Kittens are a lot like small children; they play with wild abandon, and they like to test boundaries and explore everything around them. To help a new kitten learn appropriate behavior around the house, here are some useful training tips for the first few weeks.
Provide Lots of Cat-Friendly Toys
Your kitten should have plenty of toys, including scratching posts and, if possible, a cat tree. Whenever the kitten is feeling playful, encourage him to play with these items. You can entice the cat to interact with these toys by sprinkling them with catnip.
If the kitten starts to attack furniture, or people’s hands and feet, redirect the kitten’s attention to the appropriate toys. If the kitten jumps up on a table, or other areas it is not supposed to be, clap your hands loudly to distract his attention from that activity. When the kitten jumps down, provide some affection and give the kitten a toy as a reward.
The Spray Bottle Approach
If you have an especially stubborn or persistent kitten, then a light water spray may be a useful training tool. Always keep the water spray bottle out of sight, and try not to let the kitten see you using it. When the kitten jumps on tables, scratches furniture, or engages in other types of inappropriate behaviors, a light spray of water will encourage the kitten to stop its behavior. Once the kitten stops the unwanted behavior, pet and praise the kitten and provide some extra playtime.
Do not overuse the spray bottle as a deterrent. Though many cats dislike water, some actually enjoy being sprayed. Overuse can lead the cat to consider the spray bottle a game, which will inadvertently encourage the kitten to act up.
Litter Training a Kitten
Fortunately, kittens will instinctively use the litter box, so litter training is not necessary. Once the kitten arrives at your home, show him the litter box, place him in the litter, and keep the litter box in an area that is easily accessible.
If the cat uses the same area of the carpet to relieve himself, rather than the litterbox, place a new box over that area to encourage proper bathroom habits. Whenever you notice the cat using the box, reward him with a treat. Owners of new kittens may also wish to use more than one litter box. Some cats may not like the placement of a particular box, and therefore won’t use it. No matter how many boxes you keep in your home, be sure to scoop it every single day. Clean the box and completely change the litter once a month. This will keep the box clean and fresh. Cats are extremely clean animals and a dirty box can lead the cat to urinate around the house instead.
Teaching Children How to Handle and Play with Cats
If any children are in the household, talk with the children about how to properly handle and play with the kitten. Rough play with a kitten can cause dominate and aggressive cats, and encouraging the kitten to play with hands or feet can cause bite wounds and scratches.
When you notice your children playing gently with the cat, tell them they are doing a good job to help reinforce the behavior. When you notice a bit of rough play, simply pick up the kitten and remove him from the children’s care for several minutes. Gently remind them that cats must learn to be calm and well-mannered.
Spend lots of time with your kitten, handling her and cuddling with her. When kittens are properly socialized at a young age, they are far more likely to grow into well-adjusted and well-behaved adult cats. This special bonding time also helps to create a solid foundation for a relationship based upon trust, rather than a relationship based upon fear or dominance. When friends or relatives stop by, encourage them to interact with the kitten, as well. This will teach the cat that new friends are to be welcomed into the home, and that good things come from these visits.
Spaying and Neutering
Cats should be spayed or neutered as soon as the veterinarian indicates that the cat is old enough for the procedure. Unneutered males can develop aggressive tendencies, and they can also be prone to marking the house with their urine. Unspayed females can cause male cats in the house to act out, as well, even if those males are neutered.
Be sure all cats in the home are fixed as soon as they are old enough. If you have reservations about the procedure, talk them out with your veterinarian. While nobody likes force an operation on a pet, the recovery time is quite short, and there are many health and behavioral benefits of spaying and neutering.