Posted: Jan. 29, 2013, 7:15 p.m. EST
Offer customers numerous training suggestions and product recommendations to ensure a happy home for both felines and their humans.
By Steven Appelbaum
Now that the New Year is fully underway, let’s talk about some things that all pet product retailers should know about: kittens. Since December is one of the biggest months of the year for dog and cat sales, those little bundles of joy are becoming a bit of a challenge as they get more mobile and into everything.
Kittens are intensely curious about their environment and, in some respects, similar to a small child. Of course, unlike a toddler who typically touches everything, felines test surfaces and examine new objects with their mouths and claws. “Can I eat this?” “Can I scratch this?” “Can I climb on it?”
This very normal behavior can become exasperating and expensive if the kitten destroys or damages an owner’s things. What’s more, the kitten must learn how to interact and behave with its owner and other family members since, unlike their peers, humans aren’t built to be bitten or scratched, even in play.
Retailers can offer new kitten-owning customers numerous tips and product recommendations to ensure a happy home for felines and their humans. Here are just a few to help your customers and your business.
Appropriate Cat Play
Because cats are social, they will interact and play with their owners. People need to handle them gently without a lot of sudden movements.
Remind owners not to engage in rough play or the cat will learn to be rough. When caressing a kitten, they should praise it softly as long as it will tolerate the caresses.
Direct owners to special food treats that you carry, and teach them how to use the treats properly. Owners should pet their cats and praise them for 20 to 30 seconds, then give them a treat and keep petting. After another 20 to 30 seconds, treat again. Encourage owners to follow this routine for about 3 minutes and to do so three to six times every day.
If a feline starts scratching or biting, owners need to know that they should cease the exercise, stand up and walk away. After about 5 minutes he or she can resume the kitten’s training. After a month or two, this routine will teach the kitten to be gentle and associate positive things with human touch and handling.
After the first few weeks, tell owners to add various body parts, such as a kitten’s paws, ears and tail, to the touching exercise. Gentleness is important. The objective is to create a positive association in the kitten’s mind with being touched all over.
Have owners praise their kittens when they pick them up. Particularly mouthy kittens can be discouraged from biting hands and feet by spraying Bitter Apple on these appendages. This spray simply makes owners taste bad to kittens.
Teaching a kitten to focus its energies on appropriate toys is equally important. When owners greet or leave their kittens, they should give them a toy. And when a kitten wants to play, owners should make sure it has a toy available.
Of course, there are numerous toys from a variety of manufacturers to recommend to customers. These include toys from Kong, Ethical Pet Products, JW Pet, OurPet’s and Four Paws, to name but a few.
All cats, including those allowed outdoors, should have a litterbox. Your customers can follow these three simple steps:
1. Place the box in an area easily accessible to the kitten and out of the way of most traffic.
2. Keep the litterbox, and the area around it, clean.
3. Pick a litter and stick with it. There are numerous types available, and the only reason for switching brands is if the kitten doesn’t like it. People who change brands every month often wind up with cats that have litterbox challenges.
I have written about this before: Kittens will scratch. It is a natural behavior. The solution is for owners to teach their cats to scratch on the right things. Sisal posts are usually the best, and customers find them more-than-worth the money.
The post must be stable, as in not wobbly, and tall enough for a cat to really stretch when it scratches. Remind owners to praise the kitten when it scratches on the post. They can also use catnip around the base to make it more attractive.
There will be times when owners need to transport their pets. Having a carrier for travel is ideal, but here is where the problems often start. If the only time owners put their kittens in a carrier is to take them some place they don’t like (such as the veterinarian), they quickly will turn tail and run every time they even suspect it.
The solution is to instruct owners to put their kittens in a carrier for 2 to 4 minutes a few times each day while feeding them special treats. They also can feed their kittens meals in the carrier and, of course, praise them any time they go into it on their own. After a few months, most cats are perfectly comfortable in their carriers.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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