Westgate Pet Clinic is proud to offer one of the nation’s only Kitten Kindergartens!
Kitten Kindergarten is an early socialization, training, and education program. The sessions focus on better integrating your kitten into your family, teaching your kitten how to be a well-behaved cat, and instructing owners on normal kitten and cat behavior, as well as how to recognize and prevent common behavior and health problems.
Kitten Kindergarten is a kindergarten class focusing on young kittens (8-13 weeks old) because kittens’ development is accelerated compared to puppies. The sensitive period of socialization –when a kitten is most able to learn appropriate social behavior—occurs between the 2nd and 7th week of life, social play develops from 6 to 12 weeks old, with social fighting and fearful playing starting at Week 14. Socializing kittens is easiest prior to Week 14 when kittens become more fearful, so are more likely to experience new things negatively, and have play/fight styles that may interfere with training.
In this class we will discuss exposing kittens to different stimuli, including body handling, as well as socializing them to help reduce the incidence of the most common feline behavior problems: inappropriate elimination, aggression (directed toward other pets as well as people in the household), and compulsive disorders. We will also be discussing measures owners can take to help protect the health of their cats, and recognize when health problems emerge.
Kitten Kindergarten is held at Westgate Pet Clinic on Wednesday evenings from 7:00-8:00 pm and runs for two consecutive weeks. Call Westgate Pet Clinic at 612-925-1121 to enroll your kitten.
Schedule for Kitten Kindergarten 2016
Kitten Kindergarten at Westgate Pet Clinic was designed by Dr. Rhonda Downie and Dr. Carolyn Karlin.
Dr. Rhonda Downie
Dr. Rhonda Downie is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. She has been a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic for many years. She has a strong interest in Feline Medicine and helping kittens and their families get off to a good start. Dr. Downie has two cats at home, Biggs, a tuxedo polydactyl cat (a cat with extra toes), and Loki, a classic orange tabby she adopted as a kitten in 2012.
Dr. Carolyn Karlin
Dr. Carolyn Karlin holds degrees from Rice University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Minnesota. She has been a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic since 2006. A former university professor, she has strong interests in veterinary behavior and client education. Dr. Karlin has an energetic young dog and two lazy cats, a Mookie Wilson, a tuxedo cat, and Peeps (Peepimeister Smith), a brown tabby and white cat.
Erin Garvie, CVT
Erin Garvie is a certified veterinary technician who has been with Westgate Pet Clinic since 2009, and has been invaluable as Kitten Kindergarten co-instructor and cat wrangler. After attending Veterinary Technician school, Erin’s interest in cat behavior grew and she joined Kitten Kindergarten to help others raise healthy, well-behaved, and well-rounded kittens. Erin has two dogs and a young silver tabby cat named Maddie, who was adopted as a kitten from a Denver, CO Shelter.
Meet Oliver: Oliver is a cute 10 week old domestic shorthair kitten. He isn’t an actual patient at Westgate Pet Clinic, but is our poster-child for the most common questions and concerns clients have when adopting a new kitten.
Bringing a new kitten into your home should be a wonderful and exciting time, but it is also a time of significant change. The more considerate you can be of both your new kitten’s and your current pet’s experience, the less stressful, and more rewarding it will be. In order to be sensitive to how your resident pet may perceive the newcomer, it is best to keep the two separate for the first few days. Keep the kitten confined to a closed room with his own food, water, and litter box. Your kitten will adjust to this location and begin to feel comfortable in the new surroundings. Meanwhile, your current pet will have a chance to become aware of the kitten from sounds and smells coming from under the door, and the kitten’s scent on your skin and clothing.
To increase your kitten and resident pet’s indirect exposure to one another, place food bowls for both the kitten and resident pet on opposite sides of the separating door at the same time. This will not only allow each to associate something good with the other’s presence, but can also serve as an indicator of both pets’ comfort level. Growling, hissing, or other aggressive/stressful behaviors from either will tell you that they are not ready for a physical introduction yet. This process will most likely span 1-2 weeks. Even if both pets seem ready prior to that, waiting is always the safer route. When both pets seem relaxed or curious, it is time to let them meet for a short, supervised encounter. Any signs of aggression should result in immediate separation, and more time on opposite sides of the door. When brief encounters with one another remain positive, you can leave them together for longer periods of time, and eventually stop separating them altogether. Remember, the less rushed you are in this process, the more likely it is that both pets will have positive experiences, fostering a good relationship for years to come.
For more information on how to introduce your new kitten to a resident pet, click HERE.
Kittens should be fed a complete and balanced diet that is formulated for growth (statements to this effect can be found on the food label). Kittens are very active and have high metabolisms. For this reason, we recommend having dry food available for kittens at all times. Kittens should also be offered canned food. If a cat is not exposed to canned food at a young age, it may be difficult to get him to accept it when he is older. Some diseases common in cats (diabetes, kidney disease) are better managed by feeding a specially-formulated canned cat food. When your kitten is 6-8 months of age, he can be slowly transitioned to an adult food by mixing it with his kitten food over the course of 1-2 weeks. At this time, it may be necessary to also switch to meal-feeding and feeding your cat a measured amount to ensure he does not get overweight. For more information on nutritional needs of cats, click HERE.
Kittens require a series of vaccine boosters to ensure a strong immune response. If their mother is well-vaccinated, kittens get some immunity from her before they are born. Soon after birth, kittens ingest their mother’s milk that contains antibodies to protect them from infectious diseases, but these antibodies wane over time. These maternal antibodies reduce the effect of a vaccine on a kitten’s developing immune system, so booster shots are needed while the number of antibodies from the mother is decreasing. In the case of the Rabies vaccine, it is best to wait until all maternal antibodies have waned. Below is Westgate Pet Clinic’s vaccination protocol for kittens, based on the recommendations of the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) and research on what best strengthens a kitten’s immune system to protect him from disease.
Kittens are born with an instinct to hunt and chase. When cats play with one another they often stalk, chase, pounce, swat, kick, scratch and bite each other--all in good fun. People often misinterpret this behavior as aggression when it’s directed toward them. Although this is fun for your kitten, it likely is not fun for you and can become even more dangerous if the behavior continues into adulthood. The following are some things you can do to curb this type of behavior and help reduce/eliminate injury to yourself.
- Supply your kitten with a variety of safe toys that allow your kitten to act out his urges to hunt and chase. These toys should include ones he can play with by himself, like glitter balls, and others that involve you in his play, such as a wand with a feather attached.
- Never direct the play towards your hands, instead use toys you can dangle away from you or toys you can throw for your cat to chase. Cat toys that direct play toward your hands, such as gloves with toys attached to the fingers, encourage inappropriate play since cats don’t understand that the only time they can play with your hands is when you wear the cat glove toy. If your kitten absolutely insists on playing roughly (i.e. using his teeth and claws), use a small stuffed animal to play with him so he can direct his behavior toward the stuffed animal instead of your hands.
- If you have a cat or kitten who is ambushing your ankles and feet when you walk down the hall, step out of the shower, or go up/down stairs, you can carry toys like glitter balls. Throwing these objects before he pounces will redirect his play behavior to a more appropriate target.
- The best time to take advantage of playtime with your kitten is when he is "in the mood" to play. When cats are in playful moods, they will show cues such as racing around the house and vocalizing. Having a ten minute play session with your kitten at least once a day can help burn some of his kitten energy, engage him in appropriate play, and make him a more well-rounded cat.
- If your kitten starts to get too rough during playtime, consider playtime over. Set down the toys and leave the room. Do not attempt to pick up or discipline your cat as this could provoke biting.
Starting your kitten off with good dental habits can be the key to avoiding serious periodontal disease as your cat ages. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by three years of age, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease. Since tooth brushing is the single best way to help prevent periodontal disease, it is imperative that your kitten be comfortable with your touching and handling his mouth. Establishing a frequent and regular brushing routine with your cat will help prevent periodontal disease and aid in early detection of other diseases of the oral cavity. Start slowly by first getting your kitten used to having his mouth examined, then work up to brushing his teeth. Using an enzymatic toothpaste (NOT human toothpaste) can make the experience more enjoyable for your kitten. Brushing sessions do not need to be long and overly thorough, but should be enough to remove the plaque on the outer tooth surfaces and along the gumline. As your kitten grows up he may still end up needing to come into the clinic for a dental cleaning now and again, but by implementing preventative measures you can rest assured that you are doing your part to minimize periodontal disease and potential tooth loss. Click on the following links for information on toothbrushing http://www.felinevideos.vet.cornell.edu/pet-owners/cat-teeth and feline oral health http://www.avdc.org/ownersinfo.html.
Kittens can often be quite skittish when they come home with us. By exposing your kitten to new things in positive ways at a young age, you can help prevent your kitten from growing up to be fearful. When holding your kitten, it is important to make him feel secure and supported at all times. Handling your kitten frequently will allow you to form a bond with him and foster his trust in you. In addition to holding your kitten, work on getting him used to having his feet, mouth and ears touched. Having a kitten comfortable with this type of body handling will allow you to trim his nails, care for his teeth, and look in his ears without him becoming anxious or afraid. Gradual, nonthreatening introductions to things like vacuum cleaners, water, as well as strangers, can result in a more relaxed cat that will be less prone to aggression and hiding behaviors. As you work on holding, body handling, and introducing new things to your kitten, remember to go slow and keep the experiences positive. Use treats and a calm voice to reassure him, and allow him frequent breaks between sessions. Soon you will be on your way to having a wonderful, trusting relationship with your kitten. For more information on handling your kitten appropriately click HERE.
While indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats, they can become bored without the proper enrichment. Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure your indoor cat has the best of both worlds:
- Look around your house for a window that may have wildlife outside of it frequently or other visual stimulation. Install a shelf or wide window ledge so your cat can enjoy the outdoors from the safety of your house. [Note: Be sure that the location is not one where your cat might see outdoor cats as this can lead to marking, aggression, and other behavior problems.]
- Since cats also like to be up high, cat trees and perches can be very appealing to them. If perches are situated near a window, ensure they are positioned so your cat can look down or out through the window. If your cat has to look up to see out the window, it can make him feel vulnerable and he may not use the perch. You can also utilize the vertical space in your house by creating "stairs" on a wall in your house. You can either create your own using several small shelves or find one that is ready-made in the form of a "zig zag shelf" pictured to right...
- Toys: Toys can provide a great deal of stimulation for cats. Cats prefer toys that resemble small prey—crunchy crackly toys, furry catnip toys, and toys with feathers as well as toys that can be stalked, pounced on, and carried are often favorites. Try different types of toys to determine your cat’s preference. You can also rotate your cat’s toys, making older ones seem new and exciting again.
- Videos: It may sound silly, but they do sell cat videos to help provide stimulation for indoor cats. One video is called "Cat Sitter." It engages your cat using sounds and visuals of mice, goldfish, and birds moving across the television screen. Some cats may not find this video interesting at all, but others find it very amusing--you won’t know until you try it for yourself!
The Ohio State University has a website about enriching the life of your indoor cat, for more information see http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/.
While we do perform declaw procedures at Westgate Pet Clinic, it is a serious surgery. Since scratching is a normal feline behavior, we recommend first making an effort to modify the behavior. Cats scratch objects not only to stretch and condition their nails, but also to mark their territory. To prevent your cat from scratching at furniture, be sure to provide user-friendly scratching posts for your cat. You may need to try different locations and types of scratching posts before you find one that appeals to your cat. You can also make the furniture less attractive by use of products such as Sticky Paws®, which is like wide double-sided tape. With a little effort and creativity, you should be able to save your furniture, walls, and drapes from your new four-legged friend. If your efforts are not successful, and you decide to schedule declaw surgery, we recommend making the decision at as early of an age as possible since younger, smaller cats recover much more quickly from this surgery. For more information on scratch-post training your cat, click HERE.
Kittens usually need very little instruction to learn to use a litter box. Often, simply providing an appropriate litter box in a convenient place is enough to encourage kittens to “do their business” in the litter box. For kittens, the litter box should have lower sides (so they can easily get in and out of it) and be located near the area of their normal activities rather than in an out of the way part of the house. It is best if the litter box location allows for some privacy, but at the same time is not located near an appliance (like a furnace or dryer) that might cycle on and startle your kitten when he is using the litter box. Most cats prefer clumping litter and the litter box should be kept clean—scoop the litter box daily and completely clean it once a week. If your kitten has difficulty learning to use the litter box, you may need to confine him to a small room with the litter box and place him in it after eating, sleeping, and playing to encourage use. If your kitten or cat is regularly using his litter box then starts eliminating outside the litter box, call your Westgate veterinarian as soon as possible as this may be the first indication of a medical or behavioral problem. For more tips on litter box training click HERE.
Cats should be spayed or neutered when they are young to help prevent both medical and behavioral problems. Female cats who are spayed later have a greater risk developing some type of mammary cancer, 90% of which are malignant in cats. Going through a heat cycle can also be stressful for a female cat, and for her owner. Unneutered male cats are more likely to engage in urine marking or “spraying.” Since cats can reach sexual maturity even before six months of age, we recommend spaying or neutering them right after they have received their last vaccinations, which is generally around 16 weeks of age. If you decide to declaw your kitten, this surgery can be performed at the same time as the spay or neuter surgery. At Westgate Pet Clinic we also recommend placing a microchip while a kitten is already under anesthesia to be spayed or neutered. A microchip is a form of permanent identification that is about the size of a grain of rice and is placed just under a cat’s skin. The microchip has an identification number associated with it that is entered into a database. If your cat is lost, he can be scanned at a veterinary clinic or animal shelter, greatly increasing the chances the two of you will be happily reunited.