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Naughty Kittens Can Grow Into Good Cats

Study finds some behavior problems in adopted kittens tend to diminish with time

Study finds some behavior problems in adopted kittens tend to diminish with time

© Cleo Freelance Photography

Just like the disgruntled, long-haired hippy kids of the ’60s who tuned in, turned on, dropped out, and then grew up to get corporate jobs and drive minivans, hell-raising kittens can mature into well-behaved housecats with only mild outbreaks of feistiness continuing.

So found the authors of a recent study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Vol. 224, No. 11, June 1, 2004), who studied 126 kittens adopted from the Humane Society of Broward County, Florida, over the course of the year following their placement.

By contacting owners at one month, 18 weeks, and one year following their adoption of a kitten, researchers John Wright and Richard Amoss found that fully half of the adopted kittens had experienced at least one major behavior problem (aggression toward people, toward other cats, or house soiling) following placement.

In the cases of house soiling, incidents were most numerous at the time of the first evaluation, but decreased and remained low for the second and third evaluations—indicating that the kittens for the most part made a successful transition and grew accustomed to using their new litter boxes.

The first month following adoption was the time of highest risk for litter box problems; sexually intact female kittens were more likely to urinate outside the litter box than the females who had been spayed. Noting that other studies have found a link between house soiling and multiple-cat households, the authors say they found no such association; the studied cats who were living with other cats were no more likely to have litter box issues than those living as single kitties.

In the cases of aggression toward people and cats, however, incidents decreased from the time of the first evaluation to the second, but rose again by the third evaluation—a somewhat worrisome finding.

The authors found that female kittens spayed at a traditional age were more likely to be aggressive toward family members a year following adoption than those spayed at an early age.

With male kittens, the findings were more complicated: A month after adoption, neutered male kittens were more likely than unneutered males to be aggressive toward other cats. However, the authors note, those results were not obtained at the later evaluations. “It is possible that in male kittens neutered at an early age, the surgery itself caused some greater sensitivity that in turn resulted in fights with other cats,” the authors wrote.

Noting that behavior problems tended to diminish as time passed, the authors wrote, “If owners can be encouraged to keep their kittens past the initial month of adoption, the prevalence of serious behavior problems can be expected to decrease by 50%.”

In order to deal with ongoing aggression, shelters and veterinarians should provide adopters with educational materials for reducing or displacing aggression, the authors wrote. They also noted that the results of their study provided little evidence against the benefits of early age spay/neuter, and recommended that shelters and veterinarians continue to neuter 6- to 13-week-old kittens prior to adoption.


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