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Go to any pet store on the weekend and you’ll be greeted with the sight of a puppy class in progress. For years, owners and trainers have recognized the value of early socialization for the long-term health and happiness of dogs. But move over, Rover! Those puppies may soon have to make way for a new crop of classes gaining popularity: kitten kindergarten.
Kitty kindergarten is meant for kittens during their critical socialization period of 7 to 16 weeks of age. During this time, the gregarious and fearless furballs are introduced to a variety of stimuli they are likely to experience during their life, such as handling by strangers, encounters with other cats, and rides in the car and in their carriers.
Observe a class in action and you’re likely to see one cat being passed around like a hot potato, another on his back having his paws rubbed, and a third getting a mock veterinary exam with a stethoscope. By exposing kittens to these common experiences early and in a positive manner, they are less likely to be stressed by them as adults.
Many veterinary clinics, shelters and training groups are offering kitty kindergarten classes in addition to their puppy offerings. For those who don’t have access to a class, working on desensitization at home with the kittens can still be of benefit. Steve Dale of Steve Dale’s Pet World has a kitty kindergarten class description online that outlines some of the techniques used in class.
According to Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist and kitty kindergarten proponent, the No. 1 and 2 behavioral problems in cats -- urinating outside the litter box and aggression -- are related to poor early socialization. Cats that are not acclimated to new people and places as young kittens turn into fearful and anxious adults, and are more likely to exhibit problem behaviors, according to Yin.
Kitty kindergarten is more than just a way to bond and teach your cat fun tricks. Many owners give up on taking their cat in for regular veterinary care because it is such a stressful experience for both pet and owner. Inappropriate elimination is the leading cause of cat relinquishment to shelters. In addition to being a fun bonding experience, kitty kindergarten can literally be a lifesaver.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a small-animal veterinarian from San Diego. When she's not at work or with her family of two and her four-legged creatures, you can find her blogging about life with pets at PawCurious.com. Dr. Vogelsang's blogs have previously appeared on The Daily Cat.