Start handling the kitten from 10-14 days old.,
Distract an anxious mother with some food.,
Gently hold and stroke the kitten.,
After four weeks, start playing with the kitten.,
Hold the kitten for at least 15 minutes a day.,
Enlist your friends to play with the kitten.,
Try to expose the kitten to as many different experiences as possible.,
Know what not to do.,
Remember that hand-reared kittens also need to be socialized with other cats.,
Understand the difficulty with socializing kittens over 7 weeks old.,
Be patient and persistent when socializing abused kittens/cats.,
Play with younger cats to build their confidence.,
Use food to gain the cat’s trust.,
Familiarize yourself with the development of newborn kittens.,
Understand the importance of the socialization period.,
Be aware of how short the socialization period is.
Before this age, the mother may become distressed if you touch her vulnerable kittens. However, once the kittens’ eyes and ears open any they are ready to start discovering their world, she becomes less protective in order to let this happen.;
, If the mother shows signs of unease (such as growling or snatching the kitten back) when you try to handle a kitten, distract her with some food.
As you do this, speak to her in a quiet and reassuring manner. Sit close to her so that the kitten is not removed from her sight, hearing, or scent. This will help to reassure her.
If she wishes, let her touch noses with the kitten as this will reassure her that everything is okay.
, Kittens aged 2 to 4 weeks are weak and wobbly on their legs. At this age it is sufficient to hold the kitten securely in your hands and just stroke her and talk to her. Alternatively, you can place the kitten on your knee while you stroke her.
At this early stage, you are familiarizing the kitten with your smell and the sound of your voice, at at time when her vision is still developing.
, From 4 weeks onwards the kittens are more mobile and start to learn hunting and pouncing behavior, so you may well have to find the kitten, before you can play!
At the start of each session stroke and fuss the kitten, but she will quickly get bored of this, so switch to playing with a toy on a string, or rolling a ball.
, A study compared how friendly kittens were when handled for different lengths of time. It concluded that 15 minutes a day is the minimum amount of time necessary to socialize the kittens.
However, kittens that were held for up to 40 minutes each day produced the most confident, happy, and sociable kittens.
Presumably over 40 minutes a day spent handling the kittens would produce even happier kittens!
, The kitten needs to meet and experience people of all ages, appearance, and gender, in order to become fully confident in all circumstances and be properly socialized.
Luckily, it’s usually not too difficult to convince people to spend some time playing with kittens!
, This might include things such as letting her play in the cat carrier, hearing the vacuum cleaner, and experiencing a hair dryer. This will teach her not to be frightened when she hears to sees these things in future.
, The golden rule of socialization, no matter what the animal’s age, is pleasure not punishment. Always speak quietly and softly. Never make sudden movements and use reward, not punishment.
If the cat scratches or bites, never shout at her. Simply withdraw the hand and do a mock “hiss” at her, such as her mother would do.
Never shout at a cat. This teaches her to run away from you. Instead, ignore bad behavior and reward the good with a fuss, play, or a treat.
, It is worth remembering that orphan kittens also need to be socialized with other cats, because in this circumstance they believe you are mom and think that other cats are weird.
Socializing an orphaned kitten with another cat can be easier said than done because it means finding another cat (who is healthy and vaccinated) who is happy to spend time with the kitten. Since many cats are solitary creatures, finding such an amenable companion can be tricky.
Therefore, you need to bear in mind that when hand-rearing an orphan who isn’t exposed to other cats, she may act aggressively as an adult when she encounters another cat., Scans of kitten brains show that those handled regularly between 2 and 7 weeks of age, develop larger brains with more neuronal connections. Thus, socialization has a real and physical effect on the brain’s development. Sadly, after 7 weeks this “brain building” effect is lost.
This means that it is an uphill struggle to socialize an older kitten, or indeed an adult cat. It is not an impossible task, but to a large extent it depends on the cat’s genetic makeup and whether she is programmed to have a friendly disposition or to be fearful. Even fully feral cats may be friendly, because it is in their nature to be so, just as some feral cats are programmed to be highly aggressive.
This is a case of “nurture vs nature” because just as different people have different personalities, so cats have different character traits (affectionate, alpha male, submissive) which are independent of their breed, but are ameliorated by proper socialization.
, Socialization in a cat who has not been exposed to people is one thing, but if a cat or kitten has been abused, then they have been actively taught to fear people. This has serious implications with regards to the cat ever learning to trust people.
The rules of engagement with a cat that has been abused are that everything is on their terms. You cannot force a cat to trust you, but only by persistent patience and consistent actions, show her that you are no threat.
Eventually, over the years, the cat may accept your presence, but only if you are luck. Activities like feeding the cat, avoiding eye contact, and talking in a calm manner are key to building bridges.
, If the kitten had some social contact with people in early life, then it is possible to work on that exposure. Be patient. Try to entice the cat with play. Young cats are geared to perfecting their hunting skills and this persists up to around 6 months of age.
Lie down on the floor so you pose less of an intimidating threat to the cat. Use a toy on a string, and encourage the cat to chase the toy, and hence become used to your presence.
She then starts to associate play with people, which helps build her confidence.
, Some cats are highly food motivated and this helps to encourage bold behavior by laying a trail of treats leading towards you.
Lie still while the cat approaches. Avoid looking at the cat since direct eye contact implies you want to dominate the cat. As the cat gathers confidence, hold a treat out on your flat palm.
Once the cat accepts treats, try giving her a gentle stroke, before offering the next treat so that she associates physical contact with a reward.
, For the first 10-14 days of life, kittens are blind and deaf and spend their time in the nest being looked after by the queen (the female mother cat).
From 10 days onward their eyes and ears start to open, and they start to take notice of the world around them. They now have a steep learning curve ahead where they go from dependency on the mother, to catching their own food (if feral!)
To learn how to pounce, stalk, and hunt, as well as other vital skills such as how to get along with other cats and keep themselves clean, the kitten’s brain is hugely receptive from a very young age. It is this ability to learn from observation that human’s can take advantage of to get a kitten used to people.
Unfortunately, this high intensity learning period or “socialization period” is relatively short in the cat, lasting from just 2-7 weeks of age.
, To understand the socialization period, think of the kitten’s mind like a sponge. Between 2-7 weeks of age the kitten soaks up all the sights, sounds, and smells she encounters and logs them away as normal. But after 7 weeks of age the sponge is saturated and finds it difficult to absorb any more and the learning process slows down.
More importantly, by 7 weeks the sponge has learnt to “expand”. If the sponge hasn’t expanded by the age of 7 weeks, it now has the absorbency of a rock and refuses to take on board new experiences.
Thus, the pattern set in early life will be mirrored in adult life. A kitten who learned to play with people will be confident around them. But a kitten who didn’t meet people and was never socialized is likely to remain fearful and withdrawn., One study conducted on the socialization of kittens showed just how short the socialization period is. The study divided kittens into groups by age, and had volunteers handle them.Kittens whose handling experiences started after 7 weeks of age, behaved like feral kittens, hissing, spitting, and keeping their distance.
Those handled before they were 7 weeks old that were friendly and confident. These kittens exhibited behavior such as greeting people with head bumps, flanks rubs, chirps and purrs.
Therefore, getting to your kitten before 7 weeks of age can make a huge difference in the success of the socialization process.