Xena turns a 1 year old today. Just realised it and so a post about kittens seems apt.
Right age to rehome kittens
Kittens need to be with their mother and their siblings in the litter, upto when they are 4 months old. Only after four months are they ready to be separated, are adolescent and reasonably independent. Beware that female kittens mature as early as 6 months and able to bear tinier kittens.
Kittens socialised within their litters are wonderfully gentle with their claws. The kitten brawls are a great way for them to learn how much to nip and scratch while playing without causing harm. So then when you have a kitten that you hand raise without its litter you have to train its play behaviour. This kitten has to be told very gently and firmly when it nips you that it is painful for you – For example say “ouch” and pull your arm away or say “No”. It is healthy for the kittens to play the nipping, scratching game with you when they are very young, that’s how they play with each other too. So don’t think a playful kitten is harmful to your family. It will grow out of it and do help it modify behaviour.
I don’t think I need to say much about kitten food etc. that’s all quite easily available in the pet shop. You should buy special milk for kittens. They should not be fed the cows milk as it will cause diarrhoea.
Kitten diseases….hmm. I think the mortality rate is quite high amongst very young kittens. So do your best and stay emotionally detached till the kittens are a few months old. It is of course wonderfully healthy to have the protective mother cat around .
Social behaviour of Cats with People
The behaviour of the cat towards people is in a large part determined by how they are treated and socialised in the first few months.
For example my cats talk a lot to me. And I talk a lot to my cats. I have observed the same in about 10 or so of the cats that I have homed or fostered. If you communicate with them, they will communicate back to you. Certain breeds of cats, Siamese for example, talk a lot on their own. In other breeds, talking is cultivated behaviour.
It is usual for my cats to come and greet me when I get home and acknowledge my presence by meowing a hello. When they are hungry they will come to me and scream. Also, they usually answer to their common name (!) whenever I call for them. So if I do not see them when I am back home or they are out loitering in the neighbours garden, I know how to get them home. I am quite sure such connected behaviour is not the specific nature of my cats or me, it is our communication pattern. It takes some time and repeated reinforcing to get into a communication with pets. You would be surprised how responsive cats can be. It is just a stereotype that cats are too independent and only dogs are affectionate.
A final point that I want to talk about is whether it is safe for house cats to be let into the garden or whether they should be strictly confined to home. I think in some countries it is actually illegal to have your pet outside of your home. I don’t like that law as it seems so animal unfriendly. Maybe there are some reasons of safety for the animal in that too.. However, I strongly recommend that the cats are let to explore the area around their home. In the beginning this should be done under your supervision. The cats should be let into the garden or the terrace etc. so that they find out the pitfalls around their area and the safety harbours on their own. Otherwise it is really unsafe for them if they escape one night or are lost. If you orient them around your home, they will learn to be both independent and safe.
Another reason to let the cats explore a bit is that confined cats, especially if they are not let to use their energies in a healthy way, will develop behavioural tics. I left my cats at my mum’s for two months. She confined them to a large room. They got into the nasty habit of sleeping in the litter box. This, if they were emotionally healthy, they would never do. So watch out for strange behaviours and keep the cat engaged in fun activities. Eating, playing , exploring, hunting lizards.
Healthy cats are not very demanding of your time. I think a great balance between how much you want to involve with them and how independent they are is completely in your hands. Remember that each cat has its own individual personality.