Q: In December, after losing our 15-year-old best friend, Simon UberKatze, my wife and I got a new spayed kitten named Halle. Halle is delightful — except that every evening at about 8:30, she begins to tear around the house, doing one bad behavior after another. Neither squirt bottles nor short time-outs seem to stop the behaviors. This behavior last about 30 minutes but she does tear things up when she acts out. She seems to enjoy the attention; the negative reinforcement even excites her. She is played with and walked on a leash outside. She is now 6 months old and while we love this little cat, we are puzzled by this behavior. HELP!
A: By definition, kittens are little rambunctious bundles of energy. Some breeds of cats have more of a need to play and tear around the house at high speed then others. Racing up the curtains, bouncing up on shelves and knocking expensive items to the floor are a few of the activities that these little mischievous kittens sometimes love to engage in. It also isn’t surprising that Halle gets these little spurts of energy in the evening and in the mornings. Cats are typically very active at dawn and in the evenings.
Halle sounds like she is one of these typical rambunctious kittens who never rests. She shouldn’t be punished or given time-outs for her active spurts. Instead, divert her energy into more acceptable and less damaging activities.
Have frequent play sessions throughout the day with Halle. Timing is very important. Take advantage of Halle’s fairly predictable schedule, making sure to have a play session with her every evening when she usually becomes a super-nova of energy. In the evenings, use a fishing-pole toy in a way that imitates the hunt and will tire her out. Pam Johnson-Bennett’s play-hunting techniques are perfect for this. Pretend the toy on the end of the pole is wounded prey, changing the speed, pulling it in bags, boxes and up on sofas. The play should be challenging, active and fun for Halle. When you are ready to stop playing, don’t end the game abruptly. Instead slow down the play, still imitating the hunt and pretending that the toy is wounded and tired. At the end of the play session, let Halle catch the toy one last time and then immediately feed her a delicious meal. She will eat, groom and then go to sleep. After your play session, put the fishing-pole toy out of reach so that she doesn’t accidentally hurt herself when you are not there to supervise her.
Halle also needs lots of tall cat trees that she can jump and climb on. She will be eternally grateful if you position her cat trees next to secure windows so she can watch the birds and other neighborhood activities. Tunnels, paper bags with no handles and short ladders to climb also provide hours of entertainment for an active youngster. Interactive toys such as TurboScratchers, puzzle boxes and objects she can bat around will also help disperse some of her energy. Schedule challenging treasure hunts once a day when she is very energetic. Hide tiny treats on her cat trees, on shelves and in her toys. Never use your hands when playing with Halle, otherwise she may think it’s OK to attack your hands and feet during nonplay times and she may develop the bad habit of biting.
Depending on Halle’s personality, you may want to consider getting her a buddy, adopting another kitten around the same age with a similar energy level. Also, as Halle becomes a little older, her out-of-control kitten antics will become less frequent and intense.