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Awesome Kitten Facts (You Probably Don’t Know)

Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece” and who could disagree?   Facades of the toughest men become softer simply by putting them in the presence of a litter of kittens. From the moment kittens are born, their lives become a circus of adorable antics as they grow, learn and explore the world around them.   We can’t seem to get enough of these precious little ones!

Kittens are Helpless at Birth

Newborn babies need special care and a mother's love to grow.

Newborn babies need special care and a mother’s love to grow. (Credit to Flickr user Kami Jo)

 

Mother cats give birth after a gestation period of about 65 days.  Some mammals, such as foals, can run within mere hours of birth, but kittens are entirely dependent on their mother for weeks and undergo incredible sensory and phsyical growth during this time.  Kittens are born both deaf and blind, and won’t open their eyes until 1-2  weeks of age and even then their vision will be blurry.  It will take another two months before they fully develop the incredible eyesight adult cats are known for.

 

Also, newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body heat so snuggling for warmth is crucial in the first few weeks.  The time that mothers and babies spend cuddling and nursing is an important form of bonding and beyond adorable!  Orphaned kittens require additional external heat, such as a heating pad.

Tabbies, Calicos and Tuxedos, Oh My!  

There are hundreds of feline color combinations, but did you know that kittens within the same litter can all be different?  Cat genetics is a crazy thing.  Mixed-coat litters- such as a calico, tabby, and tuxedo- are not all that uncommon, and to make matters more confusing, one litter can potentially have two different fathers!  Because of the role of genetics, only 1 in every 3,000 calico cats are male and those rare few carry an extra sex chromosome, XXY, and are infertile.  Orange tabby cats, on the other hand, are more likely to be male.

Unique as a snowflake! All cat noseprints are one of a kind. (Credit to Flikr user Minxlj)

Blue Eyes and A Button Nose

If kittens can be born with so many different coat patterns, why are they all born with the same blue eyes?  Because, similar to humans, the pigment melanin takes a while to be deposited into the iris.  Cat noses, however, are entirely unique from the moment they are born.  In fact, no two cats’ nosesprints are alike-  just like fingerprints.  This kind of makes eskimo kissing your cat even more precious, doesn’t it?

What to Expect: Your Kitten’s First Year 
While many people think of kittens as being itty bitty, ‘kitten‘ refers to juvenile cats who are under a year old.  Cats don’t reach adulthood until about a year, so the first year is a crucial time for learning cat ettiquete and honing their skills: social behaviors, cleaning and bathing, physical feats like jumping and hunting.   The first few months of a kitten’s life is highly social and the peak time for interaction with other kittens, which is why adopting young kittens in pairs is beneficial to their social and behavioral well-being.

‘Teenage’ kittens like Beck here are still learning through play! Kittens don’t reach adulthood until at least a year of age. (Photo Credit: Pet Adoption Network)

In the the latter part of a kitten’s first year, they tend to focus on personal growth and solitary behavioral skills, though being around other cats remains a highly positive influence for many.  Playfulness and curiosity doesn’t disappear once cats are ‘adults’-  it lingers for years in many adult cats, often throughout their whole lives.
Kittens, Kittens, Everywhere!  
While cats are not ‘adults’ until after a year old, they become sexually mature at a much younger age.  Typically, felines reach sexual maturity at about six months of age but it can happen even younger, at just four months!   Once they reach puberty, both male and female cats being to exhibit a slew of unfavorable behaviors and are able to reproduce.  They will even mate with their own siblings if given the chance, so getting your cats fixed as young as possible is ideal and safer for them in the long run.
Remember, all homeless pets are born because their parent was not spayed or neutered, and even newborn kittens are not exempt from being euthanized at shelters.  Some people feel that allowing their cat to have ‘just one litter‘ before being spayed is okay, so they can get to ‘experience’ the process.  However, even if you find good homes for every kitten your cat gives birth to, that means another one in a shelter won’t.  If you’re dying to see newborn kittens first hand, contact a local rescue and ask about fostering a pregnant or nursing mom.  You’ll get everything you’re longing for, without increasing the number of pets that don’t make it out of shelters alive.
Too Cute to Handle 
Come on, you know you want to foster a litter of kittens, right?  But do you know if you’re ready? Watch this video, and if you can handle the cute, you’re ready.   Behold, the power of kittens at play!

How to Introduce Cats

For families looking to add a new kitty to their ‘pride’ of felines it is important to know how to properly introduce them.  Improper introductions lead to increased stress and tension (for both the cats and humans), dramatic stand offs and hissing fits, and an overall destruction of household peace.

Fortunately, cats are resilient when it comes to learning to coexist with one another. Some cats love other cats, while others prefer to spend their time alone.  But more often than not they can live happily ever after in the same household, even if they are not best friends.  It is extremely rare that cats are so incompatible that they cannot live together- so you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic!   Just keep in mind, cats don’t like change, so you’ll need to be patient and give them an adequate adjustment period.

Bring Home the Newbie

The best course of action is to start the new addition in a separate room or closed-off area of the house.  This could be a spare bedroom, office, bathroom, laundry room, etc. For the first few weeks, the new cat will need their own litter box and food dishes (depending on the number of cats, you might want to keep the extra sets anyway).  Keeping the cats initially separated allows them to smell and hear one another, without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.  Don’t worry- they will have no trouble sensing one another’s presence.

Be prepared for hissing, it is an expected reaction.   After a few days (though sometimes longer) the hissing through the door will begin to subside.  Your cats may become curious and paw underneath the door.  It’s a good idea to swap their bedding or toys so they can really get used to each other’s scents before officially ‘meeting.’  If they are still doing a lot of hissing and growling, feed the cats their favorite wet food on either side of the door.  They will start to associate being near one another with being fed- a positive first impression!

Face-to-Face

Once you’ve noticed that through-the-door interactions are becoming more relaxed, you can allow them to have supervised visits. These are most successful if done when both cats are likely to be calm, such as after a meal or post-play session.

Though you probably won’t need to use it, keep a spray bottle handy in case of a serious fight (no need to spray for hisses, growling, or swatting).  Open the door and allow them to sniff.  Have a bag of treats ready to toss to both cats (remember, tasty rewards = positive first impressions!) If things are going well, allow them to keep exploring; if not, put the new cat back into the bedroom and try again later (keep up the feeding by the door technique).

Remember that hissing, standoffs, and paw swats are common- and they will get past this stage, but you need to be patient.  Some cats adjust in a matter of days, for others it will take weeks.  Don’t punish them for reacting; they need to adjust at their own pace, and punishments will only reinforce their fear that the new cat = negativity.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you should notice some progress.  It may be slow progress, at a baby-steps kind of pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll take a step or two backwards, but again, this is normal.   Allow your cats to eat from separate dishes and have their own sleeping area until they are comfortable sharing.  Continue feeding, offering treats, and playing with the cats when they are together.

More notes about adopting a new cat:  There are certain feline characteristics that determine who they are most compatible with.   Adoption volunteers can help you find that new addition that is most likely to be a good fit.  It usually depends on the personalities of your current pets and the household dynamic.  For example, do you have an older cat with a low energy level, or a younger cat who needs someone to roughhouse with?  Is your current cat dominant around other cats? Or perhaps they’ve never been around cats before?  These kinds of questions will help us to suggest candidates from among our cats that would be compatible with both the people and pets in your family.

Why Does My Cat… Meow All Night Long?

For the second edition of Why Does My Cat… we’re focusing on cats who yowl, howl, cry, and talk through the night.

Cats are often thought to be capable of spiteful behavior- as if the cats are mad at their guardians and trying to deprive them of sleep- but in reality, when cats exhibit certain types of behaviors- especially those that irk guardians- there is a message behind it that we need to interpret.

Let’s  see what we can learn about your cat from this behavior.  Keep in mind, it could be a combination of things and there likely won’t be any quick fixes, but seeing things from your feline’s point of view can help you take appropriate action to help your household achieve a serene night’s sleep.

Born this way

Some cats are chatty by nature, just like people.  This can simply be a personality trait, or influenced by genetics or breed.  Siamese cats, for example, are known for being very vocal.  Is your cat generally talkative, especially when he or she is happy or excited?  If so, your cat will likely be talkative when they’re not so happy as well or trying to tell you something.

Something’s Wrong

Sometimes vocalizations are not just behavioral; they can be signs of underlying medical conditions that require immediate attention.  It is critical that you rule out medical issues first and foremost!

“Most cases of nocturnal yowling is associated with hypertension and hyperthyroidism in cats over 9 years old,” explains Dr. Richard Yacowitz, an owner and veterinarian at Little Silver Animal Hospital.    “A simple blood test will show the latter and a blood pressure measurement will pick up hypertension.  Sometimes cognitive problems and stress will show these symptoms but they tend to be at the bottom of the list.”
Dr. Yacowitz has been practicing veterinary medicine for almost four decades, and is one of the few veterinarians Pet Adoption Network works with and proudly endorses.   For more information on his practice and experience, please visit Little Silver Animal Hospital’s website.

Something’s Changed

Although cats act as though they couldn’t care less about what goes on around them, they actually get incredibly comfortable in the daily routine- yours and theirs.   Routine disruptions, such as a change in feeding time, visiting friends or family, new pets, or even a slight alteration in your work schedule- can stress out your cat.  Cats don’t usually adjust well to change, but they will if you are patient and help them along.  So try to identify a disruption (don’t overlook subtle ones) that might be causing your cat to start howling at night, and address it.

I’m Bored and/or Lonely

Although cats sleep a good chunk of the day, they still have quite a bit of energy that they need to expend on a daily basis.  Their wild cousins spend much of their waking hours stalking and hunting prey- a stealthy and often strenuous task.  Domestic cats are still wired this way, and have to find another outlet for their energy or they are likely to become restless or destructive.  The best remedy for this? Make intensive playtime sessions part of your regular routine.  This not only helps cats to expend their pent up energy in a positive way, but helps maintain their all-around health, and can eliminate many forms of destructive behaviors including inappropriate marking, improper scratching, and late-night solos concerts.  (We suggest following Jackson Galaxy’s ‘play therapy’ guidelines!)

Loneliness and boredom often go hand in hand, therefore, if your cat is lonely they might react in a similar way as if they were bored.  Having a companion cat can lessens their bottled-up energy, and keeps them not just physically fit but also mentally stimulated, which is just as important in maintaining a cat’s health and well-being.

A special thanks to Little Silver Animal Hospital and Dr. Yacowitz for help with this article.

LSAH supports our rescue work, so please support them by ‘liking’ them on Facebook, and if you’re looking for an experienced and caring vet, consider LSAH!
They also have a special cat section of their website with tips and videos, check it out. 

 

Why Does My Cat… Try to Bury Her food?

Cats sure do some quirky things, as any cat person knows all too well (or any YouTube viewer, for that matter). But many of these behaviors, as strange as they may seem, have perfectly rational explanations.  One such behavior is when a kitty is seen trying to ‘bury’ his food by pawing at the ground around their dish.  This commonly confuses cat parents who are lead to believe their cat is about to go to the bathroom, doesn’t like the food, or some other strange theory.

Don’t worry, your cat has a very good reason for what she’s doing! While it looks like the same behavior she does after going to the bathroom, it doesn’t mean she  thinks the food you gave her is litter-box material!   If anything, it means she likes it and wants to save it for later.

This behavior all goes back to her instincts; her wild, feline roots (because, we all know, house cats are still just lions in disguise!).  Food is a precious resource in the animal kingdom. It is the difference between life or death, between predator and prey.  When your kitty tries to ‘bury’ the food, she is just trying to hide the remaining food in order eliminate the smell which is likely attract to predators.  Other animals might try to steal her spoils, or worse, the food could give away her location and put her life, and that of any kittens she might have, at risk.

If your cat doesn’t do this, that’s fine, too.  Every cat is different and some will show different behaviors more strongly or often than others.  If for some reason this behavior bothers you, try offering your cat less food more often, so there isn’t always food leftover.

Two Cats are Better Than One!

Thana & Tarot sittin' in a tree!  These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home.  They were adopted together and couldn't be happier (or more spoiled!)  Photo Credit: T. Shparaga

Thana & Tarot sittin’ in a tree! These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home. They were adopted together and couldn’t be happier.

Just about everyone who adopts a cat says,  ‘Oh, I wish I could just take them all home!’ If only!   Very few people are in a position to care for a cluster of cats, but opting for a single kitten is not usually the best idea either.   If you are looking to adopt a kitten under 6 months old and you don’t already have another cat, you really should at least consider adopting a duo.

Social Growth Kitten-hood is a crucial time for development, just like infancy is for human babies.  Kittens learn from their mother, their siblings, their environment, and any other cats in the household.  They learn how to hunt, play, socialize, and communicate.  They figure out who is in charge, what is appropriate behavior, and how to perfect their motor skills and physical abilities.  In many situations, a mother is not always present, making time with their litter mates even more important. (Remember, cats are kittens, physically and mentally, throughout the first year or two of their life.)

Importance of Play Playtime is not just fun and games: there are lessons to be learned in every pounce, every stalk, every bite.  One of the most important lessons is that of the inhibited bite.   Wrestling and roughhousing with other cats helps kittens to learn an appropriate level of playtime aggression.   If a kitten bites too hard, the other cat is not going to tolerate it.  Over time, this will teach them how to gently ‘bite’ without any pressure, and also encourage them to play without their nails extended.

Single Kitten Syndrome When a kitten spends the first six months or so of his life alone, he won’t learn what is acceptable, and will often exhibit undesirable behaviors towards people and other cats.  ‘Single kitten syndrome,’  though not a medically diagnosable condition, is the term for such behavior. Of course, not all single kittens will turn out this way, just as not all only-children are spoiled and bratty, but it is commonly seen and best to be avoided. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but a kitten raised alone does not learn independence.  Rather, they are more likely to become overly dependent on a human, distraught during separations, and less able to deal with minor stressors.   Other behaviors associated with single-kittens include chasing and biting ankles, excessive neediness, boredom, and loneliness. Those last few are often coupled with destructive behaviors because, like kids, a kitten left alone for a few hours must find a way to keep himself occupied.  Here at Pet Adoption Network, we’ve heard it over and over again.

Still, someone might say, the kitten doesn’t need a playmate because I’m going to be her best friend; shower her with love and toys and lots of treats.  Isn’t that good enough?  Not really, because a human, no matter how much they offer, can never be a substitute for a feline companion or replicate behaviors crucial to teaching a kitten how to be a well-adjusted cat.

Cats are like potato chips ‘You can’t have just one!’  Have you heard that saying before?  Apparently, it holds true!  In 2012, of all the homes with cats in the United States, 55% of them were multi-cat households.    So, there’s a really good chance you’ll end up with another anyway, but its easier to do it all at once.  The longer a cat stays solo, the harder it is to introduce a second (it’s nearly always possible to do so,  it just takes much longer.)  Having a cat that is good with other cats is important in the unfortunate case that they ever need to be re-homed; it greatly increases their adoptability and makes their experience in a shelter environment less stressful.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt a pair is the sheer cuteness.  A kitten playing alone is pretty darn adorable, but two kittens playing and cuddling together?  Infinitely more adorable; its almost too much to handle.  Almost.

What about the expenses?  Aside from the initial costs of adoption fees (many groups, including Pet Adoption Network, offer discounts for adopting pairs), a second cat is not much more expensive or more work than one, and they can share many of the same supplies like toys, litter boxes, and food dishes.   Kittens separated from other members of their species at a very young age can develop a pathological fear of other animals. No one knows what the future holds for you and your cat. A well-rounded cat that is acclimated to other animals can only have an easier time in life- even going to the vet will be less stressful. 

If you really can’t handle or have more than one cat, that’s OK.   There is still someone perfect for you!  There are always cats that would prefer to be your one-and-only, and while they aren’t babies, they can be as young as 6 months and full of kitten spirit.  Any rescue group will help you find a cat that is a good match for your family and lifestyle, so please take their advice.  That way, you know the cat will be as happy as possible, and you will be, too.

And now, I’ll leave you with some more cuddling cuteness of Thana & Tarot.

 

Do You Play With Your Cat Daily? Here’s Why You Should

There are few things more entertaining than watching a cat thoroughly engaged in play, and it is also one of the most vital aspects of a cat’s well-being.  Unfortunately, many cat owners underestimate it’s importance.  Daily interactive play sessions can improve your cat’s overall health and decrease the occurrence of negative behaviors.  Additionally, it can become a bonding ritual for you and your cat.

OCplaying

Both wild and domestic cats sleep most of the day, but wild cats spend nearly all of their waking hours in active pursuit of food.  Since house cats get their meals served to them on a silver platter, it is important to recreate that hunting time to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated.  Without proper outlets to expend energy, cats become bored, overweight, or depressed.  Often, without interactive and energizing play, cats will find other ways to disperse their pent up energy and stress, typically through negative behaviors like excessive howling, compulsive grooming, increased need for attention (not always a bad thing!), or general household destruction.

First, let’s clarify what ‘interactive’ playtime means.  It does not mean tossing your cat a few fuzzy mice and calling it a day, it requires a teeny bit of work on your part to get your cat moving.  You need a toy your cat will love, usually a pole, string, or dangle type (my favorites include Cat Dancer and Da Bird) to get him or her pouncing, bounding, leaping, and ambushing.

Remember that playtime is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so it keeps your cat’s mind sharp and body active.   Allowing cats to express their hunting instincts (and to ‘catch their prey’) builds their confidence, so this is a wonderful tool to encourage timid cats to come out of their shell or become more confident around others in a multi-cat household.

How to Play: Playtime should occur on a regular basis, ideally twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time.  When using pole, string, or similar toys, don’t just dangle it in front of their face.  Try to imitate how your cat plays or how she might hunt.  If your cat starts to pant, you’re doing it right! Let her catch and grasp the ‘prey’ sometimes so she feels successful.  Be sure to have a short ‘cool down’ session towards the end, just like you would during a gym workout.  Rotating the toys periodically will make old ones new again, and  keep things fresh and exciting.

Feline behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s ‘My Cat From Hell, ‘Jackson Galaxy, goes over more about play in this video.

If you don’t think you can commit to regular playtime, you should consider buying a puzzle feeder.  Puzzle feeders require the cat to work a little in order to reach the food, which like playtime, stimulates a cat’s hunting instincts an keeps them active.  As a bonus, puzzle feeders force a cat to eat slower, which is good for overweight cats and those that eat too quickly and vomit afterwards.  The Stimulo Interactive Cat Feeder is a great one, and if you buy it from this link, proceeds will benefit Pet Adoption Network. Other interactive games, like the CatAmazing puzzle-box, are wonderful for keeping your cat or cats kindled while you are at work.

Other Tips:  Don’t do play-time on or around your bed- if you do, kitty will associate physical activity with that area and might keep you up at night.  Also, don’t use your hands or fingers during play, especially with kittens.  This reinforces the idea that fingers are toys- something to go after and teeth on- and will encourage negative biting behaviors.  You might consider following playtime with feeding time to hone in on your cats ‘hunt-kill-eat’ instincts, which is typically followed by grooming and sleeping.  This tip is especially helpful if your cat is keeping you up at night.

Remember, an active cat is healthier and a mentally-stimulated cat is happier; therefore, they will not need to redirect energy into destructive behaviors.  Playtime will benefit not only your cat, but your home and your bond with them.

 

Catnip 101: Giving Cats a ‘Chesire Grin’

An aphid's foe, but friend of gardener and feline alike!

An aphid’s foe, but friend of gardener and feline alike!

Ah, catnip.  Few things are more fun than watching your cat roll around in a euphoric daze, high on a feline’s marijuana.  But what exactly is the herb and why do cats react that way?  Is it safe?  Do big cats like lions and tigers react to catnip too?  (Big Cat Rescue says yes!)

Catnip (Nepata cataria) is a member of the mint family and is distantly related to marijuana.  It is not, however, the male cannabis plant as some people believe.  Also known as catswort, catmint, catrup and field balm, catnip is a perennial plant native to Europe, but is now common in North American gardens and nurseries.  When in full bloom it sports a purple flower that attracts butterflies and keeps away aphids, making it a gardener’s friend.

Nepatalactone is the chemical compound that, when smelled through specialized nasal receptors (, triggers the frenzied feline response.  Cats typically roll around and seem excited and euphoric, yet relaxed.  They chin-rub like crazy.  Cat behaviorist Amy D. Shojai (from ‘Cats 101’ on Animal Planet) says catnip triggers the ‘same biophysical pathways’ as LSD and marijuana does in humans, and calls catnip a ‘feline hallucinogen.’   Some cats eat the plant, which is fine (munchies, maybe?).

Catnip can be used to calm stressed cats (I use it when working with cats who are frightened or cautious with humans to help them relax) or simply offered as a new activity to change things up.  It is also used with much success when encouraging cats to scratch on cardboard posts or sisal towers instead of couches or carpets.  The initial reaction lasts a short time, typically wearing off in less than ten minutes.  After that, a cat will not react again for at least an hour or two.  There is a general consensus amongst veterinarians and cat behaviorists that catnip is harmless when used moderately, but long-term overuse may result in decreased awareness or confusion, according to Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.

Catnip bubbles?!?!

Oh, yeah, catnip comes in bubbles too! Catnip bubbles?!?!

Catnip ‘highs’ are not universal;  that is, not all cats react to the herb.   The sensitivity is hereditary, and anywhere from one-third to one-half of cats will have no reaction whatsoever, and that is perfectly normal.   Also, kittens under six months of age rarely react, possibly because they are still reaching sexual maturity, as it is thought that the reaction to the nepatalactone in catnip mimics feline pheromones, such as those spread by males who urine-mark or females in heat.  Catnip oil has been used, unfortunately, by bobcat trappers.

You can buy catnip stuffed in toys, in liquid spray form, near-bulk quantity of dried leaves, catnip-flavored treats, seeds for growing your own indoors, or plant some in your garden (it keeps away aphids and attracts butterflies!).   Oh, yeah, catnip comes in bubbles too!

Humans don’t typically get any kind of high from catnip, and you shouldn’t give your cat marijuana, either.  Don’t be stupid.  You can, however, make a catnip tea that is a homeopathic recipe to soothe insomnia and upset stomachs.