Bengal cats and kittens
Getting a new kitten can be very exciting - and sometimes our kitten clients ask why the kittens have to stay with us so long before going home with them. We used let them go at 12 or 13 weeks, but now we've pushed that to 14 weeks. Research shows that additional critical social development within the litter occurs between 12 and 14 weeks of age. Also, keeping the kittens to 14 weeks allows us extra time to fit in the second set of vaccines and for the kittens to have their spay and neuter surgery and fully recover from both before taking on the stress of a move. In this article we will provide some helpful information regarding the weaning process and why early removal of a kitten from his mother is not a good idea.
A kitten younger than 10 weeks of age is not fully weaned. The weaning process is so much more than the end of milk intake. If we look at cats in the wild, or even those living free in the outdoors (barn cats, strays, etc), we can see that the queen spends time not only nursing her kittens, but leaving them to go and hunt for food for herself. At a very young age she is introducing some of her killed prey (mice, rabbits, birds, etc) to them and eating it in front of them. They watch and learn, and by about 4 weeks of age they begin to taste it for themselves. Once they are eating solid food, they begin to require less milk from mom. She hunts more and feeds them more meat. Then she begins to bring the prey home injured, rather than dead. She teaches the kittens to kill their own prey in this way. Then, when the kittens are old enough to be able to travel with her, she teaches them how to hunt and catch their own food in addition to killing it. This can go on for as long as they remain a “pack” together. Once the queen comes back into heat and feels that she is competing with her own offspring for resources (male cats, food), she will discourage them from following her and thus the end to the weaning and socialization cycle. By this point they have learned so much more than to just not rely on milk as a food source.
A semi-parallel scenario happens in a cattery situation. The queen eats her food (brought to her by us) in front of her kittens for a few weeks before they venture out of the nest box to taste it for themselves. The learning is two fold: they are learning that they can eat solid food like mom does, but they also learn to trust that the human bringing the food is friendly and reliable and that mom likes the human very much, so he/she must be good/safe.
In addition to learning to eat solid food and interact with humans during this early phase, the kittens are also watching mom go in and out of her litter box and soon they are climbing in to see what’s going on in there. By 4 or 5 weeks old, they too are eliminating in the litter box just as mom does. Same goes for playing with the toys or interacting with other queens and kittens in group settings. They learn to growl, play, show fear (puffed up kittens are the cutest!!!), and chase each other around the house. The learning and socialization goes on in our cattery until the minute a kitten is picked up by his new family. Even in that moment he is learning to trust in his new adventure, when he watches the family petting his mom and he sees her trying to climb inside the travel carrier to go with them (as ours often do!)…
Our kitten buyers sometimes express concern that a 14 week old kitten will not bond well with them. This is totally untrue. In fact, the opposite is true: a kitten separated from his mother and litter too young may not learn to bond properly with humans at all. The time between six and fourteen weeks of age is a crucial time for a kitten’s emotional and mental development. Cat play with mom and littermates promotes proper socialization with humans – by watching mom and the others interact with the human companions for an extended period of time, he learns that (most) humans are safe and kind -- most very young kittens don’t pay attention to the humans around them much at all. Even if the kitten is rehomed to a house where there is a mature cat willing to “mother” the kitten or “show it the ropes”, studies have proven that kittens learn the quickest when they observe their mother compared to when they observe other cats. It teaches them to love and bond with the humans that the rest of the cats trust and love. So it’s best to leave the human bonding exercise up to mom while the breeder interacts with her and the litter repeatedly during the first 14 weeks of his life. Rest assured that cats are happy and able to bond with new humans at any time through their lives, even well into old age.
It’s also during this period that the kitten learns the body language used by other cats during cat play. How they react to other cats and to the humans in their lives is largely defined by what they see and mimic during this stage. This can’t be learned from humans, despite the human’s best efforts to “speak cat” or mimic cat play. Cat language during the first 14 weeks of life teaches them to interact with other cats, when to enter and leave a situation with the other cats and which cats (or humans, for that matter) to avoid all together.
Cat play also teaches the consequences of biting and rough housing too much during cat play – they feel the same pain inflicted on them from their litter mates as they are inflicting on them. It’s not likely that you will bite and chew on your kitten while you play with him (although it’s tempting at times!) to teach him how unpleasant it feels to be bitten. They need to learn these limits and to experience (safe) pain/fear within the “cat community” for a good long period of time before venturing out into their new home with new cats and humans. I’m guessing most people would rather have a kitten who has already learned to chew on toys and not hands by the time he comes to live with them. If you’re reading this and have a kitten from us who still nibbles, I apologize profusely – we honestly did our best while we had him. I know there have been one or two over the years who were quite passionate about nibbling toes!
By age twelve weeks, the mother-kitten bond is beginning to break naturally. This is when we notice our queens discouraging a kitten that is moving close to nurse for comfort. She will get up and walk away or growl at the kitten, telling him to leave her alone and go find his lunch elsewhere. She will sometimes follow the kitten to the food plate and gently continue to groom him – to show him that she loves him, but needs him to fend for himself 100% of the time now.
At this time the second set of vaccines is administered, and then a week later the kitten has its spay/neuter and microchip done. These things take time for recovery and proper healing. Our vet highly recommends (and we agree) that leaving a week between 12 week vaccines and surgery is beneficial in that it allows the body to undergo one stressor at a time, rather than be overloaded with both at once. When we feel a kitten client’s urgency in getting his or her kitten home as soon as possible, we try to explain all of these benefits and detriments to them in an effort to move us all onto the same page, which is to give the kitten the best possible launch into life with his forever family.
In summary, a kitten separated from his mother and siblings before the weaning process is fully complete may have lifelong problems interacting with other cats, may be fearful, skittish or shy, and may never be able to bond with humans properly. None of these behaviours are desirable in a companion animal that you are hoping to spend the next near couple of decades with. In short, give us a little more time with them now, and reap the benefits of that time for years to come.
Munkevica, Maris Munkevics, Signe. “At What Age Can a Kitten Leave Its Mother and Littermates.” PET, 23 May 2016, www.pet-happy.com/at-what-age-can-a-kitten-leave-its-mother-and-littermates/.
Pets4Homes. “How Old Should Kittens Be before They Leave Their Mother?” Pets4Homes, Pets4Homes, 13 Feb. 2014, www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/how-old-should-kittens-be-before-they-leave-their-mother.html.
The International Cat Association, TICA. Tica.org, 31 July 2018, tica.org/phocadownload/lookingforakitten.pdf .
Vilmure, Kathleen. “In the Wild, Mother Cats Usually Leave Their Kittens When They Are Adults to Hunt by Themselves, but in Cities, Mother Cats Live with Their Kittens. Why?” Quora, 18 May 2017, www.quora.com/In-the-wild-mother-cats-usually-leave-their-kittens-when-they-are-adults-to-hunt-by-themselves-but-in-cities-mother-cats-live-with-their-kittens-Why.
Common questions we are often asked by potential kitten clients are “Will my Bengal climb on my counter tops or other places I don’t want him to?”, or “Will he climb all over my furniture or scratch it?”. My short answer is always “Yes”. Let me explain.
A Bengal – not unlike many other breeds of cat – likes to be up high. Bengals, even more so than other breeds, seek high places in part due to the fact that their ancestor – the Asian Leopard Cat – is a tree dwelling cat. The Asian Leopard Cat sits high in the trees to survey its surroundings, not only as a means of survival, but also in order to locate its prey. It hunts within and below the trees it lives in.
Counter tops are not only high, but they are also very interesting. They’re where all the exciting stuff seems to be happening and they provide a great vantage point from which to watch all the other exciting stuff happening just below. Why wouldn’t a highly intelligent and curious animal such as a Bengal cat want to be right up there in the middle of all the action?
Other fun places for Bengals to be are the tops of refrigerators, bookshelves, entertainment consoles, and doorways. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that they can actually get up into the some of the places they manage to get to! Bengals are not only astute climbers, but they are also incredibly powerful jumpers. Given these attributes, it makes sense that one who wishes to live with a Bengal, needs to accept the fact that they will have to provide their Bengal with acceptable places up high to play, perch, or rest. Trying to fight such an innate instinct seems futile – and ultimately sort of boring, don’t you think?
We highly encourage our kitten clients to begin thinking about this need to climb and be up high well ahead of time before bringing their kitten home. This may simply mean rethinking your furniture’s purpose. For example, maybe you don’t need that space up on top of your refrigerator and could place a cushion or comfy towel up there as a place where your Bengal will be allowed to nap. Our cats love to perch up on the refrigerator while we’re making meals or doing chores as it is a great vantage point for them to watch us and each other go about the day. We keep our oven mitts on top of the refrigerator and these provide the perfect cushion for a nap. You could also consider clearing off the top of a bookshelf or other ledge type surface for your Bengal to use as a resting spot or perch. Think about whether you really need that space for nick nacks, before considering it off limits for your Bengal. Maybe you can share.
If sharing your furniture and appliances with your new family member is not your idea of a good option, then you will need to add some dedicated cat climbing posts and trees or other forms of vertical space especially for them. Besides satisfying the bengal’s desire to be up high, adding some vertical space to your home for their use will also provide them the opportunity for more space to exercise. If you are not willing to do this, then you should seriously reconsider living with a bengal.
When creating these spaces around your home for your Bengal to climb, be sure to add sisal rope, or carpeted ramps – these additions will provide your Bengal with something to dig into and to scratch and pull at when needed. Keep in mind that a cat NEEDS to scratch. Scratching allows your cat to remove the dead outer layer of his claws and to stretch out his back and shoulder muscles after sleeping in a tight little ball for hours and hours during the day. Scratching also serves as a marking tool for cats – they have scent glands in their toes that leave pheromones behind to help others know who has been in the spot they are scratching at. Scratching while stretching is also a great stress reliever for a cat. To deny your cat the resources to carry out this very natural, instinctual act, is denying him a very important form of emotional release.
Accordingly, your Bengal should never be punished for scratching – instead he should be carefully redirected to appropriate scratching spaces. It's your duty to provide him with these spaces well ahead of time so that they can readily be utilized during training sessions, if need be. Rest assured that if you provide your Bengal with adequate climbing and scratching materials (using carpet and wood wrapped in thick sisal rope), it's far less likely that you will have an issue with him scratching or climbing on your own furniture to begin with.
Whether you decide to keep your cat’s adventure apparatus simple, or if you plan to go all out and build something extravagant, you will be doing your Bengal and yourself a huge favour. Most Bengals will immediately take to any climbing apparatus that you introduce them to, however it’s always a good idea to have some catnip spray on hand to assist with the introduction. As a general kitten training practice, we use catnip spray (we find the Kong brand the most effective) to encourage our kittens to stay off couches and other human furniture in favour of their own climbers and shelves instead. We simply spray a touch of cat nip in the places we want them to make their own so that they begin to spend more time in those areas and leave their own scent on them for future reference.
Pictured below are some ideas for apparatus which can be purchased or created yourself, using some imagination (images have been found on Pinterest and other readily available public web sources):
International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC) Canada 2018, Calgary Alberta, accessed February https://wildcatconservation.org/wild-cats/asia/leopard-cat
Pam Johnson-Bennett. Why Does My Cat Scratch the Furniture. https://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/why-does-my-cat-scratch-the-furniture/
Uno is our very special boy. He was born on April 24, 2017 as the result of a carefully planned pairing between Solana Ranch Radiance ("Dia") of Jewelspride and Majesticpride Phoenix of Jewelspride, intended to produce a boy to go to the Czech Republic as part of a small breeding program. He is a full brother to our RW QGC Jewelspride Solo and since Solo had turned out so nicely, we had been asked to repeat the breeding to hopefully produce a similar boy.
Uno was the most darling little kitten - so full of life and cute as could be. He was born a singleton, just like his big brother Solo was the year before - hence the name. At four weeks of age all of the standard testing was done on Uno, just as we had done for Solo - PRA-b (bengal blindness), PK-def (Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency), and colour coat testing - to make sure he was a suitable candidate for the breeding program he would potentially be joining. Everything came back clear and his colour testing showed he had no recessives - just like his big brother - he would only produce brown spotted kittens.
When another one of our queens (Topaz) who also produced a singleton sired by Phoenix the same week as Uno was born unexpectedly passed away due to post-delivery complications, we fostered Topaz's kitten, Kito with Uno. The two brothers provided company for each other and Dia welcomed little Kito into the fold without skipping a beat. Kito and Uno spent all their time together drinking milk, growing, and learning to play and climb and jump - acting like typical bengal kittens do.
One day, when the boys were just six weeks old, something went wrong during a play session. We heard a very loud "BANG" come from upstairs where the kittens were playing and galloping about with mama Dia. Upon investigation, it appeared that one of them had climbed to the very top of their cat tree and knocked a large framed picture from the wall near it (I still kick myself for being so stupid as to have placed the cat tree near something like that).
Kito was walking about with Dia, and Uno also appeared to be fine - we watched him walk into his bed and proceed to take a nap. We removed the picture from the floor where it had landed, checked both kittens and Dia over quickly and carried on with our day. Later on that afternoon, something seemed not right. Kito and Dia were awake and eating lunch, but Uno was still napping. Uno and Kito were usually very on par with one another when it came to activity level - in fact, Uno was often still awake and playing when Kito was long out of energy and recharging with a nap - so this definitely seemed odd to us. I pulled Uno out of his bed and tried to rouse him to join his brother and eat some lunch. He stared back at me with a blank look in his eyes - his eyes seemed "dark" and "cloudy" somehow. Something was definitely not right. I felt my heart sink as I heard my inner voice telling me that the fall had been worse than I initially thought. I called the vet immediately and brought Uno in for a check up. Our vet confirmed that it appeared Uno had somehow detached his retinas and was at least partially blind. We were devastated. He had obviously been hit on the head by the picture when he and it came crashing to the ground. All the uncharacteristic sleeping that day was the result of concussion we surmised. Our vet set up an appointment with the ophthalmologist to see Uno in her clinic later that week.
The ophthalmologist confirmed our worst fears - Uno had somehow detached both retinas rendering him completely blind. We enquired about surgery, but were quickly told that because of the severity of the detachment, surgery was not an option. We were devastated, but we knew Uno was happy and even though blind, he was already finding his way through the house and playing well with the other cats and kittens - just days after his fall. He was familiar with our surroundings and we felt it only appropriate to keep him with us, where he was most comfortable, rather than sending him off to another country or even just another pet home. Although happy and well-adjusted, we felt a deep sense of responsibility to make sure no further harm could ever come to him - no doors left accidentally open for him to escape, no new homes to learn to navigate through, no new smells and people to familiarize himself with. He deserved the familiarity of the home and family he had known since birth, so here he would stay.
Meanwhile, little Kito grew up and left for his new home at 12 weeks old. Uno continued to amaze and delight us with his daily developments. Everyone who visited our home could not believe that he was blind. He had developed such a keen sense of hearing, that he could fool us all by following the toys, the other cats, and our footsteps expertly around the house. For all intents and purposes, loss of vision hardly set this kitten apart from any of the other cats in our home. He quickly learned how to navigate up and down the large cat trees, up onto chairs and onto the table top and back down. Because he had been sighted for the first six weeks of his life, he had already developed a fairly keen sense of "depth perception" and was able to remember how far it was to jump from some of the lower perches of the cat tree and from the dining room chairs, etc. We were amazed by his agility and recollection of the items in our home.
Uno was even beginning to try climbing onto the Ferris cat wheel with the other cats! We were amazed. I took videos of him learning to make the wheel move, and center his body on it so that he wouldn't walk off the edge of it. It was amazing to see the talent of this brave little kitten! Now he runs on it like a pro - the wheel is Uno's and when he feels like it, he shares it with the other cats.
I know it may sound silly to say this, but Uno has enriched my life in so many ways that I couldn't have imagined. This special boy has made me realize that our other senses - hearing, smell, and touch - are just as, if not more, important than sight. Uno is a watch dog - he's the first one to perk up during an afternoon siesta if he hears an unusual sound somewhere in the house or outside. The other cats don't rouse nearly as easily. He tilts his head and twitches his ears and you can see his whiskers and whisker pads moving as he draws in the scent of the air to decide what it is that's making the sound. I've learned to watch him and read his body language - if he seems fearful of someone or something new in the house, he tilts his head in my direction, as if looking to me to reassure him that it's ok. When he does this, I've learned to gently make my way over to him as I speak reassuringly and I'll pick him up or walk alongside him as we investigate together. He is always happy to meet visitors and will instantly climb on or cuddle up with those he likes and will hang back from those he's not too sure about until he's had the chance to decide what type of person they sound and smell like. You know what they say... if my cat doesn't like you... lol. I believe this to be true when it comes to Uno's impeccable sense of judgement. He doesn't see feigned smiles or darting eyes - he only knows what he senses from how you touch him, how confident your steps sound as you approach him, or the voice you use when you're speaking with us. He'll sniff you from head to foot to discern if you come from a pet friendly environment, wear too much perfume, or what you ate for lunch if some of it spilled on your t-shirt. I would love to know what he's thinking when he does this. All I know is that when Uno decides he likes someone, I am quick to follow suit.
Uno doesn't ask for much from us, but gives so much in return. He only asks that we feed him, love him and try our best to not carelessly leave obstructions in his path, but even when we do, he takes it all in stride. He simply uses his senses to figure out what is in front of him and how best to get around it or through it. Heck, it may even be something fun for him to play with - too bad for us if we didn't want it messed with!
Despite his disability, Uno is every bit a bengal. He is curious, naughty, and confidently explores his world with the innocence and curiosity of a child. Every day Uno entertains me, and shows me that life is so much more than the things we "don't have" or "wish we had". Life for Uno is one big adventure - our home is his world, and as far as he is concerned it's the largest, most exciting planet in the solar system. He's taught me that life is what we make it - and living in Uno's world is a wonderful and enriching experience. I'm so grateful that I get to travel at least part of my path through this life with Uno at my side (or on my shoulders, as luck would have it).
This morning as I was driving my teenaged daughter to school with her red velvet cupcakes to share with her friends on her last day of school in 2017, we noticed that some had tipped and all the icing had slid off them. Already cutting it close for getting to school on time, we had to turn around and head back home to replace the cupcakes with extras we had made for ourselves (thank goodness for extras). This situation would have been upsetting to the former “2016” me – running late is bad enough, but having to turn back home for something forgotten or to change a coffee-stained top on the way to work for example, used to really set me off for a bad start to the day in the office for sure. The “2017” me, however, smiled. I turned up the radio, backed up the car and off we headed for home to fix the situation. It was smiles all the way back to school, with a happy girl heading into the front doors with her treats in hand (being late is really not the “be all, end all” in the BIG scheme of things after all, is it?) 😉
This had me thinking on the way home of all the things I am so thankful for as 2017 draws to a close. I am thankful most of all for my family: for a husband who supports me emotionally and financially in my somewhat fanatical, expensive fascination with bengals; for my children, who know and accept no other life but one surrounded by the love of each other and our animals in a slightly chaotic (but super fun!) home; and last, but definitely not least, for a truly amazing mother who has basically raised our children for us while we were both tied up with long work days and commutes five days a week all these years. I am especially thankful for free choice – with the support of my family, I chose to leave the daily ritual of my 20+ year legal career earlier this year, taking a leap of faith and leaving a steady paycheque behind to be home full time with my teenagers and bengals. It has been the best year of my life and the best gift I have ever given myself or my family. I have loved every second of cat and kid chaos, school drop offs and pick ups, mid day vet trips, early morning figure skating practices, hands-on sick days when the kids aren’t well, leisurely grocery shopping at 11am rather than rushing through the store on the way home from work, lunch with my best friend at noon on a Thursday, just because we feel like it – and tipped cupcakes ;)
These are just a handful of the amazing gifts that I have been given in 2017. I am so thankful for all of my friends and family, nearby and far away, and for all the new adventures that lay ahead us for 2018.
I have historically been one of those people who has done my very best to steer clear of turning to any sort of chemical treatment or medication for an animal – or human, for that matter. In my mind, there are so many things to try first, that medications rarely seemed to be worthy of consideration.
In the past I have worked with cat owners (more often than not, these people are actually not even my own kitten clients) who are faced with behavioural issues ranging from a lack of socialization or shyness to peeing outside the litter box. I have written an article specifically about proven litter box training methods and litter box correctional training for those experiencing off-site peeing. I have also written an article about properly introducing a new kitten or cat to your home so that he becomes a confident, well adjusted member of the household. I have helped re-home cats from other breeders (I'm a bleeding heart - all cats deserve a second chance in my mind), who were peeing all over the house, or exhibiting other hard-to-live-with behaviours. I truly believe there are many ways to avoid or reduce a cat’s stress that do not include drugs. It is my opinion that ALL of these undesirable behaviours have their roots in stress.
Both of the articles mentioned above are aimed at reducing stress in the animal and calmly dealing with behaviours that may have arisen from poor kitten socializtion, improper initial introductions, or house training. Neither of these articles touches on medications however, (outside of natural pheromones or zylkene – milk protein – to help ease anxiety naturally).
All of that said, I have learned something new recently that is opening my eyes (and mind) to the potential value and effectiveness of drugs in certain situations. Some of this is due to recent conversations with pet owners and information they have been provided by their vets and some is due to my own research and a sudden recollection of my own past experience.
I had honestly never heard of the use of Paxil for a cat until just recently when a past kitten client wrote to me exclaiming how it has literally turned her life (and her cat’s life!) completely around over night. Her cat had been regularly peeing outside the litter box and with a new baby arriving, this had become understandably problematic. My first question after speaking with her was, “What IS Paxil??” Paxil (paroxetine) is an oral drug that is used for treating depression. It is in a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class that also contains fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft). This sounds scary, I know. Basically, it has been shown that Paxil may help with an imbalance between neuroticism and extraversion. Neuroticism is characterized as being inclined to have negative emotions such as anxiety, hostility, self-consciousness, impulsivity, and sensitivity to stress. Extraversion refers to being inclined to have positive emotions, assertiveness, and gregariousness. Your cat may simply be “off balance” between these two emotions. Just as a person can be off balance, it stands to reason that so can an animal, right?
All of this still seemed hard for me to swallow when I was first looking into it. I mean, really, you would want to get to the root of the problem rather than mask it with a drug, correct? And would the poor cat have to be on this drug for life? What are the side effects?? I have always believed stress or negative emotions in the household are the root of nearly all poor behaviour exhibited by the reactive pet, and consequently these are what need to be addressed. After further reading and research however, I suddenly began to draw a connection to a personal experience in my immediate family. Why had I never made this connection before??? There might just be something to the use of Paxil for a stressed/reactive cat.
As a young child, our daughter presented with some difficult and disruptive behaviours. At first, we assumed she was simply “shy” and socially awkward. But then we realized that she was literally incapable of speaking anywhere outside of our home. We took her to doctors and therapists who all agreed she was extremely shy but gave us hope she would outgrow it in time and that nothing physical was wrong, so not to worry. As caring parents, we protected her from social situations and shielded her from the embarrassment of potty accidents (another reaction to her stress) by keeping her home from sleep overs, etc. After speaking to other parents, her issues seemed common enough – they assured us that these were just childhood issues that she would “grow out of” in time, as their children had.
Well, she didn’t grow out of them – any of them. Her anxiety and extreme shyness worsened and continued into her early teen years. We began to worry about how she could possibly ever manage in a world outside our home, where people would not know how to deal with her muteness or other physical issues related to the obvious stress she was experiencing. We began to feel helpless and eventually sought specialized psychiatric help for her.
After seeing two different psychiatrists, we were finally introduced to a wonderful woman who put a name what we had been dealing with our daughter’s entire life: Selective Mutism. The specific label and treatment plan that were given to us for our daughter are not of importance here. What is important is that at the beginning of her (successful!!) therapy, our daughter was given fluoxetine (Prozac). Like Paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with depression, panic, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. We were reluctant, but in order to work with this psychiatrist and her somewhat extreme therapeutic technique, it was a requirement.
Since we were assured that fluoxetine was needed ONLY at the beginning of her therapy, in order to reduce her stress enough to allow her to open up to the therapy and take part in her treatment plan, we agreed. Once her stress levels were reduced with the use of the fluoxetine, she opened up fully to the therapy (which included verbal social interaction with strangers in controlled settings, and other things which we never thought would ever be possible for our daughter!) and the medication was discontinued. This whole process took only a couple of months!
My thought is that perhaps a similar short-term drug protocol could be followed for cats and other pets who are having behavioural issues related to stress. What if adding Paxil to the processes outlined in my articles about litter box re-training and introduction of pets could work for those handful of situations that don’t respond successfully to the protocols? It could help families who are at their wit’s end and thinking the only available option is to surrender their cat. For some families, pets with extreme behavioural issues can cause stressful situations including arguing, and other serious family disruptions. In these situations, the pets nearly always suffer the worst imaginable consequences. What if a drug like Paxil could help alleviate the cat's bad (reactive) behaviour and offer some respite for a stressed family, allowing them to more successfully implement the necessary training/correction techniques? I am thinking that we often jump too quickly to rehome a “problem pet” without taking into full consideration the potential ramifications of uprooting and rehoming him. When considering the consequences that an abrupt change in domicile could have on the pet, doesn’t it seem important to first look into the potential short-term help of a drug like Paxil? For me, this definitely provides some food for thought if nothing else…. I will be discussing this more fully with my vet to get a better idea of side effects related to short and long term use and will provide more information as soon as I have it.
My last post touched briefly on car travel with your bengal kitten. This morning I was reading a pet magazine when I came across a related idea that I thought was worth sharing. I'm always advising clients to leave their kitten's pet carrier available at all times in the home as a safe place or "bed" for their kitten. It helps immensely when it comes time to run them to the vet, or take them out in the car. If they are used to and comfortable with their travel crate, then it makes sense that it will lower their stress when traveling in it, right??
Well this morning I came across an ad in the magazine I was reading that is related to my idea of using the travel carrier as a safe place or bed and I thought I'd share! This "pod shaped" bed is a great idea in that it looks and feels just like a regular cat bed and then when you want to travel with your cat you simply zip the top onto it and go. Of course, a pet carrier is the same idea, and to be truthful, some cats prefer the "den-like" safety of a fully enclosed space like a pet carrier, so really either idea would work, but I thought some people might like the style and shape of this pod bed a little better. Maybe a Christmas gift idea for your kitten??
So, you've got your new kitten home with you and you're very excited to start doing all of the fun things that attracted you to bengals in the first place: taking him on car rides, and out for walks on his leash! There are some important steps to follow prior to attempting these activities. You can "make" or "break" your kitten's fondness for his harness and for these activities, depending on how you undertake his introduction to them.
Wearing the Harness
If you adopted your kitten from our cattery, you know that we send all our kittens home with a kitten sized harness (made by Copper Paw Designs). This is to encourage you to take your kitten out for some adventure and exercise. If this is done early on and often, your kitten will enjoy outdoor walks for a lifetime.
There is definitely a procedure to follow however, to ensure that he takes kindly to the harness right from the start. The first step is to train your kitten to feel comfortable in his harness in the comfort of your home. This is done by placing the harness securely on your kitten and supervising him as he wanders around the house and gets used to the feel of it. At first he may seem wary, may try to struggle out of it, and may even "tip" over, appearing to be immobilized by it! This is completely normal - it feels weird to him - almost like he's been put into a straight jacket. Give him time to get used to the feel of it. The best way to do this is to distract him with play - wave his feather teaser wand and encourage him to walk and play while wearing the harness as he normally would. Once he begins to play he will soon forget that he is even wearing the harness. Leave the harness on him for about a half an hour at a time - while he is closely supervised. This should be done a couple of times a day over the course of a few days prior to attaching the leash and venturing out of doors with it.
Once he is comfortable, you will know the time is right to take the next step.
Time to head out the door!
The first rule for heading outdoors with your kitten is always carry the kitten out the door rather than walk him out. Walking the kitten out through the door teaches him how to walk out and may encourage escape attempts. Hold your kitten close with his harness fitted securely on him and his leash held firmly in your free hand. Pet and talk to him and cuddle him as you walk out the door with him. This will offer him encouragement and help him to feel secure. When you get outside with him crouch down to his level and allow him to leave your arms rather than you setting him down. This will help him build up his confidence and not feel like you are deserting him. He needs your reassurance that it's safe and fun and nothing scary is going to happen.
Let him sniff and explore while you simply focus on keeping him untangled (!). We recommend a retractable leash to allow for some length of leash for free roaming during this first phase of leash training. After a few exploratory trips out of doors, you can embark on attempting to train your kitten to walk along side of you, but this will be the topic of another post. For the moment the goal is to focus on getting your kitten outside for some exploration and perhaps ready to travel in the car to more exciting locations for walks.
Often times a car ride is necessary in order to get to a location where you can walk your kitten - a park, or a pet friendly neighbourhood with lots of walking paths, etc. You've probably had the chance to get a good feel for how your kitten reacts to car rides from your initial car ride home from our house when you came to pick him up! If your kitten was ok with the car ride (ie did not screech or cry the whole ride home) then congratulations, you are blessed and will have a much easier time teaching him to enjoy travelling than is typical. The more typical scenario is that your kitten probably cried during the entire car ride home and you had to talk him through the adventure and provide lots of distraction and reassurance the entire trip. This is all completely normal. It will take many car rides with your kitten to desensitize him to the unusual stress of it. Always keep the harness and leash on your kitten while in the car (if he is not otherwise safely contained in his pet carrier) and have a second person riding in the car with you who is free to supervise the kitten and help him feel comfortable during the ride. This will help ensure that he doesn't get underfoot - talk about distracted driving!!!
There are also some other things you can try which will help alleviate his stress during the car ride. One of those things is the use of an all natural product called Zylkene. You can pick this up from your vet or on Amazon. It's usually a little bit less expensive at the vet and the vet can ensure you are giving a correct dosage. Give this to him for the first little while during the car training endeavor as it will help to alleviate some of his stress and allow him to more calmly take in the adventure and fun of the car ride. Bengals are by nature open to new and exciting adventures and once your kitten's stress level is lowered, this will allow his natural sense of adventure to kick in so he can enjoy the process more.
Zylkene is an all natural milk protein and is not harmful or addictive in any way - it's more like a supplement. It helps a TON. We use it for airline travelling and car trips with our cats when we go to shows or on vacation with them. It's also useful for transitioning kittens to new homes. It will lessen his anxiety and help his true personality to show through during the transition until he's settled in and familiar with everyone and everything, including car rides.
Remember that harnesses, walks and car rides are all new to him. Everything - even your home and family - are new to him so it's understandably a very stressful time. You should start by just letting him adjust to his safe room and then get used to your house before rushing into taking him out for walks or in the car. Baby steps with your new baby will ensure a balanced and well adjusted cat down the road.
"We really want to bring home a new kitten, but we're not sure how to introduce him to our existing cat and dog..."
We are often asked this question and there really is no "simple" answer. I've spent hours and hours tailoring introductions for clients based on their specific situations or pets. Just as there are many different cat personalities, there are many different ways to introduce two cats - or a cat and dog for that matter - each with varying time frames and degrees of success. "Success" may mean different things to different families. Do you want your pets to love each other or will it be enough for you if they simply tolerate one another's existence and live with you under the same roof? Either way, I'll go through the steps here that I suggest to our kitten clients when they are introducing one of our kittens to their dog(s) or cat(s) at home. This process may be used for the introduction of any new pet to any home, it's not strictly for use by our kitten clients.
Creating Kitten's Safe Place
The first thing to do (and something that is written right into our contract as the "quarantine period", so it's not to be taken lightly) is to create a safe room for your new kitten to stay when he arrives in your home. The benefits of the safe room are two fold: 1) the prevention of potential infectious illnesses; and 2) creating a less stressful transition for the kitten into his new home. This is the room where you will place his litter box(s), food, water, toys, cat tree/post for sleeping and scratching, and any other items he may be bringing from his current home (or our cattery, if that's the case), including the carrier and blanket he arrived in to act as a den and a secure place while he settles in. Leave the carrier in the safe room with him for him to hide in if need be - plus, it makes it easier to contain and transport him when you take him for his 72 hour vet check and when you decide to move him to a new area in your home. See our article on Litter Box Training for some additional tips on creating the safe room.
As mentioned above, our kitten contract states that the kitten you take home from our cattery must be kept separate and apart from all other pets in your home for a full two weeks. During this time, you may observe him with full confidence that the kitten has not been exposed to any outside contaminants since arriving at your home. If your kitten has come in contact (grooming, biting/playing) with other animals in your home - especially those who are allowed outdoor access (a dog going for walks, or a cat who free roams) our health guarantee is voided, as we have absolutely no control over what illnesses or viruses your kitten could potentially be exposed to via the other pets.
The successful transition of the kitten to your home goes most smoothly when use of the safe room is implemented. During the kitten's time in the safe room, he will have the opportunity to get a gradual sense of some of the smells and sounds of your home, thereby easing his stress with each passing day he spends in your home. A bathroom works very well as family members will be coming and going, talking to him, petting him and playing with him, but leaving him to his quiet and safe area when you are not in there with him. This is not cruel - this is exactly what the new kitten needs in order to feel safe and protected now that he doesn't have any of his litter mates or family with him. Everything is new to him and he's scared. The room will be his safety zone during the transition. Make sure the room has areas in the for hiding - a box, or a tunnel would work well.
Smell is Key
Smell is huge for cats and kittens. For this reason, try to bring something along with the new kitten from his current environment - a blanket, shirt, soft toy, etc that has absorbed some of the "scent of home" or of his litter mates. This will give him something that gives him comfort once his world is left behind to come to your house. Add clean cloth or towel into the kitten's crate at this time, or on his tree if that's where he spends most of his time. You will make use of this item in a few days to bring out of the safe room and introduce to your existing existing pets to smell and get used to, so they know the smell or the new family member before he is ever officially presented to them.
Introduction to Existing Pets
Gradual is the name of the game
"What about my other cat or our family dog?" Well, the great thing about bengals in particular is that they super curious and eager to make friends, so it will just be a matter of time. I've NEVER had a situation with a kitten client where a successful relationship between pets hasn't eventually taken place. If the introduction is done thoughtfully, your new kitten and existing dog or cat will be the best of friends for life. Because you implemented the Safe Room Strategy, he will also have had the opportunity to play "pawsies" under the door with other pets in the house and they will have gained a sense of each other by talking to and smelling one another for the past couple of weeks prior to the official introduction.
Lower Kitten's Stress with Play
The keys to a successful introduction are timing and playful distraction. During the two week quarantine period in the safe room, periodically close up your other pets in another room and open the door to the kitten's safe room and allow him to come out and explore. You can begin doing this one or two times a day beginning on about day 4 after bringing your kitten home and completing his required vet check. Toys are essential in this process - create a playful and inviting space just outside the door of the safe room by bringing some of his toys out for him. A feather teaser wand is a fabulous tool to use at this time to lower stress and entice your kitten out of the room and into the hallway or room just outside his room. Sit on the floor and play with him while he inadvertently takes in the smells and sounds of life outside his room for a few minutes.
If the kitten decides to confidently wander beyond the zone you've created, let him do so. Follow him quietly while you observe him taking in the sights and sounds of his new home. Make sure the home is relatively quiet at this time - kids are at school, home reno construction is not occurring in your kitchen, etc. Also, remember to be careful about putting away and removing any and all targets for inappropriate peeing before letting him out to explore.
Keep it Short
Don't spend more than 15 minutes allowing the kitten to explore... it can be overwhelming and may be sensory overload for a young stressed kitten, so after 15 minutes gently entice him back into his room and play with him a few minutes more in the room before closing him off again from the rest of the house to relax and reflect on his positive experience. It's important to entice him, rather than carry and place him, back in the room. This will teach him how to find the room when he needs to - if he wants to flee the main living area or needs his quiet time. Teach him the route "home". Now, let your other pets back out and allow them to explore where the kitten has been to become more and more familiar with his scent with each passing day of completing this exercise. Repeat this process at least twice a day during the quarantine period.
Meet and Greet at Last!
At the end of the two week quarantine period, begin to leave the door of kitten's safe room slightly cracked open while you stand back and carefully observe. Watch to see who comes to the door first - the kitten to see who's on the other side, or the existing pet to finally meet the secret occupant. Either way, carefully monitor the meet and greet - from a bit of a distance, but not too far away that you can't intervene to separate them and close the door again if need be.
Create a United Front
It's critical at this stage to talk to your existing pet in calm tones, reassuring him that he is being a "good boy" while he is tentatively sniffing at the new kitten. If it doesn't disrupt the introduction, move in closer and place your hand on your pet and scratch or pet him in a way he likes so he feels like you are meeting the newcomer as a united front. Remember it's his house being invaded and not the other way around, so at this time priority must be given to creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere for the existing pet in welcoming his new housemate. NEVER reprimand (vocally or physically) the existing pet during this introduction. You will essentially be teaching him to resent the new family member if you do this. It will create a negative experience which is the opposite of what you want to do. If hissing and/or growling ensues (completely normal and expected!) remember that you need to allow the animals to communicate with one another without your interference unless there is clear evidence that one or both pets will be hurt in a full out brawl. If the introduction goes well, and the two begin to sniff or even lick one another, continue to keep a close eye but allow them to do what animals do - lick, groom, sniff, chase, etc. Theirs is a secret language that we do not have the benefit translating in full, so this is where we need to "let nature take its course" so to speak.
Once the introduction has taken place, and you are confident that it is going well for the most part, leave the door to the safe room completely ajar for all of the pets to come and go as they please. Continue to observe and monitor the interaction. Leave a litter box and your kitten's tree in there so he can go back into the room when he feels like it for comfort and add a few more litter boxes to the other areas of the house. ** Best practice is to bring the litter box he's been using in the safe room out into another area of the home for easy recognition, and replace the one in the safe room with a new box.
For at least another week or so, continue to put the kitten in his safe room when you need to leave to do errands or go to work, etc. You don't want to risk undesirable behaviour such as unsupervised brawls (unlikely, but you never know!) or peeing accidents while you're unable to monitor. For an even longer period of time, keep placing the kitten in his safe room overnight to rest and use his litter box. We have some adult cats in our home that we continue to do this with. This is a sure way to avoid waking up to broken lamps, torn papers all over the desk, and a host of other "bengal mishaps".
You're on your own!
Well, I've put into one place all of the things that come to mind when discussing the issue of introducing a new kitten to a home with existing pets - I'm sure I've left some details out - as each situation I've helped deal with has had its own peculiar intricacies, as I'm sure yours will too. My main goal in writing this article is to give kitten clients and others a succinct resource containing the basic steps of a "successful" introduction. Feel free to tweak the procedure as it translates into your particular set of circumstances, and.... good luck! Like I've said, we've never had a situation where a new kitten and the existing pet have not become fast friends when the appropriate measures are taken for a stress free introduction. Heck, even when everything is done ALL wrong, the animals seem to figure it out on their own eventually, leaving us scratching our heads in amazement. It just depends on how smoothly and quickly you want it to go. Most of all, enjoy your new family member!
So lately our little blind kitten, Uno, has been darting for the outside door everytime he hears someone getting ready to leave or come in - which is often around here! This place is like Grand Central Station with people coming and going non-stop. We've all learned to be very quick and watch our feet to make sure he's not sneaking past us. He literally has NO fear.
I never have collars or tags on any of our cats for fear of them getting caught up in something when I'm not home - they ARE bengals, after all, and trouble gets in their path when least expected. All of our cats are microchipped so that they can be identified if turned in to a vet clinic or rescue facility. In Uno's case, however, I have decided to go that extra step and purchase a reflective collar and I.D. tag in the event he slips past us, unnoticed.
Understandably, Uno is not loving the collar - and thinks of it more as a toy to be pulled off his neck and tossed around, than a piece of jewelry. In any event, he will get used to it, and who knows, maybe one day it will be a lifesaver if he happens to get out and go missing. He is a VERY friendly guy and will run up to anyone who is speaking or making a noise - just to investigate. The collar will just add some extra assurance that if the right person finds him, they will be able to easily return him to us or give us a call to come pick him up.
I thought it would be helpful to add a note on his tag saying "I'm blind" so that who ever finds him, understands his behaviour. We are so used to how he responds to strange noises - he crouches low and stays close to the ground until he feels sure that the noise is coming from something or someone he recognizes. Once he feels sure he's safe, he begins to bound toward whatever he hears or smells to investigate. Once you reach out to touch him, however, he sort of jumps - because he isn't able to see you coming at him until you speak while you're getting close. We've learned to speak to him nearly all the time when we are moving around him or wanting to pick him up, etc. It's the only way he can tell that we are coming closer, or leaving the area. If we leave a room where we've been with him, without speaking as we leave, or making noise with our feet hitting the ground, he will begin to cry, looking for us when he realizes we left without telling him!
Uno is such a smart boy, and he's enriching our lives in ways we never could have imagined. We are such a fortunate family to have him!
Breeding bengals and raising kittens leaves very little spare time. Add to that a family with two busy, growing teens, and an organic blueberry farm in full swing from July through part of September, and you can imagine that the only time I have to sit down around here is when I am at the computer, answering emails, or like right now, taking a moment to write a quick post while I keep an eye on the stove as dinner is cooking.
Yes, life is busy, but I'm certainly not complaining. In fact, I've never been happier in all my life. I recently left my 20+ year career as a corporate paralegal in order to focus completely on the kids and the bengals, so here I am - up to my eyeballs in kids and cats - and blueberries for the time being. As stated in a spot-on meme that I found the other day, "Self-employment simply means having the freedom to pick which 18 hours of the day you'd like to work."
There are pros and cons. Being self-employed is one of the most enjoyable ways to exist and pay the bills - "Do what you love, and love what you do" - however it can also be very difficult to know when to clock out for the day or take a break. Since I am working for myself now, doing what I am very passionate about, I never really feel the need to clock out or take a break. Sometimes I find myself burning the candle at both ends - up early to feed the cats and clean before seeing the kids and husband off for the day - and up late into the night answering "just one last email", or "taking a minute" to quickly update the website with new photos from the photo shoot I was able to sneak in that day.
The life of a breeder is definitely not a Monday through Friday sort of job. There are no such things as 'weekends' and there are no holidays without extreme planning and organization. It's a 7 days a week, 24 hours a day sort of thing. None of those hours are set in stone either.
Sure, I sometimes feel burnt out, but then I stoop to pick up one of our adorable kittens and all of the tiredness floats away. This is what it's all about. Those little "mews", the pitter-patter of little feet chasing toys around on the floor, and the endless hours of entertainment they provide. You can hardly call it "work" - but when you realize that each kitten has attached to it an adoptive family, with millions of questions and concerns regarding their kitten, emails to answer, contracts to draft, hours of cleaning, feeding, socialization and training... it becomes obvious that this is, in fact, technically a job. But it's more fulfilling than anything I've ever done before. It's what I love, it's what I live for... I can't imagine my life without being surrounded by these beautiful creatures. My husband loves them as much as I do, and the kids have never known a life not being surrounded by animals. They often comment how strange it seems at some of their friends' houses where there are no pets. They say it seems so lonely and quiet... and CLEAN!!! Hahaha.... I love my kids. They are as crazy as I am - you can't live in this house without being a little crazy.
Carmen Klassen, Owner of Jewelspride Bengals