As your cuddly little kitten approaches the sometimes less-than-cute (and often obnoxious) adolescent phase of growth, you may start to say to yourself, as I did, “Why did I get cat?” In my case, I already had one cat. He was then 10 years old. I had lived through the teenage stage long ago, and it was faint in my memory. Bob is his name, and he is large and calm and lap-oriented. I rescued him at 4 weeks of age and he has always been on the lazy side. At 10 years old, he was not only easy to be around, he was nothing short of perfect.
And then it happened. I visited an animal shelter simply to make a donation — and I saw her. At 8 weeks of age she was a strikingly beautiful calico kitten with an eraser-pink nose and perfect black eyeliner make-up. She was playing in a multi-colored litter of kittens, and she really stood out in the crowd.
I have always had pet cats in my life and I now run a wildlife center that houses primarily wild and exotic cat species like bobcats, mountain lions and African servals. We travel with our animals, which include cats, raptors, foxes and other small mammals, and present them in public settings. I wasn’t in the market for a house cat, but when I saw her I thought perhaps we could add this beautiful creature to the presentation mix. I adopted her on the spot and took her home to see what Bob would think of her.
To say he wasn’t thrilled would be a major understatement. At only 8 weeks old the new female was already a crazed and feisty individual; she proceeded to bother poor laid-back Bob incessantly. What had I done? Plus I didn’t remember the young Bob being anything like this new little patchwork terrorist. As she grew, it started getting worse.
Life With A Female Kitten
In the feline species, adolescence begins at about 3 months of age when the kitten bodies are becoming larger; however, their minds haven’t caught up. Sadly, many animals are relinquished to animal shelters before their first year because their energetic behavior becomes intolerable to impatient owners. Knowing that, behaviorally, this stage can continue for up to two years, Bob and I were not looking forward to our future.
I also decided to place the behavioral blame on the fact that my new, now-adolescent cat was a girl. I hadn’t had a female cat since I was a child. Not on purpose, mind you, but because over the years all of my house cats have come to me as rescues. They have chosen me by materializing in my life like cats do — you know what I mean — and for no apparent reason I have ended up with mostly male abandoned cats and kittens in need of a home.
I named my new kitty Zuma, partly because I live near Zuma Beach in California, and also because she would literally “zoom” from one point to another. As she reached the adolescent stage, I thought one night that I should have named her “Tsunami” as I lay awake listening to her thundering paws chasing imaginary prey throughout the house.
Anyone who has spent time around teenage humans (we’ve all been teenagers ourselves) would probably agree that there are some differences between the sexes. But is that true for the feline species? Through the adolescent phase, Bob and Zuma were like night and day, but is that because one is male and one female?
Real And Perceived Differences
When we’re talking about unaltered male and female cats, there are some very recognizable differences. An intact female in heat may vocalize loudly, roll on the floor and be obsessively needy in the attention department. If she has kittens she may become aggressive, or the opposite — she may encourage you to share in the caretaking. Intact males, on the other hand, may spray urine or become aggressive with other pets or people. Their need to wander in search of a mate may keep them at the window or the door pacing and “roowing” obsessively.
Many people think that neutered male cats are more laid-back and affectionate while females are opinionated and bossy. That may possibly be true, but it is our own personal experiences that can sometimes determine our perceptions.
As mentioned, I’ve mostly cared for male cats — wild, exotic and domestic. An exotic species, the African serval is a popular, small exotic cat used in public educational zoo programs. When the zoo where I worked acquired servals for our shows, males were always chosen. I assumed it mostly had to do with temperament, but I later found out the real reason was size. The males are almost twice as big as females and, therefore, more impressive in this type of situation.
Life experiences may play a greater role than gender in determining adolescent cat behavior, and what happens early on may be the biggest determining factor. Early learning and socialization are important in shaping future behavior. Bob grew up in my house with two other mature males, and he came to me at 4 weeks old instead of 8 weeks old like Zuma. Although Zuma was in a litter of kittens when I met her, she possibly received little handling by people, whereas Bob was glued to my body and handled by my friends throughout his kittenhood. And, as we all know, male or female, every cat comes with his or her own individual personality.
As I’m writing this, Bob is now 18 and Zuma is 10. Bob is the same, sweet, lazy guy, and Zuma, with my patience and guidance, has grown into an affectionate, playful and loving individual. So, in choosing a young feline to be a part of your life, be sure to remember that the way you behave with and around your feline friend will play a huge role in shaping a young cat into a perfect lifetime companion.