Paws and Effect
A blind kitten can be trained just as well as a sighted cat. You just need to make a few accommodations. Get our tips in this week's post.

A blind kitten can be trained in just about the same way as a sighted kitten. Photo CC-BY-SA Pete Markham

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a completely blind kitten who is about 3 months old. How can I break her from using me as a chew toy? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know how to be a cat because I found her at 2 or 3 weeks old. I’m not sure how most of your suggestions would work for a blind cat. Thanks for any help.

~ Crissy

Thomas: Well, Crissy, it’s certainly possible to train a blind kitten not to use you as a chew toy. Blind kittens, like sighted ones, need to play. But they need to learn not to play with your fingers.

Bella: One thing that might be going on with your kitten is that at this age, her adult teeth are coming in, so her mouth and gums might be itchy or sore as that happens. So you’ll need to address her teething issues, too.

Tara: Mama, I’m standing on your arm because I want you to pet me!

Thomas: Tara, she’s been petting you all morning. I think you can wait until she’s done transcribing our wise words!

Tara: Phooey.

Bella: The good news is that this is absolutely a behavior that can be stopped. First, you need to understand why kittens might bite. First of all, sometimes a bored cat who wants to play will bite in order to get attention from you.

Tara: Secondly, if your kitten has gotten used to playing with your fingers, she might think those fingers are fair game.

Thomas: A lot of the advice on keeping kittens from biting revolves around getting them to play with toys or other more appropriate objects, and it certainly is possible for a blind kitten to learn to play with toys!

Bella: You’ll want to get toys that make noise so she can use her hearing to track and hunt her “prey.” So buy toys with bells, squeakers, or other noisemaking devices that can get your kitten interested and give her the thrill of the chase.

Tara: There are interactive toys that make noise, too. Neko Flies and Da Bird make some noise even when you move them around. Cats have very good hearing, and this is especially true of blind cats, because they use their hearing to compensate for their lack of vision.

Thomas: You can turn a regular “fishing pole” type cat toy like the Cat Dancer into a noisemaker by simply getting a small bell and tying it on the end of the moving part of the toy.

Bella: So now you know what kinds of toys will be best for your blind kitten. The next step is figuring out how to get her to stop using you as a chew toy!

Tara: First, you need to make sure that nobody in your household ever lets your kitten play with their fingers–even if their fingers are under a blanket. If she does get to play with fingers, it’ll undo all the good training you’re going to do.

Thomas: The next thing is that you should always have an interactive toy near you. When your kitten starts getting that look–the one that says she’s ready to play–start playing with the interactive toy instead.

Bella: Playing with the interactive toy will help your kitty get her ya-yas out. Play with her until she’s exhausted. That should take 15 minutes or so. But if it takes more or less time, just let your kitten tell you when play time is over.

Tara: After she’s all played out, give your kitten a treat, and she’ll probably curl up and go right to sleep.

Thomas: Another thing that can work really well for a blind kitten is clicker training. This will also give her lots of intellectual stimulation, which will keep boredom at bay.

Bella: The great thing about clicker training for blind cats is that it uses noise and scent (the smell of food or treats) to reinforce good behavior.

Tara: There are several good books on the subject, but the two we recommend are Naughty No More by Marilyn Krieger, and Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor.

Thomas: Karen Pryor is the person who first introduced the idea that cats can be clicker trained. Mama’s read both of these books and recommends them highly.

Bella: If you have aspirations for your blind kitten to be a therapy cat someday, clicker training can be a huge help to get her to work and play well with people–and not use their fingers as chew toys!

Tara: As for your blind kitten not knowing how to be a cat, that certainly is possible. Kittens’ prime socialization window is between 3 and 7 weeks of age. If she wasn’t around other cats during that time, she may not have learned how to interact with other cats.

Thomas: Add to that the fact that she’s blind, and most cat communication is done through body language, she may have an…uh…interesting time if you decide to adopt another cat.

Bella: That’s not to say it can’t be done! Blind cats and sighted cats can be best of pals, but the introductions have to be done just right.

Tara: In fact, it might help if your kitten were to get another kitty friend. She’d learn proper cat manners and she’d have a playmate to help her work off extra energy.

Thomas: Even though your blind kitten is past her prime socialization window, she can still learn how to behave around other cats, so don’t lose hope if you want to get her a friend.

Bella: If you are thinking about getting another cat, please read some of our posts on introducing new cats. They’ll help you make sure the cats’ relationships start off on the right paw, so to speak.

Tara: What about you other readers? Do you have blind cats? How did you stop them from using your fingers as chew toys? What techniques did you use for training them? Please share your ideas in the comments!

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