Well-socialised kittens are more likely to grow up to be friendly and social adult cats who are easy to handle. The best time to socialise a kitten is from 2 to 7 weeks of age.
What is kitten socialisation?
Preparing a kitten to cope with the human world and its challenges is one of the most important ways to ensure their lifelong welfare. Without careful consideration of their development, they may develop into an adult cat that will struggle to cope within a normal domestic setting. A kitten that has been appropriately socialised will be far less likely to experience high levels of stress, or even to develop behaviour problems as an adult.
Why is socialisation important for kittens?
Kittens who are actively socialised are less fearful in unfamiliar situations and adapt better to changes in their environment. Leaving them with their mom and siblings until 8 weeks of age (some recommend 12 weeks) gives the best chance for good behaviour later in life.
What is the socialisation period?
The socialisation period refers to a specific time period in the life of a kitten – from two weeks to seven weeks old. At this point, a kitten’s brain and sensory system are still developing and the stimuli they encounter influence how this development occurs. Everything from who they meet, to the environments they encounter, will teach them whether what is happening is threatening or non-threatening.
How can I socialise my kitten?
There are a number of key things that your kitten should be gradually exposed to in the first couple of months of their life. On socialising your kitten, they should experience:
Different people (ideally including a male, female and child)
Handling (including elements of vet handling, such as looking in their ears and handling their paws)
Sounds (e.g. children playing, vacuum cleaner, aerosols etc.)
All kittens should not be rehomed until after eight weeks old – whether you adopt your cat from a breeder or rescue organisation. As a result, your cat should be already socialised.
If you do take on a kitten from an establishment that does not socialise kittens or has poor standards, you may be taking on a kitten that has a higher chance of having poor welfare or may develop higher levels of stress and behaviour problems through its lifetime.
Can kitten socialisation go wrong?
There are three key areas where things can go wrong with kitten socialisation.
People often neglect the relationship with the adult female cat. Establishing a trusting relationship prior to the arrival of the kittens will make socialisation for the kittens far easier.
It is important to consider infection control. Use personal protective equipment when interacting with the kittens to avoid passing on anything nasty from other cats.
People can expose the kittens to too much and not respond when the kitten is indicating that they are distressed. When socialising a kitten, always make sure you respond to them. Start slow, allow them to approach you initially and when introducing handling, do it for short sessions.
Avoid holding a kitten for long periods of time – seconds can be enough in the first instance. If the kitten vocalises or looks distressed, stop. Simply prolonging the experience or ‘flooding’ the cat can have a long-term negative impact.
Bringing your kitten home
When you bring your kitten back to live with you, help them to feel at home with lots of positive experiences. They’re likely to be a bit nervous at first so be patient and give them time to settle in. Gradually introduce new experiences – three new things a day will be plenty and won’t overwhelm your new friend.
Your kitten will need to get used to the things around them that they’ll experience regularly like meeting new people, getting calmly into a cat box or harness, or hearing the vacuum cleaner.
How to introduce a new kitten to your resident cat
Is your current cat likely to accept another cat?
It is so difficult to be able to predict whether a cat will accept another into its household. Cats, as a species, have become more socially flexible during the process of domestication to an extent, but individuals still vary hugely in how accepting they are of other cats. Furthermore, their ability to change their sociability is limited once they reach adulthood.