Kitten Socialization

BelleHiRes WEBA cat’s personality is mostly formed within its first eight months. Here are some suggestions to help ensure your kitten develops into a confident, well-behaved cat:

  • Start even before they’re born. If you have a pregnant cat, make sure you’re providing her with proper nutrition. Momma will lose weight while nursing, so she should have some extra calories to bulk up. Some cat owners put their pregnant cats on kitten food for those extra calories. Malnourished momma cats are more likely to be crabby with their kittens and not provide as much mothering. This could lead to developmental delays in the kittens that will affect them later on.
  • For your cat nursery, don’t just put a cardboard box in an empty room. A more-complex environment provides sensory stimulation. (Try leaving a radio or a television in the room for part of the time.) Flooring can consistent of newspapers, old towels, carpet squares or tiles. A small cardboard box for the kittens to crawl on with a hole in the side can be a den once the kitties get more mobile. (Do not use produce boxes; they may have been sprayed with pesticides.)
  • Handle the kitties with care as soon as possible. When the kittens are 2 to 3 weeks old, expand the handlers to include three or four people daily to help ensure the kittens become trusting of a variety of people.
  • Keep adult male cats out of the nursery. It will just stress Momma Cat out, and she doesn’t need that.
  • Keep the litter with Momma Cat until the kittens are at least 8 weeks old. That’s typically around the end of weaning. Through their experience with her, the kittens will learn to use the litter box, how to hunt, what foods are safe to eat and who is an appropriate friend. Momma Cat also helps them learn how to cope with stress and frustration through sometimes not letting them feed until they’re satiated.
  • Keep the litter together until 8 to 10 weeks of age. The littermates teach each other important life skills through their play – including how to control their clawing and biting.
  • Orphans who are separated from their mother before 8 weeks old can have a litany of behavior-related issues or health problems. If you have an orphan kitty, add him or her to another litter or foster him/her in a home with other cats as role models.

Source: Adapted from information by Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

Spraying: How To Fix It

Cats’ spraying is a form of communication for other felines – and a source of annoyance for their humans. When it’s geared toward other cats, it might be a show of status, sexual interest, or indicate stress or frustration. If it’s aimed (not literally, hopefully) at humans, it’s likely showing their irritation at something – perhaps at an upcoming trip if they mark on your suitcase, or a mess if you’ve added another cat to the household.

Spraying can be tough to eliminate, and all cats can backslide. Here are some tips on how to combat it:

  • Most spraying is done by unneutered males and unspayed females in heat. Get ‘em fixed! Sterilization will dramatically cut down on spraying.
  • Don’t avoid the problem. If you ignore the spraying, the cat will keep doing it and it will become an ingrained behavior.
  • Play detective and try to determine the cause. Then, remove the cause from the environment. If it’s a crowded house, another home might be necessary for a foster kitty. Use a fence topper to keep stray cats from entering your yard - and putting your indoor kitty on edge. (Shades, shutters or other barriers could help with this, too.)
  • If you’re having trouble figuring out the cause, ask an animal behavior expert for a consultation – or call the Tri-County Humane Society (320-252-0896). One of our staff members would be happy to try to assist you.
  • Clean marked areas carefully with a commercial odor neutralizer. (They are sold at Tri-County Humane Society’s store, located in the front lobby! All proceeds go back to our animals.) If a cat can still smell the markings, that’s an invitation to reoffend.
  • Combine treats with the stressors. For instance, if your cat is nervous about you leaving on a trip, feed him or her near your suitcase – or bring the luggage out even when you’re not going anywhere to make sure the cat gets used to its presence.
  • If the behavior doesn’t stop, plan a trip to your veterinarian immediately. Drug therapy may be needed to help make a permanent change.
  • Whatever path you take, don’t delay. You don’t want this behavior to become a pattern. Best of luck!

Source: Adapted from information by Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

Turn Outdoor Cat Into Indoor For Winter

Introducing a friendly stray or an indoor/outdoor cat to the joys of inside living can be done with some training and planning. Here’s how to do it:

Litter Boxes

  • For a former indoor/outdoor cat, a two-box system filled with fine-grain, clumping litter is ideal. Put one box where you want the litter box to permanently be, and the second at the door the cat once used to exit the house. After that habit is set up, slowly move the second box closer to the permanent box, until you can eliminate it completely.
  • If a cat has never been litter boxed trained, a cattery cage or similar confinement method is the best move. Supply the cattery with a litter box, resting space, food, water and toys. When the cat is consistently using the litter box, he or she can be moved to a small room. If that works well, keep increasing the space. If the cat has an accident, return him or her to the last space he/she kept clean. Don’t forget to visit the cat often and let it out for supervised playtime and socialization during the confinement period.
  • Cover your potted plants with aluminum foil. Otherwise the cat may use them as a litter box.

Making It Fun

  • Consider putting in a window perch or an indoor planter. The cat can nibble at feline-friendly plants such as catnip and wheat grass.
  • Stock the house with plenty of toys. Pick interactive playthings. Rotate toys every week or two to keep the cat’s interest.
  • Offer several kinds of scratching posts. Include one that’s sturdy enough to climb.

Making the Outdoors Less Fun

  • Make sure screens fit snugly in windows. You don't want kitty to push them out. 
  • Draw your cat away from the doorways when you enter and exit the home. Consider using tossing a toy in another direction to avert the animal’s interest.
  • Try a practice run. Leave the door ajar and if kitty makes a break for it, spray him or her with a water bottle or use some canned air. If kitty associates the outdoors with negative actions, he or she will be less likely to make a run for it.

Source: Information adapted from Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

PRINTABLE Bringing a cat indoors.pdf

Feline Aggression

ButtersHiRes 2 WebGot a feisty kitty that plays a little too rough (with your feet, perhaps)? Here are some tips on getting better behavior.


  • Increase the amount of interaction playtime you have with your cat. (These type of toys can be purchased at Tri-County Humane Society’s store; all the proceeds go back to the animals.) Interactive toys should always be kept out of the animal’s reach if it’s unsupervised.
  • Always use a toy to distract the animal. If you can predict the cat’s attacks, toss a toy in front of you to attract the cat’s attention away from your feet.
  • All family members should avoid rough play with the cat.
  • Consider a young feline companion to help give your older cat some exercise. Two is better than one!


Have you ever been petting a cat, enjoying the interaction, then all of a sudden the animal nips (or worse) at you? This isn’t uncommon, and usually the cat gives you a warning that he or she is about to strike:

  • The look. Most cats stiffen a bit, twitch their tails or turn their heads quickly as you’re petting them. Their pupils are often dilated.
  • Good with the bad. If your cat’s threshold for petting is low, try combining a meal or treat with the petting. If your cat can handle very little attention, only pet him or her once or twice before offering the snack.

Physical Pain

Cats can lash out when they’re in physical pain, which is why some veterinarians take special measures to ensure their safety.

  • If you need to medicate an infected ear or change a bandage, you may choose to use a towel restraint or similar tool.
  • Ask an expert. If your cat is acting unnaturally aggressive, schedule a vet’s visit right away.

Anxiety Around Strangers

  • If your cat is nervous around strangers, have the guests slowly enter a room – maybe they can poke their head in first. Ask them not to look directly at the cat. If the cat doesn’t appear stressed, offer a treat. Then the strangers (aka your guests) can move closer into the room, and you can repeat the process.
  • If your pet continues to be anxious, consult your veterinarian. An anti-anxiety medication or product may be necessary.

Redirected Aggression

  • A cat may become intensely aroused by a loud, startling noise, the sight, smell or sounds of another animal, or unfamiliar people or places. That could lead to yowling, growls, stares and more unpleasantness. After one of these incidents, it’s best to put the cat in a dark, quiet room. If handling the animal is impossible, the owners may need to leave the home for a few hours. The cat needs time to calm down.
  • If the cat has multiple episodes of redirected aggression, the owner may need to consult a behaviorist or vet for information. Or call Tri-County Humane Society at 320-252-0896.

Momma on Edge

  • Momma cat can be particularly protective of her new litter, especially against unaltered males. Maternal aggression is most problematic the first three to four weeks after birth.
  • Manage the aggression by leaving Momma Cat and her kittens mostly alone for the first few weeks if all are healthy. Later on, Momma Cat can be lured out of the nursery to be entertained with food or play while others socialize with the kittens.
  • Don’t forget to spay Momma Cat after the kittens are weaned.

Guarding One's Territory

  • If your cat gets aggressive when other people visit, consider asking your guests to wear freshly laundered clothes so the cat doesn’t smell the other person’s animals on his or her clothes.
  • If the cat still gets upset when visitors come, he or she may need to be confined during the visit.

Source: Adapted from information by Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT

Cat Socialization

MickeyHiRes for webDoes your cat go into hiding whenever guests arrive? There are steps you can take to help boost their comfort with socialization. Remember: All socialization should be based on one principle: Reinforce social behavior; ignore asocial behavior. Here are some tips:

  • Consider a cattery cage. Cats learn by watching, and they feel secure in a large cage in which they can view the world without people getting in their space.
  • Keep it calm. Put the cattery in a room with moderate traffic. If the animal is super stressed, put it in a quiet room.
  • Get the cattery set up. Place a covered cat bed or a cardboard box with a hole for a door in the cattery along with a small litter pan. No room for a bed? Drape half the cage with a towel so the cat can hide.
  • Everything in its place. Put the cat’s water opposite the litter plan. Feed regularly, at least three times a day. Leave the food in the cage for 15 minutes, and then remove leftovers. Don’t interact with the cat during the feedings.
  • Act natural. Go about your day like normal; if you live alone, talk to yourself so the cat gets used to your voice.
  • Attract the cat. Do “cat-enticing behaviors” in front of the cattery such as folding laundry. Pique their interest, but keep the activities low key.
  • Feeding, bonding. Once the cat is comfortable eating, try leaving your hand a few feet from the dish. Move it closer, slowly with each feeding, until the cat eats comfortably with your hand nearby. Or try putting a small amount of tasty food such as tuna oil or anchovy paste on your hand and place it near the cat nonchalantly. If the cat licks you, softly praise him or her; don’t blurt out, “Good kitty!”
  • Treat trade. When the cat consistently comes to your hand for a treat, try putting your hand in the cattery without a treat. If the cat comes, give him or her a treat with your other hand.
  • Exploring the home. Once the cat is comfortable taking treats in the cattery, the door to the cattery can be opened. Make sure the door to the room is closed. The cat should explore one room at a time.
  • Always remember patience. Socialization can take a while. Just remember to reinforce good behaviors - with a treat!

Source: Adapted from information by Elizabeth Teal, former ASPCA animal behavior counselor

 PRINTABLE  Feline socialization.pdf

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