Practical feline behaviour understanding cat behaviour and improving welfare

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66 Chapter 5

With pet cats this process is often disrupted by human owners and cannot occur
at all if the mother is confined indoors. In this case, she might bring toys and other
items to her kittens to play with and practise their hunting skills.
Cats are more likely to continue to hunt and kill the same species as their
mother (Caro, 1980). This is most likely due to their initial experience with prey
but it has also been found that what a queen eats during her pregnancy can influ-
ence her kittens’ food preferences, even more so if she continues to eat the same
food when nursing (Becques et al., 2009; Hepper et al., 2012). This could be a
survival adaptation in that the kittens will be more likely to eat things that are
known and therefore safe. It can also be a great help when weaning pet kittens if
the first food they are offered is the same flavour as the food the mother has been
eating whilst pregnant.

Frustration during weaning

Part of the natural weaning process involves the mother spending a gradually increasing
amount of time away from the kittens as they mature. When she does allow them to
nurse she may often get up and move away before they have finished feeding. This is
probably because nursing becomes increasingly uncomfortable for her because of the
kittens developing teeth, plus their increased strength and vigour when suckling. The
result is that the kittens regularly experience frustration, which encourages them to
search for other food sources and so aids the weaning process. Early attempts at
capturing and killing prey brought to the nest by the queen can also involve an ele-
ment of delayed reward and associated frustration for the kittens, although the
mother will normally despatch the prey eventually if the kittens take too long to kill
it themselves.
These early experiences are an important part of behavioural development
because they provide the kittens with the opportunity to learn how to cope with the
emotional state of frustration. In contrast, when kittens are hand-reared, conscien-
tious human carers may continue to feed the kittens ‘on demand’ or at predictable
intervals, and supply sufficient milk so that they are rarely left unsatisfied. Also, when
solid food is introduced in a bowl it requires no effort by the kitten to obtain it.
Therefore, hand-raised kittens may have very little experience of frustration at this
early stage in their life and therefore might not get the opportunity to learn how to
cope with the emotion, which can lead to problem behaviour such as frustration-
related aggression in later life (Bowen and Heath, 2005).

Physical and Behavioural Development of Kittens

Influences on behaviour in utero (before birth)

Inherent factors

Personality traits of confidence or timidity and overall friendliness can be at least
partially inherent. McCune (1995) found that kittens fathered by confident males

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