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    Social Stages of Kittenhood and First Teachers

    Social Stages of Kittenhood and First Teachers

    All kittens are born with their eyes shut. They have an inherent sense of smell and touch and thus are instinctively able to find their mothers and suckle. (In fact, a mother cat guides her newborns to her nipples through the vibrations of her purrs.) In the first few days, they are very weak and can't move around, relying on their mother to pick them up by the scruff of the neck and place them where she wants them. When they are about seven days old, their eyes begin to open slightly. By the time they are two weeks old, their eyes are fully open, their fur has fluffed out, and they no longer look like little rats but the epitome of very cute kittens. At three weeks old, they are strong enough to begin walking about and continue to grow quickly. By the time they are a month old, their ears are upright and they can stand properly with their little tails in the air.

    At about the age of four to five weeks is the time that veterinarians suggest supplementing their all-mother's milk diet with kitten food so that the mother cat can slowly begin to wean her offspring off her teats and give herself a break from all the rambunctious clowning around that goes with raising a litter.At six weeks old, kittens are very alert, their inherent curiosity becomes apparent, and they begin to take an interest in small toys and everything around them, climbing on everything they can-and falling off. The great feline exploration has begun!Behaviorists say that the initial two to seven weeks of a kitten's life is a critical socialization and training period.

    The Crucial Feline Family

    A very important reason to wait until kittens are twelve weeks old before separating them from their siblings and mom is because they learn extremely important socialization skills from their interactions and play with both their littermates and their mother. Social play not only develops body muscle and tone but also helps to develop motor skills and set boundaries during play. It's common to find cats with biting behaviors that are a result of being separated too early from their mothers and littermates.

    Cats learn from their siblings how to play without using their claws.

    Feline Teachers

    In these early weeks of life, kittens get their first lessons in socialization from their mother. The mother cat will teach her kittens manners, how to interact with one another, and even to hone instinctive skills such as pouncing and hunting. Kittens also learn from their littermates. They start playing with each other from the time they are about three weeks old, and then get into full swing at about ten weeks old, chasing, stalking, and pouncing on each other and really enjoying objects of play, getting more rambunctious by the day.Such play is important because it helps kittens not only to develop their motor skills but also to learn to set boundaries with one another. If a kitten gets hurt while rolling around, for instance, she will instinctively back off. She and her littermates learn about bite inhibition and how to "pull their claws" during play, so it doesn't become something serious.

    Human Teachers

    At about six weeks of age, kittens will start displaying friendly behavior toward humans in the household by purring, making noises that phonetically sound like "mhrrrn," and rubbing and rolling around and playing with lightweight toys that are easy for little paws to bat about. Even before six weeks, kittens are impressionable around people. As noted above, the first two to seven weeks of life are a critical socialization and training period. That's why many breeders like their kittens to be "underfoot," which means they live in a designated area in the home as opposed to a more sterile cattery environment. This allows them to have a lot of interaction with people in the household and learn to trust them.

    Foster and Adoptive Teachers

    Ideally, kittens should be around twelve weeks old when they leave their mother. By this age, they have been toilet trained and learned certain typical hunting and socialization skills through play and interactions with both their mother and their littermates. Unfortunately, cats with kittens are often abandoned and, as a result, the kittens find themselves separated from their mother from a much younger age. Often, shelters and rescue groups strive to put very young kittens into a foster home situation with experienced caretakers so kittens can get an opportunity to learn basic social skills, including being comfortable around people. Without the opportunity to learn these skills with a patient foster parent, many more young kittens would be returned to the shelter or rescue organization by an adoptive family that just couldn't cope with the extra socializing. Whether you are adopting a kitten or an adult cat, it's important to make your new feline feel at home by exposing her to positive experiences in the company of different family members and friends, as well as other cat-friendly pets in the household.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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