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Raising an Intelligent Cat
Understanding the stages of development in cats will go a long way to raising an intelligent cat.
Most people who call my cat shelter are looking for a kitten…the younger the better. The common
belief is that the youngest will bond more satisfactorily with the new family or owner, and that they will more easily learn the routine at their new home.
However, the next question is always, “Is it litter trained?”
Somehow, people expect what is essentially a baby to be well trained to minimize any potential for
accidents, as well as socialized for human contact, yet naive enough to fit in with the members of a new family, without problems to solve.
This is a pretty tall order for a baby!
Human babies are expected to wear diapers until they are about 2 years old, and are not expected to know many words until they are 5 or so. Kittens, on the other hand, are expected to be “potty trained” before the timeline set by Nature. (Fortunately, this behavior comes quite naturally.) They are then expected to learn things quickly so they can bond with the new family and their home routines. Indeed, they are expected to know things that they are not yet capable of understanding. Some people think that instincts are formative intelligence in animals. In a sense, that might be a valid concept, but animals are not driven by instinct alone. Their ability to learn is affected by the conditions in which they have to live.
When we consider the normal stages of development of the kitten as it becomes a cat, perhaps one can learn to be patient with their “new baby” at home:
From birth to 2 weeks, kittens’ eyes are just opening, usually around 10 days. They follow sound, and are completely dependent on their mothers. If separated from her now, they will become slow learners in life, and will often be aggressive towards people and other pets.
During the 3rd week, they are able to locate things by sight and smell, especially their mother.
Four weeks: Sense of smell is well developed, as is hearing. They can walk quite well and start playing with their young.
Five weeks: They play vigorously now, which is part of their schedule to learn the various skills they will need as adults, such as jumping, chasing and running. At this point, they also learn how to use their paws, as cats are masters of balance and grip. Their claws are essential equipment now. They also begin to prepare themselves during this stage, as well as each other. Shared caregiving is a social mechanism that helps them learn to bond with others. Removing the kitten from its mother and siblings now disrupts this process and they may not learn how to form relationships. This may explain why some cats never accept a companion or new pet into the home later in life. They never learned that skill!
From 7 to 14 weeks is the stage where they are most active, where playing is not just for fun, but to learn the valuable skills they will need as adults. This is a critical time in a kitten’s life, and appropriate toys are essential if they are not playing with a kitten friend. Separation from their mother and siblings at this stage is very common, and the new owners must understand the essential use of playtime, grooming and gentle handling.
From 3 to 6 months, kittens learn about the “totem”, that is, their social rank. They can become aggressive if necessary for survival due to rough handling either by humans and/or other pets, such as dogs or larger cats that may see them as intruders.
At this age, kittens can be considered “teenagers”, a time when they experience new sensations, especially those associated with the onset of puberty. If not spayed or neutered at this time, they will begin to try to dominate others in the home, including the humans.
This is normal and is quite necessary in the “wild” for survival. But your home is not a wild place… or it shouldn’t be… and control shouldn’t be needed to survive. Until this time, they should trust their people completely, but it must be earned. Cats, more than dogs, will not respect a person who abuses them. They will become aloof, living up to the perception that cats are aloof, and may even become aggressive with all or most members of the household.
Treating a new kitten with respect, gentleness, and love, along with proper nutrition, will result in a loving, well-adjusted, and intelligent cat!
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