Kitten Development, Socialization and New Cat/Dog Introductions
Cats are pregnant for about 63 days. Once born, kittens start to open their eyes and ears around 10-14 days. Weaning starts at about 4 weeks of age and is done by 7 weeks. Kittens start to eliminate (urinate and defecate) voluntarily without stimulation between 5-6 weeks. Kittens usually get adopted or go to homes around 6-9 weeks of age. This is also the time they should get their first vaccine and Feline Leukemia/FIV/Hw test. Four week old kittens are usually about 1 pound. Eight week old kittens weigh about 2 pounds, and 12 week old kittens generally weigh 3 pounds.
Kittens separated from their mother at an early age, say 2 weeks, are at higher risk for fearful and aggressive (biting) type behavioral issues. Kittens born to malnourished moms may also have abnormal growth and levels of fear.
Studies have shown that the sensitive period of kitten socialization to people and other animals is 2-7 weeks. After 7 weeks, they can still bond and attach to people and other animals but slowly and with more difficulty.
Therefore, don’t separate a kitten from its feral mom if they are safe and healthy especially under 4 weeks of age (1 pound). They need their mom and siblings at this time for proper emotional and behavioral development. You can leave food out for mom but don’t touch or disrupt their area. For pet moms, “queens,” who are calm and social, kitten to human socialization is easier in the presence of mom. In this ideal situation, make sure kittens are handled early in life, especially between 3-7 weeks of age.
Bringing Kitten Home
First make sure he/she is in a carrier for safety and comfort. The kitten needs a quiet, safe room. This area needs a litter box, food bowl, fresh water and a bed. Make sure there are no harmful things in this room – no strings, ribbons, open walls, flowers, chemicals, other animals or areas where the kitten could get trapped.
When supervised, the kitten can explore the house. However, when the owners are away, the kitten should be in the safe room. Appropriate toys should be provided and playtime encouraged. Kittens’ social play begins with chasing, hiding and then pouncing.
Kittens instinctively know to use a litter box by about 5-6 weeks of age. Make sure you sift through a kitten/cat litter box 1-2 times per day minimum.
One of the most important things you need to buy your kitten/cat especially by the age of 8-12 weeks is a scratching post. Cats have a physical need to scratch. If you buy a nice sturdy post, like a tree, as opposed to a cheap, wobbly and flimsy one, then your cat will have it forever and love it. Get a multi tiered post, with a few spots to lounge that has both carpet and rope areas on it. Actively nurture your cat with it. Put your cat on it daily and pet him/her. Put it by a warm sunny area, like window. Most owners who do this early are happy because it keeps the kittens off the couches and furniture. Remember all cats, whether declawed or not, need a scratching post (place of their own).
New Cat Introductions
Don’t just bring a new cat home and expect your other cats or dogs to greet them with open arms. Cats are very territorial and resistant to change. First take your new cat directly to the “safe room.” Don’t put it down in the living room and see what happens.
Once in the safe room, open the carrier and let it come out on its own and explore the territory without any strangers/other animals stressing it out. Always close the door to the safe room upon entering and leaving. Leave a towel on both sides of the door; one inside for the new cat, and one on the outside for the other animals. Over the next few days, give your cat food, love and attention, but don’t force yourself on the cat.
Here are a few ways to reduce anxiety of a new cat in the house and ease the introduction:
- Buy Feliway (a facial pheromone-scent). This comes as an aerosol diffuser you can just plug in to an outlet.
- Switch the towels. The towel in the safe room can now be presented to the outside animals and vice versa. This enables them to investigate each other without the stress of a real encounter.
- Give treats and toys to both cats on both sides of the door. After a few days, then you can let the cats see each other through a cracked door. It is normal for some hissing, growling and back arching to occur initially. If any slashing or lunging, just close the door and give it more time.
- Once you reach this point, put the resident cat in the safe room or another room, and allow the new cat to explore the house. Allow this cat to rub its face and body on objects in the house. After a while, return the new cat to the safe room and let the resident cat out. In the wild, cats have overlapping territories and are ok with it. Do this daily until you and they feel more comfortable.
- Finally, open the safe room door and see what happens. You should still expect some hissing and anxiety. Over time their harmless scuffles will go away and they will be the best of friends. This may take days or weeks. On average, it takes 2-6 weeks.
If you have a dog and no other cats, the most important rule is to keep the dog secure on a leash for 1-2 weeks. The dog cannot ever be able to rush or corner the cat in this early stage. If you keep the dog on a leash, the cat can get used to the dog. The dog learns that his job is to watch the cat, not chase and terrorize it.
Immediately stop behaviors like stalking by distracting the cats with a loud noise or squirt bottle. Punishing will only confuse them and increase their anxiety. If real aggression is happening and you are having trouble, call your veterinarian. He/she can help with some temporary anti-anxiety medication and offer further suggestions and advice to suit your particular situation.