When and How To Socialise Kittens

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

09 April 2019

Exactly how much socialisation is needed by a kitten really depends on its circumstances during it’s first weeks before you adopt it. While some kittens may be used to human interaction by 10-weeks-old (when you adopt them), some may have come from a feral or rescue-situation, making them very skittish and timid.  However, that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have a lot of problems to socialise them — you may just need patience to give them time to realise that you are someone they can trust.

Feeling safe and secure
Most of the socialising that you will do with your cat will be to teach them trust and that they are safe in your home and their outside enclosure. Making the time to properly socialise a kitten will mean that it will grow into a well-behaved cat that loves you and will interact with you on its own. What it doesn’t mean is erasing the kitten’s personality — so don’t worry about that happening!
Rather, you’ll see a timid kitten grow into its full personality (and, probably, as its place as Supreme Ruler of the House) with ease.

When are kittens most receptive?
Kittens are most receptive between the ages of 2 and 7 weeks. But don’t worry — cats can learn at any stage of life. It is mostly feline behaviour that is learnt from their mother in these early weeks of their life. They learn by copying their mother (the little copycats!), and will learn from her how to properly groom themselves, for instance. They will also learn other behaviour from her, like a dislike of dogs or children. These dislikes may take some time to unlearn, so be patient if they at first seem to take a dislike to someone in your home.
From their litter mates, kittens will learn other skills, like claw and bite inhibition. This means that you will probably only need to teach them claw and bite inhibition when it comes to humans once you adopt them. They also learn the language of meows and body and tail positions from their litter mates and mother.
This socialisation is another reason why it is best to only adopt a kitten that is 10 or 12 weeks old. Not only will they be fully weaned, but they will also be skilled in feline behaviour by then.

But what if I adopt a rescue kitten younger than 10 weeks?
Unfortunately, adopting a kitten at 10 weeks usually only happens when you get a kitten from a breeder. Most shelters just don’t have capacity to keep all the kittens they receive so long and will let kittens be adopted at 6 or 8 weeks old (as soon as they have weaned).
If you are a kitten foster carer, you may also be asked to look after kittens who have been orphaned or rescued and that is younger than 10 weeks old.
In this instance, it is very important to keep on teaching them for several weeks after you’ve adopted them or for the weeks you are fostering them. This will help them adapt much better to becoming part of their new family. And all you need is touching and affection, talking and time to spend with them!

Spend as much time as you can with your kitten
It’s best not to give your kitten just the bare minimum of attention when you adopt them. Handling them, playing with them, and talking to them are very important for their development as they grow into adult cats. Even just petting them in passing in the house will show them how much you care and strengthen your bond.

Talk to your kitten
We’ve all done “baby cat talk” when we see a cute cat… alright any cat. But what is important about talking to your kitten is letting it not only learn the sound of your voice, but also the meanings behind the tone of voice you use.
Therefore, use a friendly and happy tone while playing and grooming them. Or use a stern tone when they scratch or bite too hard to let them know that they need to stop doing that. Soon a stern tone will stop them in their tracks when they’re being a naughty busybody!

Positive reinforcement
It is a lot better to use positive reinforcement when your kitten does something right — like using the litter box or not scratching and clawing while you’re grooming them. Whether it’s praise through your tone of voice or a small treat (just don’t overdo the treats), your kitten will soon learn what is and what isn’t acceptable.

Be patient
There’s no need to rush your bond with your kitten, though. It’s best to take more time — especially if you know that your kitten’s been through a lot — and know that they will grow into happy and healthy adults. Your bond will also grow all the stronger as time passes. Rather enjoy the few months your cat is a kitten; teenager months and all!

Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash


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