Bringing home a kitten is so exciting. Not only are we smitten with their cuteness, but they also bring a renewed energy into the house. Sometimes, though, we forget just how much energy kittens have if it has been a while since we shared our home with a very young cat.
Remember, kittens are curious and you will want to take steps to ensure your tiny family member is safe while exploring their new home. When we brought Annie and Eddie home from Grayson County Humane Society, it had been a long time since we had had kittens in the house. We wanted to make sure they felt safe and secure, so we opted to keep them in a crate until they adjusted to their new surroundings.
We allowed the kittens to explore on their own under our watchful eyes. We closed doors and put a gate in front of the stairs to the basement man cave to keep them from getting lost somewhere inside the house. There were a lot of new sounds, sights and smells for them to explore, and we knew they might get startled and run off to hide.
Cats when frightened go into total defensive mode and will seek out a hiding space where they might remain for a long time. Your cat most likely won’t even meow or come to you when called if they are afraid. This defensive mode is hardwired into cats as protection from predators. People assume cats don’t care or like them when they won’t come when called, but this is absolutely not true. Cats are misunderstood. Your cat is doing what she instinctually knows to do, and that is to hide in silence until there is no perceived threat.
For this reason, your kitten may try to run away if frightened or if she feels threatened. Cats are territorial creatures, and while they are establishing their new territory, it is important to keep them as safe and comfortable as possible. Follow these tips to do exactly that:
1. Escape-Proof Your Home
Paul and I took steps to help Annie and Eddie feel safe in our home and to curb any desire to run away. In addition to fear, a young kitten will also let curiosity get the best of them, so you will want to make sure your windows and doors are secure. A chirping bird or scampering squirrel might prove too enticing for your little one. Annie especially is a bit wild. I think she would leap out the window after a bird if she were given the chance.
In our sunroom, there are lots of big windows and a sliding glass door. We placed C-clamps on the windows and doorframe to prevent them from opening wide enough for the kittens to slip out. The C-clamps act as a reminder to us to check before opening the door. Paul and I use the side garage door to enter and exit our home 95 percent of the time. We began using a “double-gate barrier” system on the side door. We will not open the side door to our home until the garage doors are completely down, so that if the kittens were to slip out, they would still be contained in the safety of our garage.
2. Help Them Never Want To Leave
The next step was to create an environment for the kittens that would allow them to feel at ease with no desire to run. Even though Annie and Eddie were bonded in their cage at the humane society, just like us cats have a need for their own space and time alone. Your cat’s territorial needs are hard-wired, and even though a territory will overlap in the outdoors, cats use their pheromones as social signals to let other cats know they are time-sharing the area. These signals let other cats know approximately where and when the cat was last in the area, and may even let the cats know when they might return.
We dedicated several places throughout the house for all the cats to perch. We cleared off a desk and a dresser to provide the cats separate high spaces in which to seek refuge. We added a couple of cave-style beds for the kittens to snuggle inside if they feel overwhelmed. A scratching post is another great idea.
Annie and Eddie love to spend time on the cat tower in the sunroom. We have several bird feeders and a squirrel feeder placed strategically around the sunroom windows for maximum viewing. All of our cats can bird-watch without being on top of each other.
3. Give Them Their Own Space
We added two more litter boxes to our home to allow each cat to have privacy and to avoid feeling trapped when nature calls. We provide three different dining locations for the cats even though most of the time they eat meals together.
4. Train Them To Be Trapped And ID’d
If your kitten continues to want to run away, you might consider training him to enter a humane trap. You can do this by placing food inside the humane trap and propping the door open so the trip mechanism will not close when your kitten steps on the trigger plate. By placing food inside the trap, your kitten will associate the trap with food and safety so if your kitten should slip out, he will be more likely to enter the trap and you will be able to bring him back inside. Your kitten should wear a collar with identification and contact information, and be micro-chipped to make contacting you and returning your kitten easier. Spaying and neutering your kitten when they are old enough will also help deter their desire to run.
It is important not to punish your kitten by yelling, swatting or scaring him. A fearful kitten will run and hide. The better approach is to enrich your kitten’s environment, provide private safe spaces and pay plenty of attention to help alleviate your kitten’s desire to run.
Joanne McGonagle has a Global Field Master of Zoology degree with a concentration on big cats and is currently an instructor for Miami University’s Global Field Program. Her studies include time spent at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, Amboseli National Park and with the Maasai in the South Rift Valley of Kenya.
Featured Image: Via RalchevDesign/iStockphoto/Thinkstock