Spare The Rod, Spoil The Kitten
Dearest Pippin, you are missed, even though you were a serious pain in the rear end.
Pippin became a part of our family weighing in at a whopping two ounces. He was dropped off at my veterinary clinic when he was only a few days old. Eyes still closed, he easily fit in the palm of my hand. A tiny little gray tabby — it doesn’t get much cuter than that.
I took the kitten home with every intention of providing him with the round-the-clock care that he needed and then finding him a good home once he was adoptable. Yeah, right. After numerous bottle feedings, wiping his bottom, and watching him grow into a strapping, young rabble-rouser, there was no way either my husband or I could let him go. Unfortunately, we were a poor substitute for the family that should have been raising him: his mom and littermates. Let me explain.
Pippin was so tiny when he came to us that we protected him from everything. At first this was essential to his survival. I remember holding him in my hand and showing him to Jethro, our old hound dog. Jethro sniffed him and then opened his mouth to take the tasty treat that I was so obviously offering. When I clutched Pippin to my chest and barked out a firm, "No SIR!" poor old Jethro looked at me with complete confusion.
But as Pippin grew, I think we protected him too much. We had three adult cats and four dogs in the house at the time, and whenever any one of them would make even a slightly hostile move toward Pippin, we would intervene. Is it any wonder that Pippin grew up into a cat that had more chutzpah than any other I’ve ever met? He truly felt that he was king of our castle.
This led to some serious conflicts. He tormented our smallest cat, Victoria, mercilessly. All the other animals would stand up for themselves when he pounced on them, so he eventually lost interest. But poor Vicky was outweighed by seven pounds or so once Pippin was fully grown. His attacks on her bordered on vicious; they almost invariably resulted in a puddle of urine and clumps of cat fur on the floor, with Vicky huddled under the couch and Pippin strutting around triumphantly.
And Pippin was next to impossible to handle for nail trims, exams, applications of parasite preventatives, anything that he considered in conflict with his self-esteem. I would get so angry as he fought with me that sometimes I just had to walk away before I lost my cool.
Most of the time, poor animal behavior is a direct result of poor human behavior, and that was the case here. With hindsight, I think the biggest mistake I made was not letting the feline members of our family take a bigger role in his upbringing. Who better to teach a cat how to be a proper cat than other cats? If he had been put in his place a few times as a youngster when he was getting a little too big for britches (as his feline mother and littermates would have done), he would have fit in with our family much better as an adult.
Eventually, Pippin’s behavior towards Vicky was part of the reason we had to find him a new home. I still feel guilty about letting him go.
Do any of you have experience bottle-raising kittens? If so, share your tips for helping them grow into well-adjusted, rather than tyrannical, cats.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: kcxd / Flickr