Just like babies, kittens aren’t born understanding the world and how to behave. it’s up to us to help them flourish into friendly and trusting companions. Well-socialized kittens are more likely to grow into friendly, social adult cats that are easy to handle.
The best time to socialize a kitten is between 2 and 7 weeks of age. This is when kittens are most open to new experiences and thirsty to learn.
When socializing your kitten(s), it’s important to remember that exposure is not the same as socialization. having a screaming 4-year-old yanking on your kitty’s tail could very well make the cat afraid of children for life. however, meeting several small children who are calm and handle the kitten appropriately can lead to a cat that loves children.
- Before doing anything, mom should agree to you petting the kittens to avoid accidentally teaching the kittens to be stressed by petting. There is no truth to the idea that a mother cat will reject her kittens if people touch them.
- if mom seems too anxious for the first few days, she can try petting the kittens while she is out of the room or sleeping
- start small. gently pet and hold newborn kittens for a few seconds several times a day.
- At 2 weeks of age, pick up and hold kittens in different positions for short periods each day. as they get older, it’s okay to handle them more often and for longer periods of time.
- by 4 weeks of age, intensify socialization:
- introduce new textures playing with kittens on carpet, tile, wood, blankets, rugs , concrete, etc.
- Expose kitties to household noises such as blenders, doorbells, banging pots, washing machines, alarm clocks, stereos. muffle loud or scratchy noises at first by covering the device with a towel or making the noise while the kittens are in an adjoining room.
- if there are no children living or visiting the house, buy a cd with the children’s sounds and play it frequently.
- Place items like winter boots, skateboards, grocery bags, and books on the floor for the kitties to investigate.
- Offer a variety of objects for kittens to play with, such as empty plastic bottles, paper towel cores, and different sized cardboard boxes, as well as commercial cat toys.
- Continue to handle the kittens daily, include touching every part of their body.
- Put the kittens in a carrier and head over to a friend’s house for a short cuddle and play session. if no one is available to host, just walk out and back in or walk around the block. play with the kittens as soon as you get home.
- By 5 weeks of age, more people should be interacting with your kittens. behaviorists recommend meeting at least 100 people during the primary socialization period. expose kittens to a variety of people for optimal socialization: young, old; female male; wearing glasses; wearing a hat; light-skinned, dark-skinned; lively, relaxed; etc
What if you adopt an older kitten who hasn’t been socialized? All is not lost. the kitten may still benefit from the above, but he won’t learn as quickly and may not be as comfortable with as many things as a well-socialized kitten. start by working on the two or three things you think are most important to your adult life, and then add the others later. For more information, see our article on how to socialize your adolescent or adult cat.
If you would like information from a behavior specialist at the Society Against Cruelty regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email behavior @anticruelty.org.