• Recently I visited the Kent County Humane Society and was astounded by the incredible number of kittens abandoned, born in cages at the shelter, or simply pulled off the street by the animal control officers. However these kittens arrived, their numbers are staggering.

    Springtime is known as a fertile season for many species and cats are no exception. Unspayed queens (adult cats) can complete an estrus cycle and go through a heat period every three weeks until they either become pregnant, are spayed or their season ends. Cat’s estrus cycles are triggered by increasing length of light in the day, so they start cycling in January or February and continue through late fall. Potentially, that’s a passel of pussies! Naturally, I’m a strong advocate for having cats spayed so that their reproductive capacity is minimized. Yet I have also been on the receiving end of kitten rescue, and have been delighted by the playful rollicking antics of a pair of tiny tigers. If you open your heart and home to a kitten, then here are a few pointers (for raising him right).

    Of course, everyone knows to feed kitten food. Using a growth formula through the first 8-10 months gives growing bones and muscles extra protein. Cats have a much higher protein requirement than do dogs or humans and that’s especially true for kittens. Kitten food must be labeled “Complete and Balanced Nutrition” because that implies it is appropriate for all life stages. Feed a variety of food, in both brand and consistency. Always feed from a metal or ceramic bowl. No plastic please! Once kittens are weaned, they no longer need milk. Some cats do like dairy products, and it’s ok to give it. Kittens are easily trained to a litterbox, and the general rule is one box per cat.

    Just like children, kittens need to be socialized. Initially, they are taught species-specific behaviors by their mother. The queen teaches grooming, hunting and what limits are normal for roaming. Also, interaction with siblings teaches a kitten how to play. At about 8 weeks of age, kittens can go to their adoptive home. It is then that bonding with their human family is optimized. Successful incorporation into the household requires some loving care. Optimal socialization includes special handling like brushing, cleaning ears, trimming nails and brushing teeth. Handle cats paws every day so that cutting nails is no big deal. Put your fingers in your cat’s ears so if you need to medicate them he’s used to the sensation. Open the mouth and pretend to give the kitten a pill so that you can if you ever need to. I have also taken every kitten I’ve ever had for frequent car rides so that he’s not afraid of the car. Make lots of loud noises, have company over so kittens are neither shy nor scared. I travelled extensively with my Maine Coon cat who was unfazed by airport security or bumpy plane rides.

    Again, like growing children, kittens need mental stimulation too. Keeping a youngster home alone all day is neither smart nor fair. Bored individuals of any species become destructive. Good toys are the interactive ones. Fishing poles with fur mice or feathers on the end give a kitten endless hours of satisfaction. Remember that cats need exercise. Provide playthings which keep a cat moving. The best playtime is that which is spent with a loving owner. Enjoy!!