As a cat owner, you are an important factor in helping your kitten develop into a sociable, well-adjusted cat.
Socialisation is the time during which your kitten develops relationships with other people and animals in its environment, and becomes accustomed to various stimuli, such as vacuum cleaners, music, car travel, fireworks and thunder.
This crucial period, up to 9 weeks of age, will have a strong influence on the future behaviour and personality of your cat.
For kittens to develop socially acceptable behaviours, they must have human contact and regular gentle handling as early as possible, preferably from birth, certainly before 7 weeks of age.
Why is socialisation important?
Kittens that receive insufficient exposure and contact with people, other animals and new environments during their first two months may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression.
What about the time before I obtain my kitten?
Early handling by a rescue or breeder will result in a kitten that is more confident, more social, and more exploratory and that will mature faster and be better able to handle stress as they develop. So choosing a reputable rescue or breeder, observing the behaviour of the parent cats if possible, and getting an idea of the kitten’s upbringing will all help to determine a kitten’s personality.
Genetics and breed also have a strong influence on a cat’s behaviour. Some research has shown that there are genetically ‘friendly’ and genetically ‘unfriendly’ or timid cats and that this part of the personality is influenced by the father.
The timing of weaning also affects the behaviour of kittens – early weaned kittens (from 4 weeks of age) show predatory behaviour earlier than normal. The ideal age to obtain a kitten is around 8 weeks but remember, you must start socialising your kitten as soon as you get home – you only have a few short weeks before this critical learning period is over.
How can I help my kitten’s socialisation at home?
Once your kitten is home, handle him or her as much as possible, so that they get used to humans and to you. Try to expose your kitten to humans of all ages, other pets, and different stimuli so that he can adjust to them at this critical time of development. You need to provide a safe, quiet area that contains its food and litter tray. He will then begin to explore his new surroundings, so ensure there are no danger areas where he can get stuck or in trouble. Supervise his first forays into his new environment.
Supply toys that are easy for them to move, and stimulate them with noise or colour. Don’t encourage him to attack your hands by using them in games. Individual kittens differ in the amount and type of play they like.
How can I encourage my kitten to experience new stimuli?
You can train your cat to allow grooming, bathing, tooth brushing, nail clipping and even walking on a lead at this young age. Do not force the kitten if they seem fearful, but reward positive non-fearful behaviour with praise and treats. Gradual introduction to these types of handling will result in a well-adjusted cat that trusts you to allow these procedures.
What is Kitten Kindy?
These are classes that bring a few kittens together to allow socialisation with other kittens, play, and introduction to new experiences. Your veterinarian can give you information about Kitten Kindies in your area.
Should I get a playmate for my kitten?
The ideal situation, if the kitten is to be left alone during the day, is to obtain two littermates so they can play and entertain each other in your absence. They will often bond closely and provide hours of entertainment for each other and their owners. The costs of keeping two cats needs to be considered, of course, but the practical care of two cats is not much harder than caring for one.