New Pet Owner
What is Kitten Socialization?
There’s a tiger inside every kitten. With careful training, a young cat stands the best chance of becoming a gentle, rather than a fearful or ferocious, pet.
Socialization consists of steps that teach a kitten to bond with his new family and become at ease with people, places and experiences.
Successful socialization yields a pet that is confident rather than shy, friendly rather than frightened, animated rather than aggressive. It also prepares a kitten to be better able to deal with changes, from the addition of a new family member to the sight of a new cat in the neighborhood. And a cat with good coping skills will be less likely to act out and spray a wall or ignore the litter box when stressed.
How Early Can You Socialize a Kitten?
The earlier, the better! In fact, some of the most important socialization skills are instilled in the weeks following birth. Kittens begin to learn how an adult cat behaves by observing their mother and how to control biting and clawing by playing with their littermates.
Between weeks 3 to 7, a kitten is most receptive to new experiences. Those exposed to the smell and touch of humans early get a good foundation.
Once a kitten is weaned by the age of 8 weeks, he’s ready to leave the litter and start taking cues from his new pet parent. Up until a new kitten reaches 14 weeks, he remains in the prime socialization period when his personality can be influenced.
To get the best results during this time, expose a kitten to everything from spending time inside a carrier to riding in a car to meeting different people to walking on a leash.
Even if you adopt an older kitten or fully grown cat, he can still benefit from socialization.
How to Socialize a Kitten
The first step after your kitten arrives home is to bring her to a quiet, safe space where food and water bowls, a scratching post and the litter box await. Speak softly and pet her gently, since her first look around can be daunting. Then release the kitten, allowing her to approach the stimulus on her own terms and at her own pace.
Whether you brought your kitten home in a carrier or she will be traveling to the veterinary office in one for the first time, it’s important to get her comfortable inside.
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, vaccinations to protect kittens from infectious diseases can begin as early as 6 weeks of age, then continue every 3-4 weeks until the cat reaches 16 weeks of age.
To prep her for a trip, line the inside of the carrier with thick toweling and make sure it’s away from a draft. Put a small amount of cat food in a bowl and place it at the far end. Bring the kitten to the entrance and pet her while she picks up the scent of the chow. Don’t close the carrier door; let her explore. Repeat daily till she gets the hang of it.
When she’s comfortable in the carrier, close it up for a short period of time and reward her when she exits. Repeat. Then take her outside in it for a short ride on the transportation — bus, train, car — you will use to bring her to the veterinarian’s office.
Once she has her first set of vaccinations, it’s okay to allow other humans to gently touch her on the ears, paws, mouth and stomach. Get her used to having her nails clipped and teeth brushed. A couple of weeks after finishing her kitten vaccination series, it's safe to introduce her to other pets that are healthy and have up-to-date vaccinations.
Continue to expose her to different sights, sounds, smells and people, and reward her with praise and treats when she accepts those things with aplomb.
To introduce your kitten to more of the world, look for or start your own “kitty-garten” meet-up group where young cats can polish their social skills.