Cats are naturally wild animals, so socialisation is a vital part of caring for a kitten. Learn how to socialise your kitten properly.
Kitten socialization is very important. Once you have collected your kitten, brought him home and settled him in, it is time to start thinking about how to socialize your kitten well, so that he grows into a wonderful family cat. A badly socialised cat can be aggressive, stop using his litter tray properly and become very nervous, so it really is important to make sure your kitten’s social needs are looked after. Remember, cats are not naturally domesticated creatures!
Choose the right breeder
The first seven weeks of your kittens life are thought to be the most vital time for kitten socialization, so the first thing is to choose a good breeder to get your kitten from. In an ideal world, opt for an expert breeder where someone is home with the kittens all the time i.e. where not everyone in the household goes out to work. This means that the kittens will probably have a lot of human company. Ask the breeder how much time they spend with the kittens, and keep asking questions until you feel you have all the answers you want, and the answers make sense. If the answers do not make sense, or you hear something you are not happy with, go elsewhere. Look for:
An expert breeder, who understands cat psychology
Someone who is home with the kittens in the day time
Someone who keeps the kittens until they are at least 12 weeks old, so that the kittens can be with their littermates for a good time to learn from them
Kitten socialization: play time!
So you have chosen an excellent breeder and your kitten has arrived very well socialized. Now you need to keep up the good work! If you have 2 kittens together, they will socialise each other and you will have very little need to do anything at all, aside from being a human presence to keep them used to humans. If you have only one kitten, then it becomes very important for you to engage in kitten play with them.
Kittens learn what is acceptable from their littermates: if they pounce on each other or nip each other too hard, they know about it! In the absence of any litter mates, you must fill this vital part of kitten socialization. Take a suitable kitten toy - something they can chase around, and engage them with for around 5-10 minutes. After a few minutes of them chasing it, allow them to ‘catch’ it, and once they have started scratching it with their hind paws whilst holding it with their front - what will look like them attempting to disembowel it, give them a cat treat, or bit of good quality food. Put the food as close to the toy as you can. This simulates wild hunting when prey is caught and then eaten. This will keep your kitten stimulated, and also create a positive re-enforcement around you: you = food and play.
Never encourage a kitten to scratch or bite
Do not use your hands or feet as play things for a kitten, and never encourage them to scratch or bite you - it might be cute when they are three months old, but it certainly will not be when they are three years old! Always use a toy when playing with a kitten, never your hand or foot. If your kitten ever nips or scratches you, just put them down and then ignore them for a few minutes. This will teach them not to do it.
Regular play sessions keep a kitten mentally stimulated, well exercised and well bonded with you, which creates a positive association with humans for the kitten. This sort of play is vital for good kitten socialization.
What to do if your kitten has not been well socialized
You have got your work cut out for you! A completely unsocialized kitten - a feral kitten - is highly unlikely to ever be able to be domesticated. It is unlikely that your kitten would be feral though, and as long as they have had some contact with humans in their first seven weeks of life, then you should be able to make some progress with them. A kitten from a scammer, or even from a cat re-homing centre may not have been socialised very well, for various reasons. If your kitten has left her mum and her littermates before she is 12 weeks old, then she is also much more likely to be badly socialised.
Never force a kitten to be social: you will only traumatise them and make the situation worse
Always settle a cat in to your home properly - read our article on this
Make sure your kitten has safe spaces where he or she can hide and feel secure
Consider getting another kitten to help with the task! But make sure the new kitten is healthy.
- Use positive re-enforcement to encourage good behaviour, and simply ignore bad behaviour