What are Pediatric Behavior Problems?
Generally, at this time in a kitten’s life, the mother would be teaching it acceptable forms of play and interaction with its peers. In normal play, a cat will not have its claws out and it will not bite down in a hard way. Kittens that have failed to learn these manners will engage in rough play, often attacking owners or other pets without provocation. These bad behaviors may pose a real problem to families with small children.
While kitten play can be cute, many unwanted behaviors can form in the younger stages of a cat’s life. The kitten stage lasts from birth to puberty, however, many behavioral developments take place between eight and twelve weeks of age. You may begin to notice your cat displaying excessive aggressive and destructive behaviors. Young cats may also form an extreme fear towards humans during this time. This is not good, as a fearful cat will either be reclusive or it will be prone to attack. Another undesirable behavior in young cats is elimination outside of the litter box. A kitten can destroy furniture and flooring very quickly with improper elimination.
Symptoms of Pediatric Behavior Problems in Cats
If your kitten’s habits seem to be much worse than you expected, your kitten may be forming behavior problems. It is normal for kittens to have increased energy. It is not normal for them to terrorize the home and its inhabitants. Signs to look for include:
- Scratching with claws out
- Bites that break the skin
- Unsolicited attacks on people or other animals
- Excessive stalking, chasing, attacking or pouncing
- Intense running over furniture through the night
- Deliberately knocking objects off shelves or counters
- Damaging furniture (scratching)
- Dilated pupils
- Piloerection (hair on back standing up)
- Flattened ears
Causes of Pediatric Behavior Problems in Cats
A kitten will be prone to developing unwanted behaviors if it was orphaned, abandoned, or removed from its mother at a very young age. If there are no other cats in the home, it is unlikely that the cat will learn appropriate feline manners. Contributions to bad behavior include:
- Genetic traits from the father (paternal behavior patterns tend to be inherited more than maternal patterns)
- Feral parents
- Not enough socialization with other animals
- Minimal exposure to humans in weeks 3-7
- Encouraged rough play by owners
- Early trauma from attack by another animal
- Harsh correction (including smacking or chasing)
- Lack of toys and other stimuli
Diagnosis of Pediatric Behavior Problems in Cats
At one of the kitten’s early checkups, mention the worrying behaviors that you are beginning to witness. The vet may choose to perform a complete physical examination of the kitten to ensure that it is in a prime state both physically and mentally. From there you will likely be given pamphlets and books on cat training, or be referred to a cat behavior expert.
If your kitten is eliminating in unwanted places, your vet may want to verify that everything is normal internally for the kitten. Blood work may be needed, including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile. Urinalysis can show if there are any unusual substances passing through the urine. In some cases, the kitten may be experiencing pain while urinating or defecating and associating the pain with the litter box.
Treatment of Pediatric Behavior Problems in Cats
There are many different steps that can be taken to curb behavior problems before they have become a part of your cat’s personality. These treatments range in severity and duration, depending on the behaviors present and what works for the cat.
Some kittens may just have excessive energy with not enough outlets. Play more with the cat and introduce fun toys and scratching surfaces. If the cat can be tired out, it may no longer amuse itself with destructive behavior.
Professional help or information from books and pamphlets can teach you the proper ways of encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors. The work-to-earn method can prove to be effective, including a command, response and reward chain. Counter conditioning can help an overly fearful cat begin to be comfortable in the presence of humans. This generally includes gradually moving food farther and farther from the cat’s preferred hiding spot until it regularly comes out to eat.
Proper diet using a premium kitten food may help to stop rapid spikes in energy.
Self-activated forms of punishment can help to train a cat to stay off of certain surfaces or away from furniture.
Castration or Spay
Fixing a kitten may stop it from urinating in unwanted places, or “spraying”. A cat may lose the desire to spray after it has been neutered.
This surgery is somewhat controversial, as it is argued whether or not it is psychologically harmful to the cat. If the cat is scratching furniture or people to the point where the owner is considering surrendering it to a shelter, the surgical removal of front claws may be desirable. Antibiotics may be prescribed after surgery to prevent infection.
Recovery of Pediatric Behavior Problems in Cats
As the cat becomes older and more mature, some behavior problems may fade. This process can take two to four years. As time passes, aggressive behavior may worsen in a cat. It is always important to allow fearful cats to approach you and not the other way around. Monitor your children's interaction with the cat. If your younger cat is attacking or terrorizing other cats in the home, it may be best to keep them separate if possible.
Always socialize kittens with people when they are three to seven weeks old, and with other animals from four to eighteen weeks of age. It may help to get another kitten so the two play together instead of becoming bored and destructive. If behaviors do not seem to be improving, consult with your vet for further options. If serious behavior problems are not corrected when a cat is young, the bond between owner and cat can dissolve and often these cats are relinquished to animal shelters.