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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Here’s ten reasons why young kittens are so cute

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Kittens are so adorable when they are young. As a vet, one of the daily joys of my job at this time of year is meeting young kittens when they are brought to the vet for their first check up and vaccination. Kittens precisely match the dictionary definition of cuteness: "the quality of being attractive in a pretty or endearing way".

I've written a list of ten reasons why kittens are so cute, and I am sure many readers could come up with a few more.

First, kittens are generally pleasing to the eye. They have the typical attributes of a young animal, just like puppies and babies: these seem to cross the species barrier. They have big heads, round faces and large eyes, aspects that are universal in all young creatures. Even many adult cats and dogs seem to realise that kittens are harmless, baby-like creatures that deserve to be cherished.

Second, kittens make sounds that are pleasing on the ear: they purr loudly, and they have quiet, high-pitched squeaks which are a welcome contrast to the irritating screeches, howls and miaows that adult cats sometimes produce. Kittens make only benign noises.

Third, kittens are appealingly fluffy. Their fur is soft and fine, with a similar texture to a bird's silky down under-feathers. Kittens' coats have the same texture as a child's soft fluffy toy.

Fourth, kittens are playful. They have such a strong play instinct that if you approach them with the simplest game, such as wiggling your finger on the ground in front of them, they'll engage with you in a charming way.

Fifth, kittens are gentle. They seem to instinctively know that it's wrong to be rough, so instead of scratching you during play, they pad you with their soft paws, and instead of biting you, they close their mouths on your hand without enough pressure to do any damage.

Sixth, kittens are tiny. Even an older kitten is small enough to sit comfortably in your arms without weighing you down. Kittens are easy to carry around, and they are so small that they tend to elicit a protective urge from people.

Seventh, kittens have a rounded, soft, podgy abdomen, just like human babies. This further adds to the sense that they are baby-like.

Eighth, kittens are endearingly submissive. If you engage with them, they may be fearful if they are not used to you, but they will rarely be aggressive. They are far more likely to just to gaze at you with those big eyes, as if saying "OK, you win".

Ninth, kittens sleep a lot. So while they can be energetically playful in short bursts, they're likely to stop soon enough, falling asleep in your lap or somewhere nearby. And if an energy-loaded kitten is cute, and sleeping kitten is even cuter.

Tenth, kittens are vulnerable. Their defencelessness brings out our nurturing instincts: we feel driven to protect them. The message is "pick me up and protect me from the badness in the world".

This combination of "cute" factors has been shown by scientists to have a profound effect on human brains, causing the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and oxytocin. These are the same chemicals that are released in the brain when we fall in love. The "cute" effect is so deeply ingrained in human consciousness that even pre-school children rate kittens as more adorable than their adult counterparts.

There's just one problem with the charming power that kittens have over humans: they can entice us into taking them into our homes when we are not properly prepared for their long term future.

You see, the one catch with kittens is that they don't stay kittens forever. Inevitably, they grow up into adult cats. When you get a kitten, you need to remind yourself of this fact.

By all means, enjoy their kittenhood: spend time with them, take plenty of camera footage, post loads of photos to Instagram, videos to Snapchat and a mixture of both to Facebook. Studies show that kittens who have plenty of human interactions while young are more likely to grow up as people-loving, calm adult cats. So apart from the simple enjoyment of playing with your kitten, there are good reasons to do this.

But don't forget that they grow up. I believe that cats make wonderful pets, but everyone needs to think about how they feel about adult cats before losing their heart to a kitten.

Our own new kitten, Aslan, is now just seven months old and he has already started to show some classic adult cat behaviour. He's discovered that he loves chasing bird feathers, and he hunts down loose feathers in the garden, bringing them into the house through the cat flap and chasing them around the house. I know that it's just a matter of time till he discovers that living birds are covered in feathers, and that he can have even more fun by chasing (and catching) garden birds.

We're doing our best to put off that day, by keeping him inside during the prime hunting hours of dusk till dawn. But we know that it's just a matter of time. There's a high chance that he is going to grow into the bird hunting killer cat that his ancestors were before him. That's his inherited nature and there's little we can do to stop it.

Just as every cute human baby grows up to be a normal human adult, so every kitten grows up to be an adult cat.

Corkman

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