by Rita Reimers, Multi Cat Behavior Expert
In this 4-part series, Rita discusses the various ages of cats and how to choose the right one for you!
Part 1 – Adopting Young Kittens
There are plenty of adorable kittens just waiting for you to adopt and spoil them. But how do you choose the right kitten for you and your family? While all kittens are not alike in personality, with a little observation and interaction with them, you will find the purrfect kitten (or two!) for you and your family.
The Right Age
There are many social cues and behaviors that kittens learn from their mothers and siblings that they cannot learn from us. The critical time in a kitten’s socialization is ages 2 to 7 weeks, when their interactions with mom and siblings are shaping their future behaviors. It’s best if kittens stay with his mother until they are at least 12 weeks of age to give them the best and healthiest start in life. The younger they are when you adopt them, the more you will have to teach them yourself when you get them home.
Look for a kitten that is alert and reacting to his surroundings. Clear bright eyes, a cool damp nose, and shiny fur with no missing patches are all good signs of a healthy kitten. Along with good health comes that kitten hyperactivity you’ve no doubt experienced. Kittens can indeed be non-stop bundles of energy. It is through intense play with their siblings that they first learn social skills as they explore the world with one another. Playtime with their siblings is also how they sharpen those natural hunting abilities cats are known to have.
The Right Personality
Selecting the right kitten for your household will take a little investigation as you play with and hold the kittens. Do you have other pets or young children at home? Are you at work for long hours? Will you be worried about things getting broken in your home by all that kitten energy? Then you might not want a kitten that plays too rough or who will get bored and lonely being alone.
I have categorized kitten personality into three distinct types, that you can easily identify as you observe and interact with the kittens you are considering for adoption.
High Intensity Kittens
High intensity kittens are fearless bundles of non-stop GO. You can spot them quickly; they’ll be the ones that are running after and jumping on their litter mates. They seem to have endless energy as they race around at full speed, and they often wiggle around as you try to hold them. They cannot sit still for long, if at all.
These outgoing kittens will become assertive and fearless cats as they grow up. If you are looking for a cat that needs lots of interaction and mental stimulation, choose a high-energy rough-and-tumble kitten. High energy kittens and cats tend to get bored easily, so they do best when adopted in pairs. You’ll enjoy endless hours of antics with these cat clowns. But put away the breakables!
Although they love to play with their kitten buddies, high energy kittens can also bond well with people. Offer lots of toys and cat trees to keep these rascals occupied, and play with them often so they’ll want to interact and bond with you. About 5 years ago, I adopted an extremely high voltage set of 8 week old kittens, Boo-Boo and Pinky. Both were as high intensity as they come, getting into all sorts of things and really keeping me on my toes. As they’ve grown into beautiful adults, they have each retained their mischievous ways. Pinky and Boo-Boo are also my loving companions, who often sit on my lap and sleep close to my side at night.
Currently, I am fostering a brother/sister pair that are 10 weeks old, Sonny and Cher. They play together seemingly non-stop, and they aren’t scared of my adult cats either. I am grateful they use up that high octane energy on one another, and then come to me for cuddle time and love. I think my adult cats are grateful, too!
Low Intensity Kittens
Low intensity kittens are calm and secure. While they do play and interact with their litter mates, you will notice they are not usually the instigators of aggressive play. When you pick them up, they will settle down quickly in your lap and purr happily as you pet them.
Self-assured and confident, these kitties can handle any situation, from being home alone to playing rough and tumble with a playmate. Low energy kitties handle other pets and kids especially well, and can also be content as an only-kitty. They love to sit quietly on their human’s lap just as much as they love cuddling with another cat. These kittens are the best of both worlds, and will become calm and loving adult cats.
My 16-week-old Simon is one of these calm and loving cats. While he does play with my high energy foster kittens Sonny and Cher, and can handle himself just fine with my adult cats, too. Simon’s preference is to sit quietly in a sunspot or purr softly while sleeping on my lap or snuggling with one of the older cats.
If you see a kitten sitting off to the side, not really interacting with any of the other kittens, these are often the shy kittens that might prefer to be an only cat or get adopted with a sibling. They might seem nervous when you hold them, and bury their heads under your arm or even shiver slightly when picked up.
Often, these are the kittens that were separated from their mother and litter mates too early, and they didn’t learn how to interact with others. They may need a little extra help and patience to become social with you, but these kittens often become extremely loving and devoted cats. Be patient and give them time to adjust to you and their new home. Talk to the shy kitten in soothing tones and offer some yummy treats to help them trust you. Accept their level of interaction, but don’t ignore these shy ones. Having contact with you is crucial to helping the shy kitten learn to trust and bond with you so he can become a loving adult cat.
My late cat, Precious, was a shy loner kitten. She had been abandoned by her feral mother at the tender age of 4 weeks, and had socialization issues because of her abrupt separation from mom and siblings. While she did live with me in a multi cat household, she would not let any other cat or human get close to her. Precious and I shared a very close bond for her 17 years of life, but no other living being was allowed to touch her.
So, Which one is right for you?
No matter which kitten you choose, he will need lots of extra care in those first few months of life as he learns about the world. As he grows up, you will enjoy watching him become a beautiful adult cat, and a much cherished member of your family.
If you’re not quite ready for baby kitten antics…
Read Part 2 – Adopting Adolescent Kittens and Young Adult Cats
Jacolyn Dadles says
I recently rescued a feral kitten. She was alone-no mother or siblings- and about 7 weeks of age. She acts like your description of a high intensity kitten. She doesn’t like to be held for more than a few minutes at a time. She will try to bite and/or scratch my arm at times. Is there a way to help her stop this behavior?
She is up for adoption…I knew that I could not keep her, but I could foster her and give her a chance at a loving INDOOR home.
Rita Reimers says
First let me say how wonderful that you took in this kitten, as she surely would have not made it out there alone at her tender age.
As for the biting, in nature kittens learn from their kitten siblings good play, what’s too rough, and the run out all that kitten energy together too. Without her siblings or another kitten her age, she is using her inherent need to play on you instead. Kittens hone their hunting behaviors at a young age through play as well.
If adopting/fostering another kitten her age isn’t possible, then you’ll have to be consistent in communicating good vs bad behavior. Next time she wants to play, be sure you use a wand-type toy to play with her. Reserve hands for petting only, not playing. If she bites or gets too rough, say “OW” in a loud voice, put her on the floor, and walk away. Put her in a time-out for a few minutes. Cats hate withdrawal of attention, and she’ll learn quickly that biting = no love from you.
Let us know how it’s going!