By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 12 May 2011)
During late kittenhood, weaning is complete, adult teeth come in at around 3½ months, the musculoskeletal system continues to mature, and kittens show increasing interest in solo play with toys. Hunting skills improve, along with the ability to gauge whether it will be easy or difficult to capture a given prey animal.
The points (markings on the face, ears, paws, and tail) on cats such as the Siamese and Himalayan will continue to darken. The environmental temperature will determine how dark these points ultimately get. In warmer climates, pointed cats tend to have lighter markings, whereas in colder climates, the markings become darker.
Socialization and Training of Older Kittens
Although the sensitive period for socialization during which kittens are most susceptible to influence has passed by this stage, some socialization can still take place. Continue exposing the kitten to new experiences (such as car rides) and individuals (people, friendly animals). This is also a good time to leash train kittens if you’re interested in taking them outdoors for safe excursions, or even training them to do simple tricks. They’re more likely to be open to such training if it’s started at a young age (see How to Train a Cat or Kitten for training tips).
Kittens can be quite feisty during this stage, and playfights with siblings and other pets may get out of hand at times. Set limits, let kittens know what sort of behaviours are unacceptable, and enforce rules consistently. For example, if a kitten bites your hand, keep the hand still (waving it around will make the kitten think you’re playing) and say “no” in a firm voice until the kitten lets go. If the kitten is stubborn and won’t release her grip, blowing a puff of air in her face can have the desired effect.
Sometimes kittens just want attention, so any attention, even negative, can reinforce bad behaviour. In particular, yelling or punishing should be avoided. Aggressive actions suggest to the kitten that you want to play rough. Either the kitten will be frightened and come to view you as hostile, or, if she has a bolder personality, she will perceive it as an irresistible challenge and launch even more aggressive attacks in the future.
Age at Which Cats Can Have Kittens
As with humans, physical maturity precedes social maturity. In some cases, kittens as young as 5 months old can become pregnant or sire kittens. Given the enormous number of cats languishing in shelters due to feline overpopulation, older kittens should be spayed or neutered before they are old enough to reproduce.
Many owners have concerns that spaying or neutering will damage a cat’s health or negatively affect his or her temperament. However, contrary to popular belief, spaying and neutering don’t have an adverse impact on personality, and they actually provide a number of health benefits.
In addition to having older kittens spayed or neutered, they should receive their first rabies vaccinations during this stage. This is usually done at around 4 months of age and again at 12 months.
Age at Which Cats Reach Adulthood
Time required to reach maturity varies from breed to breed. For most cat breeds, 13 weeks and up can be thought of as a middle childhood stage, and 6 months onward can be likened to the teen years.
The majority of breeds have reached young adulthood (roughly equivalent to late teens among humans) by the time they’re around 1 year old. However, a few breeds don’t reach full maturity until 3 or 4 years of age.
Playing with cats regularly will help them retain kittenish qualities well into adulthood.
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