All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Klepto Kitten

Dear Marie,
I adopted a kitten about six months ago.  She is absolutely adorable and the whole family loves her.  Needless to say, she can do no wrong and we are really bad about correcting inappropriate behavior.  She is just so cute when she is naughty, that we usually just pick her up and kiss her.  I know – we are terrible pet parents!  We’re reinforcing bad behavior.  But most of it is really no big deal and it just makes us laugh.  But she has one habit that is really getting out of control.  She steals ANYTHING she can carry.  If my daughter sets a pen down while she is doing homework and leaves to get a drink of water or something, the kitten steals the pen.  And she is faster than greased lightning!  Now that she is big, she is stealing big things!  She nabs stuffed animals off of beds.  She’s taken heavy key chains with important keys.  She’s taken cell phones.  And today, when I laid out my clothes while getting ready to go to work, she nabbed my bra while I was in the bathroom showering!  The worst part of it is I don’t know where she is putting half of these items!  She doesn't go outside so they are in the house somewhere!  I’d really like to stop her cat-burglar ways but I have no idea what to do.  Please help!


Dear Rachel,
It sounds like you have your hands full with a delinquent kitten!  I think a lot of cat owners can relate to your problem as kleptomaniac kitties are not unusual.  There are some pretty cute online videos and news stories about some of the more infamous cat burglars who were caught in the act.   Obviously, you have plenty of real-life experiences with your own little four-legged thief, so let’s get down to the business of solving your situation. 

Cats are hunters by nature.  For many cats, the instinct to hunt, catch, and hide prey is reduced to merely playing with a toy for a few minutes between cat naps.  Domestication over thousands of years has truly changed innate behaviors and most cats prefer to be pampered royalty who are fed, pet, brushed, fed again, and given appropriate attention by their “indentured servants” (cat owners)!  But there are still plenty of cats who have retained the large part of their predatory instincts and your kitten seems to be one of those felines.

If you have been kissing her and laughing at her thieving ways, I know that YOU know that this needs to stop right away.  Cats LOVE this kind of attention and your kitten believes she has your permission and approval when she commits these acts of thievery.  Please get everyone in the house on the same page or you won’t be able to address this problem at all.

You’ll need to set some “traps” for her.  If you know that she will steal certain items if they are left unattended, like your daughter’s pens for example, spray them with Bitter Apple (a product available from most pet supply stores).  As soon as she picks up an item that is laced with this foul-tasting coating, she’s going to drop it.  You’ll need to be spying on her when this is happening.  As soon as she drops it, take her into a room designated for play.  Give her a catnip-laced toy and interact with her there.  Repeat this training measure as often as possible, spraying other “inappropriate” items, and then redirecting her to toys. 

Swap out her toys often.  Cats get bored playing with the same thing over and over.  Be sure to praise her with pats, affection, and happy sounding words when she “hunts” her toys.  And any time you catch her taking something that does not belong to her, take it away and immediately redirect her to her own things.

Be sure to engage in active play-time with your kitten throughout the day.  As a youngster, she has a lot of energy to burn.  If no one ever channels that energy into acceptable activities, she’s going to figure out what to do on her own, which is probably not a good thing in her case.  As she gets older, she’ll mellow out and not need as much playtime, but for the time being, make sure everyone in the family gets involved in keeping her busy.

You will probably notice that she hides some of her toys.  Do your best to spy on her as she carries them away.  Cats tend to hide their stash in one or two locations.  If you are not overly obvious, you should be able to locate where she has hidden your previously stolen items. 

It sounds like you have a fun little companion.  Enjoy her but remember, you are the pet-parent and you (and your whole family) need to set the rules and consistently enforce them in a positive and loving way.  Good luck!

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