Playful kitten might just need a buddy

An active kitten likes to with other cats An active kitten likes to with other cats and, if that's not an option, with toys. Photo Credit: AP, 2004

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Q. We adopted a kitten from a family down the street who found a litter of ferals in its backyard. For the first week, she was very shy and gentle but now she has turned into the kitten from hell. She rushes at our feet from under the couch, grabs our ankles and scratches us with her hind claws while she grabs us with her mouth and front claws. Then she just as quickly rushes off, running about the room in a zigzag manner. Then she jumps up on the couch and wants to snuggle as if nothing happened. Should we be worried that this aggressive behavior will continue? Is she this way because she was born in a wild setting? Our feet are all scratched up right now, and she is only 8 weeks old. What will happen when she grows up? --Jill Drexler, Hauppauge

A. There's no need to worry here. Kittens play in two ways -- one way is with other cats and the other is with objects. Playing with objects exercises what will become a cat's hunting skills. Play with its litter mates teaches social graces. Social play consists of flamboyant gestures and rushes at each other combined with wrestling, grasping, kicking and play biting. Since your kitten does not have another kitten to play with, your feet are the next best thing as they are about the same size and move rather quickly.

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Active play is good schooling, but your cat does not need to play with you as if you were its litter mates. It is important that the kitten grow up to understand that she is a cat and you are humans. The best thing to do is to see if there are any other kittens in the litter available and adopt another. Then the two can have their social play together and leave your feet alone.

If this is not an option, you must stop moving your feet when the kitten rushes at them. Just stand still, reach down and calmly pick up the cat without drama and put her back down. If she never gets to play with your feet again, she will no longer think it's an option. However, she does need to play with something else in a similar manner. I suggest you take a long sock, stuff it with crumpled newspaper, close it up, then tie a long string to it. Toss it out on the floor away from you, and the kitten can grab it, pounce and wrestle with it all she wants as you manipulate the sock and move it with the string. As she squeezes it, the paper makes a crackling sound. This stimulates her even more. Now the kitten will grow up thinking that humans are for snuggles, and other things are for playing with -- and your feet can heal.

Q. We bought two gerbils two weeks ago from a pet store and they are supposed to be two females. We looked up on the Internet how to determine the sex of gerbils, and they certainly look like two females. However, this morning there are four newborns in the cage and both gerbils seem to be mothering them. The babies are nursing only from one of the two so it seems that just one has had the babies. So what do we do now? Should we separate the two and leave the babies with just the mother? --Joanne Murphy, New Hyde Park

A. It is obvious that the one gerbil must have mated a week or so before you got her. Most likely the two you have are sisters. Gerbils are extremely family-oriented mammals. Members of the same family will look after and help care for each other's babies. If anything bad was going to happen to the babies, it would have happened by now. So the best thing to do is just relax and enjoy watching the mother and the aunt raise the babies.

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After the babies are weaned and eating and drinking on their own, you can find homes for the males and keep a couple of the females with the mommy and aunt so they can all live together as a family group.

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