Summer is “kitten season,” so now is the time to adopt if babies are your groove. (We love adult cat adoptions, too, but that is a subject for another day.) We overwhelmingly recommend adopting kittens in pairs, because we believe that kittens need ongoing socialization with their peers for optimal behavioral health.
Sometimes I get suspicious looks from adopters, who seem to think I work on commission. Far from it. The main reason cat experts are so in favor of pairs of kittens going home together is that we have seen firsthand, way too many times, what can happen when a young kitten grows up with no other feline to play with.
We get the calls when the kitten grows to be a teenager and is biting legs and arms (what is amusing at 2 pounds is less so at 10 pounds), wreaking havoc in the house, or, as an adult cat, is having extreme difficulty adjusting to a new cat buddy.
Kittens who always have a kitten playmate are less bored (and boredom begets “naughty” behaviors), and less apt to bite humans in play. We theorize that by giving each other feedback during their frequent wrestle sessions, they are learning boundaries that are much harder, if not impossible, for us to teach. They learn to “speak cat” as well as to interact with humans.
Sure, there will always be the exceptional singleton kitten who turns out just fine, but a high percentage end up with behavior issues that could easily have been prevented. Kittens also just plain enjoy being with each other — watching them wrestle and curl up together is the best reward for having swung for two.
You may be able to get away with adopting one kitten if you have a young or young-at-heart adult cat at home who will actually play with the newbie. But in most scenarios, the adult resident cat has neither the energy level nor the interest in engaging with the kitten, which can cause more issues for you as well as both cats. I think Hannah Shaw (KittenLady.org) says it best when she says, “One kitten is a half, two kittens are a whole.”
I consider getting two kittens to be best practice when adopting, but beyond that, what can you do to ensure success with your adorable and active new addition(s)?
When we think of kittens, we don’t automatically think “training,” but maybe we should. All over the country, there are “Kitten Kindergarten” classes popping up for kittens that mirror those that have been in play for years for their canine counterparts. These classes have slight variations (some are three-week sessions; others may be five or six weeks), but the main idea is the same: Get your kittens out of the house, teach them useful “tricks,” and learn about optimal ongoing care and handling of your new mini-tiger.
Cats have a reputation for being difficult to train, but really it is about adjusting our expectations (and finding the right treat). If we can train walruses and anteaters, of course we can train cats. In fact, just about any animal will learn to repeat behaviors that have earned them yummy rewards.
Training can be a lot of fun for cats, and the best kind of training is relaxed and enjoyable for both the kitten and the human. In Kitten Kindergarten, kittens learn to like their carriers, touch a target, sit, get vet visit practice, begin to acclimate to wearing a harness for leash training, and more. These are skills that will serve your kittens (and you) well in the future. Kitten classes are also a great place to get guidance on a myriad of feline issues and help you choose appropriate resources (toys, litter boxes, trees, and so on), which on its own could be worth the price. There is discussion on how to spice up your cat’s life with enrichment, “catify” your home to best suit their needs, do’s and don’ts of playtime, preventing litter box problems, and more. They even get “recess,” where they have the opportunity to play with other kittens.
So there you have my two top suggestions when adding tiny felines to your life: Get a pair, and take them to school. I am betting you will not regret either decision.
In the Bay Area, you can find Kitten Kindergarten classes (for kittens 16 weeks of age or younger) at the San Francisco SPCA (SFSPCA.org), and at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARFLife.org).
Dilara Göksel Parry grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, with beloved dogs that were sadly not cat-friendly. She has since made up for her lack of childhood-cats by working primarily with felines for the last 25 years. She and her family of kids, cats, and dogs reside in Richmond. Dilara and her business partner, Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, started Feline Minds Cat Behavior Consulting (FelineMinds.com) in 2008 and provide home consultations in the East Bay and in the Sacramento area and remote consultations worldwide.
Main article photo by: Photo by Pexels