systems, urinary tract, healthy weight, hairball prevention, gluten-free, even for specific breeds like Siamese or Maine Coons. It can seem overwhelmingly complex to feed a cat.
In reality, cats’ dietary needs are simple – they require meat to survive. Unlike humans and canines who can thrive on a vegetarian diet, cats are obligate carnivores which means they must eat a primarily meat diet. In the wild they are eating rodents & birds, which are meat protein with lots of moisture included in each meal and very little carbohydrates. Compare that to the formulation of dry food – lower protein, and some of that from plants which cats’ bodies are not able to utilize well, high carbs, and little or no moisture. The typical highly-processed dry food is not even close to a natural diet for a cat. Why then do cats eat it, if it’s so unnatural? The reason is that the baked and dried product is sprayed with something called “animal digest” to make it smell and taste very enticing to cats.
Vets like Dr. Lisa Pierson are now recommending canned food as the preferred diet for cats. On her website www.catinfo.org, Dr. Pierson reports that she has been seeing increasing instances of cats with obesity, diabetes and urinary obstructions in her practice. She is convinced that the wide-spread use of a dry food diet is a major contributor to this alarming trend.
She cites two immediate benefits to a canned food diet. First, most canned foods contain a higher percentage of the meat-protein that cats need to thrive. Wet food typically contains low percentages of plant-based carbohydrates that cats’ bodies were not designed to run on. Without the excessive and unnatural percentage of carbs like corn, wheat, rice, & soy, canned food is a healthier alternative in the prevention of obesity and the many health problems associated with it.
The second benefit of wet food is increased moisture. A cat’s urinary tract is much better off with an appropriate amount of water flowing through it. Cats are not big water drinkers and are used to getting their water with, and not in addition to, their food. As Dr. Pierson points out, “A cat’s normal prey contains approximately 70 – 75 percent water. Dry food only contains 5-10 percent water whereas canned foods contain approximately 78 percent water. Canned foods therefore more closely approximate the natural diet of the cat and are better suited to meet the cat’s water needs.” This is why she states that urinary issues like cystitis and blockages can be almost entirely avoided with this diet.
Based on this information, we highly recommend a canned diet for your new kitten. Although 100% canned is best, even a part canned/ part dry diet is better than all dry food. Sometimes dry food is seen as being more economical, but Dr. Pierson believes that even the least expensive canned foods are better for our kitties that the best dry foods. Another important factor to keep in mind is that the small difference in cost can be more than offset by the avoidance of future medical bills to alleviate a urinary blockage or other health crisis. For those of us who dearly love our kitty companions, providing the best possible diet for them is a small price to pay for them to avoid pain and live a long and healthy life.
Reference: “Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition,” by Dr. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM on her website www.catinfo.org.
IMPORTANT NOTE TO THOSE WITH A DIABETIC CAT ON INSULIN
ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN BEFORE CHANGING THE DIET OF A DIABETIC CAT ON INSULIN. THE SWITCH TO A CANNED FOOD / LOWER CARBOHYDRATE DIET OFTEN IMMEDIATELY LOWERS THE NEED FOR INSULIN AND CAN RESULT IN A DANGEROUSLY LOW BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL IF INSULIN AMOUNTS ARE NOT ADJUSTED BASED ON BLOOD SUGAR TESTING BEFORE MEALS.
QUESTION: I just rescued a four month old kitten from behind the building where I work. During his first vet visit, the kitty tested negative for Feline Leukemia but positive for FIV. He is a sweet gentle kitten, and I have already fallen in love with him. I have two FIV negative cats at home who get along well with each other, and I had planned to add this kitty as my third. I am getting some conflicting opinions about keeping this kitten because of his FIV status. Any advice?
ANSWER: How kind of you to take in this homeless kitty! After deciding to add him to your family, you must have been quite surprised to hear he tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and your confusion about what to do next is a common feeling.
Cat Angel Network has often been in this same situation. A kitten or cat is surrendered, and the subsequent Combo test indicates an FIV+ response. When this first happened to us back in 1997 with a stray tortoiseshell kitten found in Pottstown, not much was known about this virus, but over the years the veterinary community has learned a great deal about it. And their latest information confirms what we have seen ourselves in over 18 years of fostering and adopting out FIV+ kitties. Here are the four guidelines we follow with cats testing positive for FIV, based on our experience and backed up by veterinary studies:
(1) All kittens under six months old need to be retested later because they often test a false positive. Cornell Feline Health Center (part of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine) reports in their online article “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus”:
“Infected mother cats transfer FIV antibodies to nursing kittens, so kittens born to infected mothers may receive positive test results for several months after birth. However, few of these kittens actually are or will become infected. To clarify their infection status, kittens younger than six months of age receiving positive results should be retested at 60-day intervals until they are at least six months old.”
(2) The virus is not as contagious as first thought, and properly introduced, friendly FIV positive kitties can live with negative cats with little risk. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center’s article:
“The primary mode of transmission is through bite wounds. Casual, non-aggressive contact does not appear to be an efficient route of spreading FIV; as a result, cats in households with stable social structures where housemates do not fight are at little risk for acquiring FIV infections.”
(3) The care recommended for these cats includes common sense practices that we have always advised for all our cats. The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends:
“FIV-infected cats should be confined indoors to reduce their exposure to infectious agents carried by other animals; FIV-infected cats should be spayed or neutered; They should be fed nutritionally complete and balanced diets.”
(4) It is wise to promptly take care of any health issues that are noticed in these cats. The Cornell Feline Health Center advises:
“Vigilance and close monitoring of the health and behavior of FIV-infected cats is even more important than it is for uninfected cats. Alert your veterinarian to any changes in your cat’s health as soon as possible.”
In our experience at Cat Angel Network with dozens of FIV+ cats, we have found that the vast majority of them live healthy and long lives. Almost all have lived to be over ten years old. The one health issue we have seen more frequently with these cats is a redness of the gums and mouth (stomatitis). This is a treatable condition that is best taken care of early (as it would be with cats who are FIV negative).
Our advice for your four month old kitten would be to have him retested after he is six months old. (All of the CAN kittens that were retested came up FIV negative on a later test). If your present two cats are not aggressive (typical play-fighting is not a risk, but only fights involving deep, penetrating bite wounds), and you introduce the new kitty slowly and carefully, with close supervision until all are comfortable with each other, we feel that you should not experience any difficulties.
We at CAN have a special place in our hearts for cats that test FIV+. They have lived for far too long under the stigma of these three letters, often the innocent victims of misinformation that has persisted from the past. One of CAN’s missions is to help spread the much more optimistic outlook presented by the latest results of veterinary studies. These cats need and deserve the same joys and comforts of life that rescue organizations like ours passionately seek for all of our feline friends!
Quotes in this column are excerpted from the findings of the Cornell Feline Health Center (part of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine). The full article “Feline Immunodeficiency Virus” can be found online at http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc. Accessed April 2015.
QUESTION: I just adopted a kitty from your organization a short time ago. Although she snuggled with me and purred in the Adoption Center, now that she’s home she hides under the bed and hisses and growls at me. I am confused and upset by her behavior. I had hoped to have a loving, close relationship with my kitty, and she seems to want nothing to do with me. Help!
ANSWER: Your confusion and upset feelings are common and natural reactions for an adopter in the first days and weeks after adopting a new kitty. Expectations are high for the love affair to begin immediately or at least soon after the adoption. Cats, however, like many of us, need to have that love relationship built slowly, day after day, until they feel a safety in our presence that develops into trust and eventually blossoms into love.
There is a wonderful book for humans called “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman that provides understanding of what makes an individual person feel loved. Knowledge of what we can do on our part to have someone else feel safe, secure, and cherished improves relationships of all kinds, including with our pets.
We are often asked questions about how to do this by new cat adopters like you or those forming a relationship with a kitty who has little experience with humans. Each week we get phone calls about a newly adopted kitty or a stray. People ask how they can deal with a cat who is constantly hiding, hissing, or otherwise not “warming up” to his or her human. This is upsetting to the adopter or rescuer, as he or she will think, “She doesn’t like me,” or “He doesn’t like it here.” This is rarely the case.
Cats, as a species, are nervous about change. It is not the person or home they dislike but the unknown. They wonder, “Will I be safe here? Are the people and pets I am meeting friends or foes?” And we, on our part, are not really seeing the cats’ true personalities when they first enter our homes — we are seeing their fear. There are a number of things we can do to build a loving, trusting relationship with cats in this situation. So, based on our work with hundreds of cats, here is our version of Gary Chapman’s concepts, called “The Five FELINE Love Languages.”
One of Dr. Chapman’s human love languages is referred to as “Quality Time,” making sure you spend time doing things together that the other person enjoys. For a timid kitty, this translates to mean our spending quiet, calm time in her presence. This is not possible if the cat is given too much freedom at first and is running from hiding place to hiding place. A kitty suite should be set up before the cat’s arrival. This would be as small a room as possible, with a door, not gates. Powder rooms are ideal, though laundry rooms, offices, small bedrooms or even a large dog cage can be used. The important thing is that the cat has everything she needs in that space, including a hiding place that is readily accessible to you. We often use a cat carrier with a top that opens. Sitting in the room with the kitty while you are reading, knitting, etc., gets kitty used to your presence in a non-threatening way. Reading aloud in a soft voice is a great way to have kitty associate your voice with peace and comfort.
This leads into another love language. For humans it’s called “Words of Affirmation,” which involves speaking words of appreciation and gratitude. For cats, this affirmation can be non-verbal. Cats communicate with each other through eye contact. A stare is considered threatening, and if unbroken for a length of time, can result in one cat leaping on or attacking another because of the perceived threat. The opposite effect is achieved between cats by use of the “slow blink.” When one cat looks at another with soft eyes and slowly blinks, the other kitty often reciprocates with a slow blink. Try it with a nervous kitty – it works!
The third love language is called “Acts of Service.” Many spouses have discovered that anticipating the needs of the other and doing chores that need to be done, without being asked, is often the way to their mate’s heart! For cats, we know what they like and, for most cats, that’s interactive play. We may not always feel like waving that fishing pole toy around or flashing that laser light all over the room at the end of a long day, but we know cats love and need that outlet for their predatory nature. PLAY IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO BOND WITH SHY KITTIES! They forget their nerves and can’t resist getting involved with you. Each day brings more and more rewards as they look forward to the interactive playtime that they only get when you make the effort.
Love language #4 is self-explanatory — “Gifts.” With a new kitty, you want her to see you as the “bearer of all good things.” Every time you come into her room, good things appear. It is critically important that you bring her food to her in two separate meals so that she looks forward to its arrival (and yours!). The only exception would be if the kitty is underweight, ill, etc., and needs continual nourishment to build her up. Otherwise, she looks forward to getting her meal from you. Pick up uneaten food after a specified time so she is hungry and eager for your next appearance.
Gifts can also be anything from an elaborate cat tree because you know kitty likes to be “up high,” to toy mice and balls, down to the particular cat treats she can’t resist. Many a cat’s heart has been won through special foods or treats. Try tossing them within her grasp at first, and then throwing them closer and closer to you until kitty is voluntarily coming to your side. You may think of this as bribery or that the cat “loves the food and not me.” Consider the child whose grandmother always makes special favorite foods when the child comes over. Does the child just love the foods, or isn’t it true that the child adores grandma because he knows, through her gifts of food, that he is adored? ‘Nuff said — it affects cats the same way!
Last, but not least, is the language of physical touch. With a shy or frightened cat who is not yet touchable, slowly reaching toward the cat, with the palm of your hand facing downwards, gives the kitty a chance to gingerly stretch her nose toward your hand. If she is hissing or backing up instead, try leaving your hand next to her bowl when she comes to eat. Then try gently brushing the back of your hand against her cheek. A heavy duty pair of padded work gloves (cats love the feel of the suede ones) are invaluable in starting physical touch with a very scared cat who may bat at you. Once successful touching begins, you can progress to petting, scratches, brushing, etc. Your kitty will show you what she likes!
In the world of human relationships, we know that loving partnerships are built by our words and actions. “Love at first sight” tends to be “attraction at first sight,” and we learn that mature love requires effort. The same is true of our relationships with our pets. We may choose a pet because we are attracted to what he or she looks like, but love can’t grow until we get to know and trust each other day by day. Unlike dogs who may love people who neglect or mistreat them, cats are choosy about those they entrust with their love. We have to earn it, and by doing so, we find the love is all the sweeter for it.
And how do we know that our kitties love us in return? By their purrs (Words of Affirmation), wanting to be near us (Quality Time), rubbing, snuggling, and head butts (Physical Touch), keeping bugs and rodents under control (Acts of Service) and dead things left on our doorstep or the favorite toy dropped at our feet (Gifts)!
QUESTION: I consider myself to be a very responsible pet owner and try to give my cat the best of care. In the past I have sometimes rushed my cat to an emergency clinic only to discover that the problem was a minor issue. How do I know when my cat truly needs to be taken to the vet immediately, as opposed to waiting until the next day and seeing my regular vet? Going to an emergency vet clinic can be quite costly, but I don’t want to hesitate if there is a true crisis.
ANSWER: This is an excellent question and one that we often hear from our adopters and foster parents. Although minor ailments like the sniffles or sneezing can wait until the next day, some conditions need to be treated immediately, and hesitation of even a few hours can mean the difference between life and death. Knowing what signs to look for is crucial in determining when to seek emergency care for your cat. Below is a list of some of the most common cat emergencies and their signs. These “top five emergencies in cats” are condensed from an article on the website CatHealth.com.
1. Urethral Obstruction: This is a condition in which a cat, usually male, is unable to urinate due to a blockage in the urethra (the tube leading from the urinary bladder to the outside environment).
Cats will show a sudden onset of restless behavior which includes frequent trips in and out of the litter box. They will often attempt to urinate in unusual places such as in a bath tub or on a plastic bag. You may notice a very small stream of urine that contains blood. More often than not, despite a cat’s straining, there may be no urine or even just a drop produced. In later stages of the obstruction, cats may cry loudly, vomit, and become lethargic.
You should consider these signs a serious emergency and seek veterinary care immediately. There are reports of cats developing kidney failure and dying within 12 hours after the onset of signs. Expect your cat to be hospitalized at least 36 hours for treatment of this condition which may include a urinary catheter, intravenous fluids, and pain management. Female cats are less likely to become obstructed due to their wider urinary tract.
2. Toxicities (Poisoning): The combination of their curious nature and unique metabolism (the way their body breaks down chemicals) makes cats very vulnerable to toxins. Owners are often not aware that their home contains multiple products that are poisonous to their feline companions. The most common cat toxins include antifreeze, Tylenol, rat or mouse poison, and poisonous plants, such as lilies.
The signs your cat displays depend on what type of poison they have encountered. Antifreeze will often cause wobbliness or a drunken appearance first, and then progresses to vomiting/weakness as the kidneys fail. Tylenol may cause an unusual swelling of the head and changes the cat’s blood color from red to chocolate brown. Rat or mouse poison interferes with blood clotting so you may see weakness from internal blood loss or visible blood in urine or stool. Cats that are experiencing lily poisoning will often exhibit signs of depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite (anorexia).
3. Breathing Problems: Many times cats hide the signs of breathing problems by simply decreasing their activity. By the time an owner notices changes in the cat’s breathing, it may be very late in the progression of the cat’s lung disease. There are several causes of breathing changes but the most common are feline asthma, heart or lung disease.
4. Sudden inability to use the hind legs: Cats with some forms of heart disease are at risk for developing blood clots. Many times these clots can lodge in a large blood vessel called the aorta where they can prevent normal blood flow to the hind legs. If your cat experiences such a blood clotting episode (often called a saddle thrombus or thromboembolic episode), you will likely see a sudden loss of the use of their hind legs, painful crying, and breathing changes.
On arrival at the emergency room, your pet will receive pain management and oxygen support. Tests will be done to evaluate the cat’s heart and determine if there is any heart failure (fluid accumulation in the lungs). Sadly, such an episode is often the first clue for an owner that their cat has severe heart disease. In most cases, with time and support, the blood clot can resolve, but the cat’s heart disease will require life-long treatment.
5. Sudden Blindness: A sudden loss of vision is most likely to occur in an older cat. The most common causes are increased blood pressure (hypertension) that may be due to changes in thyroid function (hyperthyroidism) or kidney disease. There are some cats that appear to have hypertension with no other underlying disease.
Sudden blindness should be treated as an emergency and your veterinarian will measure your cat’s blood pressure, check blood tests, and start medications to try to lower the pressure and restore vision.
Anytime you notice a change in your cat’s eyes, whether they lose vision or not, you should consider this an emergency and have your pet seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Although these are listed as the “top five emergencies,” there are other conditions that can be life-threatening. Knowing your own cat and his or her typical behavior is the best way of ensuring that you will notice something that is outside the norm. Calling your vet with the symptoms will give you the proper guidance as to how you can proceed to safeguard the well-being of your beloved companion.
QUESTION: This summer I found a mother cat & kittens. The SPCA told me that they couldn’t guarantee that the cats wouldn’t be euthanized so I was looking for a no-kill rescue to take them. Every single rescue I called was full and could not take the kitties in. Can you give me any advice about what to do to help these cats have a better life when the shelters and rescues are inundated?
ANSWER: This is a question that addresses the very heart of the dilemma that all animal rescues face every kitten season. The open-admissions SPCA’s want to have a positive outcome for each and every kitty that comes through their doors, but as the boxes of kittens and carriers of surrendered pets pile up, their options dwindle. The no-kill rescues want to take in every kitty in need that they hear about, but their foster homes swell to bulging very early in the spring, and the process of preparing hundreds of kittens for adoption and sending all of them to homes of their own is a slow one.
The five steps described below are actions you can take to help the cats yourself.
Step One: Leave a message or speak to a representative from as many rescues in your area as possible. If you know that they are full, make it clear that you just need guidance (most shelters love to speak to people like this!). An effective way to get the names of a lot of these places is to go on your computer to Petfinder.com, which is an online resource people use to find a pet. Use this website AS IF you are trying to adopt a cat, typing in your zip code, and cats will be shown, INCLUDING THE NAMES OF LOCAL RESCUES AND LINKS TO THOSE RESCUES. It is a quick and easy way to learn of possible contacts for getting advice, borrowing traps & cages, getting the contact information for low-cost/no-cost spay & neuter clinics, and adoption tips. Once you have the names of three or more local rescues, call weekly, leaving polite messages requesting advice for your situation. Persistence does pay off. Rescues are stressed and over-worked at this time of year, and repeated respectful requests DO get results!
Step Two: Decide whether it’s possible to bring the kitties inside or whether the only option is to work with them outside until it’s time for spaying & neutering. The common concern about bringing cats indoors is the health of the rescuer’s pets. In reality, if the rescued kitties are treated for fleas and are confined in a garage, small room, or the easiest option, a dog cage ( anyplace that is separate from the owner’s pets), there is very little risk to resident pets. Besides flea medications such as Advantage, Frontline Top Spot, or Revolution, the most common medical treatments given soon after rescue are dewormer and FVRCP (commonly called “distemper”) vaccinations.
Step Three: Make arrangements for low-cost/no-cost spay & neuter. This is THE most important thing you can do in this whole process. Even if it’s the ONLY thing done, this alone will make a huge improvement in the lives of these cats. Most clinics will neuter kittens when they weigh 3 lbs or are 3 months old, and some places will do them even earlier. If the kittens aren’t ready yet, make every attempt to get the mother cat and have her spayed as soon as all the kittens have STARTED to eat on their own. Many people assume that as long as the kittens are doing some nursing, she can’t get pregnant again. This is false! A female cat can go into heat as soon as her kittens are weaned, usually by six weeks of age. Many kittens will continue to do some nursing while they are eating food from a plate, but this does not prevent the queen from going into heat and becoming pregnant again. Female kittens can go into heat as early as 5-6 months of age.
We are very lucky in this area to have access to a number of excellent spay/neuter clinics, almost all charging $70 or less per cat. Some charge $35 for a feral (wild) kitty in a trap. The price includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and an “ear tip.” An ear tip is a leveling of the left ear of a feral cat, so that there is an easily visible, universally recognized sign that the cat has been neutered.
Some local spay/neuter clinics are:
All of the above clinics do an outstanding job of spaying & neutering hundreds of cats per month at a small fraction of the usual cost of these surgeries. They are making giant strides at addressing the only real, long-term solution to the overpopulation problem.
If you have a number of rescued cats who need neutering and finances are an issue, contact CAN or another cat rescue to see if they can help.
Step Four: Recuperate the cats or kittens after surgery by confining them to a dog cage or small room. One clinic, Forgotten Cats, does the recuperation on their premises by confining the cats to their traps. Male cats need at least one day to recuperate while females need three days.
Step Five: Socialize and advertise! Handling the kittens and mother cat and interacting with them on a daily basis get them used to people. If the kitties enjoy this and can be easily petted and held, they will make good family pets. The ideal way to find responsible and loving homes is through people you know – your network of friends and acquaintances at work, church, school, among family and neighbors, etc.
An additional option is to advertise, using the newspaper, social media, posters at vet offices and pet stores, etc. This can be an effective way to find homes as long as you are careful.
First, never, ever, ever advertise the cats as “Free.” This can attract unsavory characters who look for unfortunate free animals for their own sick purposes. Free animals also give the impression that the care and medical attention that has been given is not worth anything and that the cats themselves are worthless commodities that are easily obtained and easily discarded. A true animal lover will never be upset about an adoption fee that reflects the valuable medical care that the kitty has received.
Secondly, ask the person for a vet reference and call this vet to make sure the adopters have actually had pets and have given them good care. What if the interested party has never had pets? Ask for a parent’s or other relative’s vet reference. If this isn’t available, use your own good judgment. If you feel uneasy during the interaction or notice “red flags” in some of their actions or words, don’t go through with the adoption. Innocent lives are in your hands, and it is better to be safe than sorry. You will feel very warm and fuzzy vibes when the right people arrive. They will be happy to provide their vet’s name because they are proud of the way they care for their pets, and they will be thrilled to find out the kittens are already vetted at such a reasonable rate.
Thirdly, rescues like CAN are usually very willing to post pictures and write-ups of the kitties of Personal Rescuers on their website, which is linked to Petfinder. This is called a “courtesy listing,” and it can be a very effective way to bring your kitties to the attention of people searching for a pet. CAN will also do the vet check and a phone interview with the prospective adopter, if you wish.
What if, after weeks of working with the kitties, they do not respond to interaction with humans and are still frightened and wary? These cats are truly feral and will be much happier as outdoor cats in a situation where they receive food, water and shelter. Ideally, they can be returned to the location where they were found. If this is not possible, they can be re-homed to a barn or other safe location where they can live out their days as the free “wild things” that they are. Most rescuers are pleasantly surprised after a feral colony of cats has been neutered and released, how happy, healthy, and cohesive the group becomes!
These are the five steps to making a difference in the lives of that mother cat and kittens you found. Is it easy? Quite honestly, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Is it satisfying? That answer is more predictable – “Absolutely!”
QUESTION: About a month ago I took in a stray kitten that I found in my yard. Zelda is my first and only pet ever. She is absolutely adorable, but I have a big problem with her rough behavior. I am covered with scratches and wounds and am beginning to be afraid of my own pet! She lies in wait for me, attacks my ankles, climbs up my legs, leaps on me while I’m asleep and bites my feet, and chases me as I move about the house. Do I have an aggressive kitten? Is there anything I can do about it?
ANSWER: Actually, what you have is a normal kitten! Mother Nature has us kitties born into a litter for good reason – we learn everything that we need to know as adult cats from the interaction with our moms and siblings. We learn to stalk and attack prey, run and climb to escape danger, and defend ourselves from foes. At the same time, we burn off TONS of explosive kitten energy in a harmless way by chasing, wrestling, and play-fighting with our sibs.
What you are experiencing with Zelda is a common phenomenon known as “Single Kitten Syndrome.” SKS occurs when a kitten does not have an outlet for pursuing natural instincts and therefore uses a substitute, i.e., YOU! She is chasing, attacking, and pouncing on you exactly as she would with a littermate. The only difference is that with her mom and littermates, a kitten learns boundaries. When she plays too rough, the other kitten screeches and runs away, ending the play. So kitty learns to play gentler so that the others will include her. When she bites too hard suckling for milk, her mom gives her a disciplinary but harmless “bop” with her paw and moves away. We kitties hate when that happens, but it does teach us that “when Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
What’s the quickest, easiest way to redirect Zelda’s behavior? Get her a kitten friend as a playmate! That’s probably not what people expect to hear when they’re having trouble with one kitten, but it’s the reason why adopters of kitties are advised, “Two kittens are easier than one.” A solitary kitten gets into all kinds of mischief that includes both the behavior you describe AND getting into your stuff. When all that youthful zest is directed into the natural, normal outlet of play, Miss Ferocious Lion becomes Miss Frolicking Lamb, exhausted but happy after a day of running, wrestling, & leaping with her own kind, enjoying soccer games with a ball and stalking competitions with a toy mouse. And is there anything more heartwarming than the sight of two kittens curled up together, snoring peacefully with their arms around each other after a session of rough-and-tumble?
If getting a second kitten is not a possibility due to lease restrictions, you must take on the role of the other kitten, only this time you will be setting up the play with your safety in mind. First, you need several interactive toys that will keep your hands away from the line of action. Fishing pole type toys, fake birds suspended on a wire, and the laser light are three excellent ways to engage your kitty’s stalk-and-attack drive. If you have never watched a cat franticly chasing the little red dot of a laser toy, you have missed a hilarious opportunity to see just how much energy and persistence is packed into your kitten’s compact body!
Second, keep your kitty’s nails trimmed so that they are short and blunted at all times. Practicing this grooming routine every other week will remove the sharp points that have been making you an unwilling blood donor! The Cat Angel Network volunteers will clip your kitty’s nails free of charge any weekend at the Pottstown or Downingtown Petsmart stores. Watch closely and you will learn a few secrets that make nail clipping a cinch!
The climbing behavior that has Zelda trying to scale you and every other tall object in the house with her claws will gradually extinguish until, by about eight months of age, she will be able to jump everywhere she needs to go. Throughout her life, though, she will need to stretch and scratch at her tree substitute. What’s a tree substitute? It’s a nice, tall, sturdy scratching post or cat tree covered with deliciously rough sisal rope or natural bark, and every cat-friendly home needs one! Here she will do her isometric stretching after a nap, pulling off the old nail sheaths, and marking the post with her scent. Happy work for us kitties – it feels great and we will gladly stay away from your possessions when we have something so much better suited for our instinctual scratching needs
Lastly, NEVER allow the kitty to play with your bare hands as this will teach her that your hand is a plaything which, I assume you agree, it is not. Often the root cause of aggressive play in adult cats is that a person in the family thought it was cute to play roughly with the kitten, using his/her hands, sometimes even touching the cat’s sensitive underbelly. The kitten clamps down on the hand and thereafter views a person’s hands as something to be wary of and attack. Then when Aunt Tilly visits the home, she does not find this behavior cute at all and wonders why, oh why, you have such a mean cat. ‘Nuff said.
So, enjoy Zelda and let her teach you all the joys and wonders of living with a being who is only one small step away from the ways of the wild. By knowing and respecting her needs, and learning day by day how to work WITH them and not against them, you will see her predatory relationship with you disappear, and in its place will grow a deep and satisfying friendship between you, Zelda, and, hopefully, that second kitten we hope you’ll adopt.