Behavioral Problems in Cats (or Kittens)
Pediatric behavior problems refer to undesirable behaviors exhibited by kittens between birth and puberty. It is important to address this as early as possible, because behaviors acquired during this age range may be difficult to change later. Preventative measures to avoid such behaviors are essential, as kittens are very vulnerable to physiological and environmental influences.
The most common problems are related to play, fearfulness, defensive aggression, and elimination (i.e., urinating and defecating in the house, also known as house-soiling). While there are no breeds known to be especially inclined to certain behavioral issues, there may be some genetic factors, as it is believed that parental influence may increase the odds of fearfulness in kittens.
Symptoms and Types
Issues involving play may include increased roughness, such as fully extended claws and increased biting. Fear and defensive behavioral problems may include hiding, fleeing, and aggression. These behaviors are characterized by hissing, flattening the ears, and dilated pupils. Elimination problems refer to a problem with litter-box use, including house-soiling, urinating or defecating in the house, or in other unsuitable areas.
While many behavior problems in kittens are species-typical, there are some causes that can worsen behavioral issues, many of them related to treatment by people, or to the kitten’s general environment. One cause for over aggressiveness, such as attacking people, may be an absence of other outlets for play. For example, an orphaned, hand-reared kitten that has had no other cats to play with will lack the social skills it would have learned though pretend aggression play with its litter mates. Rough play may also be inadvertently encouraged due to the kitten being teased by people. Likewise, fear and defensive behavior problems may be the result of rough handling by people, often related to correction techniques (e.g., if a person spanks, shocks, yells at, hits, or chases the kitten).
Diagnosis is often largely based on a historical examination of the patient’s past behavior, because a physical examination is generally normal and will reveal nothing out of the ordinary. Some behaviors may be examined by testing your kitten’s reactions to various stimuli. One test may include a urine analysis, as extremely frightened kittens may have elevated levels of glucose and other specific substances in their urine. If a serious issue with the nervous system is suspected, further diagnostic tests will be necessary.
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