Why should I socialise my kittens?
Socialisation gives kittens the best chance of becoming happy, well-adjusted adult cats.
Between two and eight weeks of age is known as the 'kitten socialisation period'. At this age, kittens are at their most curious, and crucially, it’s also before they have fully developed their fear response, making this the perfect time to introduce them to a variety of new experiences.
What happens if I don’t socialise my kittens?
If the kitten socialisation period is missed, the kittens naturally become more fearful, which leads them to become worried and less keen to interact in unfamiliar situations. Kittens that have not been properly socialised are more likely to suffer with problems later on, such as stress, a range of fears and phobias, and even some stress-related illnesses, such as cystitis.
How to plan kitten socialisation
While it’s essential to introduce your kittens to various sights, sounds, and smells, it’s also crucial to remember not to do too much at once, as this would be overwhelming. You can find well-structured kitten socialisation charts online, or your vet or local rescue centre can be a great source of advice. Charts will help you keep track of progress, as well as making sure that a great variety of stimuli have been included.
Before beginning any socialisation activities, make sure you have a good relationship with the mother cat so that she's happy for you to interact with her kittens.
Key areas for socialisation
The very first step is to get your kittens used to people. Ideally, kittens need to be socialised with at least four different people, and it’s best to include men, women and children – although children should be introduced a little later than adults. Keep the introductions really short and let the kitten decide when it’s ready to approach (or keep away!) from a person. Poor socialisation with people can cause quite a problem later on, leading to cats being scared of people.
It’s crucial to introduce kittens to different types of handling. Start off with stroking while they become comfortable with contact. A little later you can move on to very gentle restraint while you touch their ears and paws – this is all very useful when they are older and will need to visit the vet. Again, go at the kitten’s pace – if it seems in any way anxious or upset, put the kitten down and stop the interaction. You can always try handling the kitten on the ground rather than picking it up if it’s not ready.
- Sounds and smells
Getting your kittens used to a range of noises and scents is important. They need to hear a range of different household sounds and some louder sounds as they grow in confidence. You can access a range of different sounds online or by buying a kitten socialisation CD. This will help them to be less likely to fear sounds such as the vacuum cleaner, fireworks and thunder once they are older. To help them learn about different scents, you can rub a clean cloth on a healthy, vaccinated pet dog or rabbit and put the cloth in their enclosure.
It’s great to give kittens a variety of textures to explore by letting them walk and play on different safe surfaces. This also extends to letting them experience different types of cat litter – for example, woodchip, gravel or sand – making their toileting more successful as they move on to their new homes.
Playing with kittens can be a lot of fun for both you and the kittens, so introduce a good variety of kitten-appropriate toys. These help the kittens interact with their environment and encourage them to stay active – a great habit to develop.
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