Growing up, I had plenty of experience with cats. My family had three. Oreo, a tiny kitten when we got her, the runt, was “my” cat. By that I mean my parents did all of the work required to take care of her, and I dangled toys in front of her face and occasionally fed her. It was the agreement, though, that she was “mine”, not my brother’s, and I wanted my family to know it.
I picked her out, didn’t I? I played with her. She loved me best (that one was debatable but I liked to believe it).
I was an eight-year-old kid. I didn’t know anything about what owning a kitten was really like. Shoveling poop out of a box? Nah, I’ll let my parents do that. She was a cute little fluffball, and that was all I cared about.
My second experience with a kitten was very, very different.
When I got Sokka, I was a self-sufficient adult. I’d moved out of my parents’ house two years before. I was responsible. I knew how to make food for myself (mostly pasta). I was ready for a kitten. I went out and bought a metric ton of toys, a cat bed, everything imaginable to make him happy. How hard could it be?
Let’s just say my expectations were shaken a little bit.
Sokka wasn’t like Oreo. She had been pretty easy to care for, laid-back and comfortable in her new home from the beginning.
He was a neurotic maniac.
If I left the room he was in, he would cry like the world was ending. My housemates told me that when I had to work, he did this for HOURS. He played in his litterbox, scattering litter everywhere, digging holes like he was looking for buried treasure. He pounced on my head at 3 am, tangled himself in my hair. When I got a new mattress, I leaned the old one up against the wall until I could dispose of it. He scaled that mattress like it was Mount Everest, digging his little claws into the side and jumping until he got to the top.
It was insane. Almost like having a needy human baby, with claws and teeth, that pooped in sandboxes. But I loved him to death. He was my boy, my affectionate little mattress-climber, and I tried my best to keep him entertained.
If you’re going through the same thing I did, if your kitten is keeping you up all night with his crying and head-pouncing, take comfort in the fact that it does get easier. Sokka’s almost two now, and while he does stick his wet nose in my eye at 5 am so that I’ll get up and feed him, he’s mellowed out. They do, in fact, grow up. You might even miss that crazy kitten stage a little bit. I know I do sometimes.
But in the meantime, here are some ways to make caring for a hyper kitten (and kittens in general!) a bit more manageable.
- Play with them often, but not at night.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that kittens need lots of play time. Playing is how, if they were in the wild, they would learn hunting behaviors. Make sure kitty has a variety of toys for different kinds of stimulation, and join him/her on the floor for a while. It’s a great way for them to blow off steam. Night time is bed time, though, and make sure your kitten knows this. If you play with them too close to when you’re going to turn in, they’ll be riled up and wanting more play when you’re getting into bed.
- When appropriate, get them spayed or neutered.
Do you want your kitten to develop difficult-to-unlearn behaviors, like spraying (peeing on furniture or your other belongings)? I didn’t think so. Fixed kitties are also much happier pets. They’ll be less aggressive (both towards you and other cats) and less stressed. It’s the kinder thing to do, and it’ll make both of your lives easier.
- Make your home kitten-friendly.
Your kitten will be happy, even if you’re off at work, if their environment is stimulating and enriching for them. Some kind of toys that will occupy a cat’s time and energy are cat trees for scratching, automatic toys, kitty tunnels, or just an entire kitten playground. Kittens love climbing and little hiding places, and having things to interact with throughout your home is a great way to keep their mind off of you being gone.
- Feed your kitten before you go to sleep.
If you don’t want to be woken up to a wet nose in your face, make sure your cat has a topped-off food bowl before lights out. It reduces the chances of aforementioned nose-in-face, and they’ll be more likely to sleep after they’ve had a good meal.
- Give them a puzzle toy.
In the wild, cats have to work for their prey. They need to find them, stalk them, and ultimately catch them before they get to eat. With a puzzle toy like one that your kitten will have to figure out how to get to the hidden treats inside the toy. It’s a great way to keep them busy, as well as help them hone their instinctual hunting behaviors.
Hopefully some of these ideas help a few kitten owners out there. I know they worked well for me, and I’m happy to report that Sokka is now a well-adjusted adult cat. Or at least I assume he is. He hasn’t really told me otherwise.