Cat Behavior E-mail

What Makes Kittens Tick

SCENT MARKING
First and foremost, cats are all about the smells. A Kitten is born deaf and blind, but his sense of smell is already way better than yours: in his first 24 hours of life, a kitten knows the scent of his own home, and will recognize if he’s been moved to a different place. And even as the eyes develop, they’re no substitute for the nose; a 3 week old kitten placed a few feet away from his momma will be lost if he can't smell his way back, even though his mother and siblings are clearly in viewing range. So kitty’s entire world revolves around the giving and receiving of scent information.

Scent and territory
A kitten is equipped with scent glands on the tail, on the sides of the head, on the lips, the chin and even on the paw pads. Cats use these glands to scent-mark their territory. Every time your cat walks by your chair and rubs up against it, he’s saying, "This chair is mine. It belongs here, and I belong here too." Your cat will also rub up against you to exchange scents. While leaving his scent to mark you as his, he also picks up your scent on his own fur, which he will then lick to remember how it tastes.

Scent and socialization
Because he defines both his environment and his own place in the world by scent, your kitten needs early socialization to be happy and well-adjusted. If kitty doesn’t get the chance to become used to a whole broad range of smells, he’ll have a tough time adjusting to change when he grows up. This is why lots of gentle routine handling by different people in different locations and situations is important. A kitten needs a wide range of safe experiences for him to draw on; then, he’s less likely to be traumatized when a new scent or new situation presents itself. A cat that doesn’t get enough socialization as a kitten will likely grow up to be high strung and shy, taking even the most minor environmental changes badly - he’ll be threatened and fearful of any unfamiliar-smelling objects, people or animals. Even a new sofa would be perceived as a high-alert threat to his territory.


SOCIABILITY AND TRAINABILITY

Unlike humans or dogs, cats aren’t pack animals by nature. They can adapt to live in a family group with humans and other animals if they choose to, but unlike the rest of us, they don’t need to do it to survive. They can get by perfectly well on their own.

That makes training a whole different kettle of fish, when it comes to cats. A dog has a deeply ingrained need to belong to a social group, and will eagerly learn the behaviors that are most valued by that group in order to survive and prosper. In short, that pup’s motivated to do whatever it takes to get his pack leader’s approval. Sit and stay? You got it. Heel? Absolutely.

Your cat, on the other hand, doesn’t really need his social group’s approval to survive or thrive. He can take it or leave it. Kitty will only perform what he’s been trained to do on the basis of whether or not he wants to do it. By showing him your affection and rewarding the good behavior with treats, it’s actually quite easy to train your kitten to do what you want him to do – but remember it’ll always be his choice whether or not he wants to make the effort to please you by doing it. This doesn’t make him standoffish, aloof, manipulative or uncaring – it just makes him a cat.