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  • 1.  Help with unsocialised kitten!

    Posted 01-08-2019 06:14 AM

    Hi everyone :)

    Just a behaviour question about my new foster kitten (sorry it's a bit of a read)...

    Here's some background: She was left behind and unwanted by her owners when they moved houses. She escaped somehow and neighbours bought her in to my vet clinic that I work at, and I took her as a foster from there. 

    This isn't my first rodeo and I've fostered some lively, playful cats and kittens before, but none of them like this! 

    Possum (her name) is 10 weeks old and is kind of naughty !! She plays extremely rough and really lunges at arms and hands un relentlessly, even when I'm not engaging in play time, just simply moving my arm to pick something off sets her off to start playing.

    Once she starts you cannot get her to stop and it gets to the point where I have to leave the room multiple times to let her calm down. She will be cuddling, purring loudly, even meowing for me when I leave, and then all of a sudden will turn and it's getting super painful and rough. 

    I'm assuming since the previous owners didn't care enough to take her with them when they moved, the probably didn't really spend a lot of time with her or showing her right from wrong. These are all assumptions of course, I don't know any circumstances of the previous owners and I try not to judge, but maybe they got her from a backyard kind of breeder who separated her from her litter to early and she wasn't able to learn whats "too rough" from her litter mates...

    So my question is, has anyone fostered a kitten like this before and if so what did you find helped the most with helping guide her and teach her right from wrong and what's too rough? And, could age just be a factor and she might out grow this a little bit as well? 

    Thanks guys, any advice would be much appreciated! 

    Molly :) 



  • 2.  RE: Help with unsocialised kitten!

    Posted 01-08-2019 11:34 AM

    Here are some of the things I do when I'm working with highly stimulated, high energy catsI -- First see if it is just that she is easily overstimulated. If that is the case, I would suggest NOT letting her have your hands or arms for a while, but get tactile with her using fabric on sticks, and just play with toys on sticks. Wand toys are great cuz you can run the cats about on ground and in air.  See if you can tire her out. You can even brush her using one of those brushes for the shower that have a long arm -- soft bristles but gives you distance. And when she gets too rough, give her a disapproving sound and Absolutely walk away and let her calm down.  Play in 15-20 minute intervals then stop and walk away.  Explore her rhythms -- see if the behavior gets exacerbated at different times of the day -- (after a meal, dawn or dusk, and look at what you were doing when it begins to escalate or is it always the same intensity).

    Also, this may be irrelevant, but have you checked to see if there is a slight shake or shutter along her spine right before  she attacks? There is a neurological disorder that some cats do get.  But my first instinct is that she is a bit wild, very active, and needs a LOT of play. 

     Saying all that, I fostered a cat who behaved that way and there was just nothing anyone could do to socialize him. I fostered him for five months (after he had been at the rescue for a while prior) and then a decision was made by the Rescue to look into a barn cat program for he just was too wild. Wouldn't call him feral, but he just never could really socialize with humans or other cats in a safe way. Play aggression is normal, but when it goes beyond normal parameters, sometimes we need to redefine our expectations. This young adult cat had originally been found on the streets and brought to the Rescue. He seemed to want the companionship, but played too rough with the other cats in the rescue and terrorized the carers with his biting and rough play. He had a ton of energy. He was checked out medically and there wasn't anything on that front. So, I was asked to work with him and try to socialize him a bit. He could be sweet as the dickens and enjoy the closeness with me, but no matter what I tried, there was just no teaching him boundaries or manners and the biting just kept getting worse. He seemed frustrated and pent-in. Since being adopted (he now lives at a ranch), report is that he's a great mouser and gets all that energy out doing his job. And, he has a warm place to live and his adopters say he is quite 'spoiled' with love. He still is pretty wild, but does seem to direct it towards the mice. It was a tough-love foster lesson for me - I adored him and appreciated his wild side, but there was just no way he was going to be able to really co-exist and have the restrictions we wanted to impose on him. I share this not because I think it is the same situation, but just to bring into the discussion the concept that sometimes, we need to think outside our normal inclinations. Hope that helps. April


  • 3.  RE: Help with unsocialised kitten!

    Posted 01-11-2019 07:09 PM

    Hey April. I have started with the no hands and arms rule and substituting with toys, and my family has been advised to do the same with her as well. I have only had her for just under a week, so I will continue to monitor when she gets highly stimulated, but at the moment there seems to be no rhyme or reason to her behaviour. The other night she ran herself rampant in my room until suddenly she came and jumped up on the bed next to me and slept on top of me, purring very loudly. So I've been bringing her into my room to see if she will do the same thing, but the past couple of nights she has either been completely uninterested in me and playing with anything and everything and I can't get her attention, or she jumps all over me, biting and playing very rough. She also comes out of the play pen we keep her in during the day and its the exact same. She runs and runs for hours, to the point where I catch her panting with her tongue out because she has longer hair and its summer here in Australia at the moment. 

    Thanks so much for your story about the cat you fostered and how he ended up finding a situation and home that suits his behaviour and personality perfectly. It gives me hope for her! I am very worried about her not being able to find a home where they are accepting and understanding of her if I cannot do anything while she's with me. 

    She sounds very much the foster cat in your story, because she can be very sweet too. She meows for us when we leave her and purrs so loudly. She loves pats as well, but I'll be patting her for 10 minutes with her purring and loving it, and then suddenly she will grab onto my arm and once I get her off she continues to lunge for it and I have to walk away / leave because nothing stops her. I think she just doesn't understand boundaries / thinks its play time all the time. Even the smallest of hand movements seem to set her off. 

    Do you have any advice on how I should write about her on our rescue's website? I want potential adopters to be aware of her behaviour but I don't want to write her off because she is beautiful and can be so loving and sweet. 

    Thank you so much, Molly :) 


  • 4.  RE: Help with unsocialised kitten!

    Posted 01-12-2019 07:08 AM

    Hi Molly .. Hmm, because she is still REALLY young, I personally would keep with your routine and let her 'grow up' a bit and see before trying to get her a forever home. Can you keep her till she is at least 12-16 weeks?  If so, keep establishing a routine -- play, [play/rest/play],eat, groom/sleep and repeat will be important - both to her, and for you to have the proper information you need to find her the right family.  Because she is so young and has so much energy, yes, the play periods may be longer - but the goal IS to get her tired and worn out. That way, perhaps the drained energy will also help with the play aggression. Keep consistent with what is or is not tolerated. Sharp sounds that establish a "no" , and then ignoring her, helps establish you are not pleased. She is treating you as both her mum AND her playmates, at the mo, it sounds like.

    Also, maybe give her a toy animal to bite and love and toss and play with(Something that is closer or bigger than her.). See if that helps. 

    Besides fostering, I currently have a 5 month old kitten (Mimi) who is still biting a lot (she's also teething), and is a very dominant kitten.(I call her a dragon hahaa) However, she HAS learned a "no sound" so when she goes to bite me or starts playing too rough, I give her that sound and she has learned to stop. It took her a a few weeks before she learned).   She does play rough with our 2 year old female cat who is fine with the chase and play biting (they are practising hunting haha) and then walks away when she has had enough. I mimic that same behavior with Mimi. I'm glad she has that company, especially since the older two cats want nothing to do with the "foolishness" of the kitten.

    Your kitten may just need more time to learn the rules of the game she is now living in (how to live with humans!).  Remember to really assert yourself with her and be the 'dominant'  mum -- she needs to know who is boss.   As I said, consistency is key -- and her learning a sharp 'no' sound.  Some folk will use water bottles and spray a cat to let them know that a behavior is not welcomed. I don't personally do that, but some do find it helpful.   Some folk do clicker training (click/reward for good behavior), but I don't really know enough about it as to whether it would work in this case).

    If you do want to begin writing up something, you need to let folk know that she is a high energy kitten, who loves to play, is very sweet, and is still learning manners (and looking for great teachers) and would probably do best with younger companions (other cats, perhaps a dog) to play with, and a animal-savvy family who has the time, patience, sense of humour and desire to raise a kitten. 

    Hope that is helpful. I posted a pic of my little dragon just to make you laugh.