Thursday, 16 October 2008

Other Pets: Socialising cats

At Dogs Trust, we spend a lot of time talking about early and thorough socialisation of dogs as the best form of prevention of behavioural problems. Vets, behaviourists and trainers spend much of their time working to correct problems in dogs who have not been properly socialised.

But what about cats? That was the question asked by a reader of A Vet's Guide To Life. We tend to think of cats as solitary, anti-social creatures. We even revere them for their independence. So what happens when we need to calm a frightened cat in a social situation?

A Vet's Guide To Life gives some very sensible advice about introducing guests in small numbers and, importantly, carefully training the person (adult or child) to be gentle and offer a rewarding experience to the animal. Cats respond to different rewards than dogs, and much of the advice surrounding this topic suggests training should be kept to short bursts with the cat having a 'safe' route.

The notion of a safe route for the cat - either a separate room or a few shelves that they can quickly scuttle up to get a view of the area from a secure distance - is key in introducing both adult cats and kittens to new and potentially frightening situations. This could be introducing a new baby, having visitors to the house or introducing a new cat, dog, ferret etc. to the mix. When my baby nephew first came to visit, my parents' elderly and now sadly deceased cat, Zoey, hid in her favourite spot between two sofas until he fell asleep; when he went quiet she emerged, sniffed, gave a quick lick to his hand and from then on was perfectly calm around him as she had approached the situation on her terms.

I'll be watching this blog carefully as I've recently been adopted by the pictured abandoned kitten (now known as Snaffle) found wandering on the streets. I've had cats before, but never one who clearly left mum too early and is a potent mixture of bullish confidence and bad manners. My other main source for lots of good cat information is the Cats Protection website. And yes, people who adore and work for dogs can be cat lovers too!

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