ATTENTION * CONTENT UNDER REVISION* ATTENTION
This article is currently being reviewed with regards to the vocabulary used. However, the tips suggested can be applied without worry. Only a few very specific notions must be reviewed throughout the site, like territory (we now refer to it as environment), marking, pheromones and other specific concepts that have recently been the object of studies.
In this article, we will focus only on behavior. However, other criteria such as health condition are just as important. Some of the advice shared in this article may also help to choose kittens in a shelter, although the environment may influence the evaluation.
At what age does the breeder severs his kittens from the mother?
A conscientious breeder will never sever the kittens from the family nest before they are 12 weeks old, and, ideally, 14 weeks old. In fact, you can insist that the breeder keeps your kitten with his mother until he reaches 14 weeks. Avoid adopting a kitten that has been severed from his mother before reaching 10 weeks, and seriously reconsider the one who will not observe a 12-week period. Unfortunately, in Quebec, there is a popular belief that kittens are weaned as soon as 8 weeks old, and that they can then be severed from their mothers. However, it is not always the case. The main reason for keeping a kitten with his mother during the first 14 weeks of his life is to make sure he will adopt a good behavior when he reaches maturity. It is actually between the 5th and 14th week that the mother teaches her kittens to communicate well with other cats, to play and to hunt, but first and foremost, to have a good control of their emotions, to learn not to bite too hard while playing, to keep their euphoric transports in check and to become kittens able to deal with stress and anxiety.
If the kitten you chose has been severed from his mother before the 14th week, he may have difficulty controlling his emotions, he may be fearful, unsociable or aggressive, he may bite or he may not have learned to deal with anxiety and thus urinate everywhere as soon as there is any change around the house. You also have to keep in mind that a mother cannot give what she never had, hence the importance of learning as much as possible on the disposition and personality of the mother.
IMPORTANT: There is no reason whatsoever, whether medical, behavioral, breed-related or other, to justify the severance of kittens from their mothers before the 14th week, even if the kittens stay at the breeder during this period. There may be exceptions, but they should not be the systematic way of operating of the breeder.
Is the breeder a member of an association?
Don’t get fooled by prizes awarded by feline associations/organizations your breeder has won over the course of his career. They merely indicate that he/she had beautiful kittens in his breed, nothing more, nothing less. Association membership is no guarantee on the quality of the breeding practice. However, the simple fact that a breeder does not take the time to register with an important association may indicate other major deficiencies. Be aware that registration papers can easily be falsified. Write down the name of the breeder who owns the breeding cats. You can contact this person to confirm the validity of the registration.
What is my dream cat?
Before visiting a breeder, we advise to write down, in order of importance, the main behaviors you wish to find in your future cat. Do you prefer an active cat that shows no fear, because you have kids at home? Or would you rather take under your wing a quiet, gentle cat? Do you want an affectionate cat, or would you prefer an independent one, as you are often on the road? Does your cat need to be very sociable and comfortable around visitors, or is that of little importance as you live alone and have few visitors? Make a list and give it to a friend who will accompany you to the breeder. Too often, people get swayed by the beauty or the color of a kitten and ignore their selection criteria, opting for a kitten that is the exact opposite of what they wanted in the first place. Your friend, who is not emotionally involved in your choice, will have the task of reminding you of your criteria. If you forget your list, you may not be happy with your new companion, for he might never meet the criteria you were looking for in the first place. Consequently, he might not be truly happy with you.
Are the kittens growing up in an adequate environment?
At the breeder, observe the environment and the behavior of other cats in the house. They have to be curious and to come to you in turns. Favor breeders who raise their cats in a family environment composed of children, a man, a woman and even other animals. A kitten is desensitized to all kinds of situations, events and people when he is very young. Kittens who were raised by a single female breeder, without children and who does not get frequent visitors, may have difficulty to adapt to an environment with children, even with a man, simply because they never saw many of them when they were young. The environment where your future kitten grew up must offer many heights and cat trees, and several cats must go around freely. It is normal though that some reproductive males be kept in cages. Moreover, very young kittens have to be isolated with their mothers for medical reasons. Otherwise, all cats should be free to go around the house in order to develop their sociability. A kitten raised in a pen or a separate building will be unable to understand the realities of the human daily life: that is why he may have social deficiencies.
The importance of meeting the mother
If possible, do not choose your kitten prior to his 5th week, for it will be very hard to assess his future behavior. First, pay attention to the mother. Be aware that kittens will imitate 80% of the mother’s behaviors. If the mother tends to hide, if she is aggressive or fearful, it is likely that her kittens become so too. On the contrary, if she comes to greet you without hesitation, if she rubs against you or plays with you, chances are that you will find these behaviors in her kittens.
The personality of each kitten from the litter
Afterwards, ask the breeder which kitten from the litter first got out of the nest. Which one first tried to climb the chair or the cat tree? Which seems the most brave and adventurous? Which one gets himself in all kind of funny situations? This one is often the one we nickname “top of the class”. The litter also comprises some “class average”, which are those who follow closely and imitate, at their own pace, the behaviors of the top of the class. Finally, last but not least, there is the one who is always behind and who is the most scared. This “last of the class” is not a bad kitten: quite the opposite! Each kitten has his pros and cons.
A simple, useful assessment test
This unscientific test is simply a tool to help you make your choice. Results can drastically change between the 5th and the 14th week, and kittens younger than 5 weeks are too young and fearful for it.
Sit down on the floor, among the kittens, and drop your keychain behind the desired kitten while he is not looking in your direction.
A) Kitty jumps and runs to the end of the room without even looking at the keys
It is often the “last of the class”. Since he likes routine, he will be very happy to live with an elderly person or a single person whose habits do not change much; being of a calm nature, he is more likely to become affectionate, seeking safety from the humans around him. However, we advise not to pair him with a family with agitated kids or dogs, a person who has a lot of visitors or a person who isn’t home often, whose work schedule and daily routine changes often.
B) Kitty flinches, goes away and comes back quickly to smell the keys
He is a “class average”. The time he takes to come back before smelling the keys shows you if he is closer to the top or the last of the class. Although he is generally careful, he is also curious and likes to explore his environment. He can adapt to many situations. He is the perfect companion for active families with responsible kids, or professionals who are looking for a cat both calm and playful, who will enjoy visitors.
C) Kitty doesn’t get scared, goes towards the keys immediately to smell them and either plays with them or loses interest
He is the “top of the class”. He will be very happy with an active family, with kids or other animals with whom to play and spend his energy. Normally, he will greet strangers and respond well to changes in his environment. He is generally more independent and unruly, hence harder to control. This explorer will climb everywhere and bring down everything: he is not recommended for the elderly or people looking for a quieter cat.
He came to me first!
What about this tendency to choose the first cat that comes to see us? Many people claim that they were “chosen” by their companion. However, most of the time, it is the top of the class that comes greeting the visitors first, for he is the most curious and adventurous. Is a top of the class really what you need?
My kitten is home at last!
You must know that the environment and the life experiences of your cat will also forge his character. So, once the adoption is completed, your work has only begun. Your kitten being in his secondary socialization phase, you have to expose him to several situations and events, and he needs to meet the greatest number of persons possible; these experiences need to be pleasant and positive. For instance, use treats and games to create a positive association with the visitor ringing the doorbell and entering the house. Try to avoid having children pull his tail or chase him screaming, for that might create a negative association related to children.
Do not fall in love with the color or the beauty of a kitten: he will not stay forever small! By opting for a cat whose behavior meets your needs, you are making a responsible choice that will reward you in the long run. Besides, your grown kitty will purr in your ears for many years to come.