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“Socialization” is a word most often associated with dogs and puppies, and you probably wouldn’t think it had much to do with cats, however it is quite an important aspect of raising a kitten. With cats, socialization is the process of building trust and helping your cat acclimate to people and other pets in the home environment. Socializing a kitten helps them to be more friendly and social with people, as well as preventing irrational fears of normal occurrences. An unsocialized cat can be fearful and shy or aggressive, while a properly socialized cat will be well-adjusted and more likely to be loving and affectionate.
Kittens should start to be socialized between 3 and 9 weeks of age, and you should continue the process as soon as you bring them home. An older cat that isn’t well-socialized will require much more time and effort, but it isn’t impossible to train them.
Note: When adopting kittens, two might be better than one when it comes to socialization. A pair of kittens will keep each other company when left alone and will be less likely to engage in destructive behavior. In fact, many shelters only let you adopt kittens in pairs!
How to socialize
Commit to practicing daily for at least 15 minutes. Equip yourself with food or treats and a positive, patient attitude. Just like dogs, cats can be motivated and rewarded with tasty treats.
Handle your cat
The experience of regularly being handled will help to prepare your cat for not just visits to the vet, but also grooming (especially having her claws trimmed). You’ll want to play with and handle your kitten regularly; start by petting her in places she enjoys and work your way to other areas like her feet, toes, belly, tail and ears. Make it as positive of an experience as possible by being very gentle and speaking in a soothing voice. Reinforce her good behavior with treats, and if she becomes agitated, give her a break and try again later.
Sounds and objects
Large or noisy household items like the vacuum can be scary to a pet that isn’t used to them. Continue with business as usual and use your everyday appliances so your kitty can get used to them and learn that these occurrences are normal.
Strangers and children
When introducing new people to your cat, be sure that they are calm especially during their first meeting. In place of one of your kitten’s meals, have your guests hand out food and treats so your kitten starts to associate other people with a positive experience. With a timid cat, allow her to approach your guests on her own time so as not to overwhelm or frighten her.
With other pets in the home, safety is the first priority when introducing them to your new kitten. Be sure to have a safe space where your kitten can retreat, and start by allowing each pet to sniff the scent of the other on an item such as a blanket. Introducing pets is an entire process in its own, and you can learn more about introducing your kitten to a resident cat and introducing your kitten to a dog in these articles.
Collars, carriers and the vet
There are certain necessities in a cat’s life to which they’ll need to acclimate. Have your kitten wear a collar with ID tag from the start, in case she turns out to be an escape artist or if she’ll be an outdoor cat. Getting your kitten used to the cat carrier will be useful for car rides and trips to the vet. Place the carrier on the floor with a cozy bed or blanket inside and leave the door open so your cat can come and go. You can also practice taking your kitten to the vet when she doesn’t have an appointment, simply to meet the staff and get used to the experience.
Acclimate your kitten to the comings and goings of the household by leaving her alone, either behind a closed door or by leaving the home entirely. Start with short periods of time and gradually work up to longer absences.
The keys to success
Your cat will make the most progress if you keep the following tips in mind:
- Consistency is important. Handle and play with your kitten daily for at least 15 minutes.
- Learning doesn’t stop at 9 weeks of age. Just like people, cats can continue to learn and adapt throughout their lives, so continue to give them new and positive experiences.
- A kitten’s life is full of new sights, smells, and sounds, and all this learning can be exhausting. Be sure to give your kitten plenty of breaks so she can nap and recover.
- Keep in mind that some cats are naturally less social than others, and be understanding if your cat needs to retreat.