We’ve all heard of those ‘nightmare’ cats that swipe at anyone who approaches them and hiss at every cat that dares walk near. The fact is, these kitties likely had little to no socialisation when they were a kitten and never really stood a chance. Mixing with other animals and humans does not always come naturally. It takes some effort on the part of the owner for a cat to develop into a well-adjusted adult.
The Critical Period of Kitten Socialisation
Unfortunately for some, cats cannot be socialised at any age. There is only a short time in their lives when they can learn how to cope with the outside world, and to understand that new people, places and things are to be welcomed and not feared. Kittens learn most about the world and how to interact with it from their second week to their eighth week. This is when we need to be most proactive. This is a shorter amount of time than dogs and typically ends around the same time a kitten is adopted into their new home, which can pose a real challenge.
The Breeder’s Responsibility
Most (if not all) of a kitten’s socialisation period occurs when they are with their mum and siblings. Therefore, it is vital that they come from a good home where they are prioritised. As well as them spending time around their furry, four-legged family, there should be plenty of visitors into the house who spend time interacting with them. Be sure to ask the kittens’ breeder what socialisation they have experienced.
What to Ask
When questioning the breeder, ask about all different aspects of socialisation. Has the kitten met young children, adults and elderly people of both sexes? Have they seen other pets (particularly if you have other pets within your home)? It’s also important to know if they have been exposed to a variety of noises (such as the hoover and washing machine) and experiences (such as being picked up, handled and brushed).
Day One in their New Home
The first few days and weeks are especially important. It can be quite daunting for a little one to move home and leave behind all they have ever known. Be sure the house is quiet and people are relaxed around the new arrival. They should give them their space if they need it and interact with them in a positive manner when they are ready. Kids and other pets must be supervised closely. They should be slowly introduced over a few days rather than all at once.
Continuing the Good Work
Once adopted into their new home, owners should carry on the work that the breeder has been doing. Continuing on with the positive experiences will help to build confidence and reduce stress and anxiety as the cat matures. Gradually introduce them to new things and take a step back whenever they seem uncertain or overwhelmed. You can help them get used to new experiences such as getting in to their cat carrier, wearing a harness or having their claws clipped by rewarding them with a tasty treat and some quiet praise when they react calmly.