Beyond Nine Lives: Socialization for a New Kitten

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Though cats come off as solitary creatures, they carry strong bonds to their humans and other household companions.

The process of acclimatizing naturally territorial cats at a young age to sharing space with other animals is called “kitten socialization.” It’s essential to get your new kitten accustomed to the sights, sounds and smells of people, babies and any other inhabitants of your feline’s permanent home.

Though kitten socialization requires some effort on the part of the cat parent, it’s an essential part of helping the kitten grow into a healthy and well-adjusted adult that is comfortable in its surroundings.

What is kitten socialization?

As was mentioned above, it is the managed process of getting a new cat used to its new environment and its other residents. An important part of this is “localization,” which refers to efforts to get a kitten attached to a particular place.

How can you help socialize a new cat?

There is a lot that you can do to ensure that a young cat grows up comfortable around humans and other household pets. Early handling, for example, not only gets a kitten used to being around people, it also aids in in its physical development. Here are some other steps you can take:

  • Make an effort to introduce the kitten to a variety of new people and situations.
  • Reinforce playful and inquisitive behavior with treats and affection.
  • Adopt a more gradual approach if the kitten is fearful or withdrawn.
  • When introducing the kitten to another pet, restrain the other animal to reduce the risk of a fight or an attack that can lead to a lifelong fear.

Please be aware that there might be a great deal of variation from cat to cat. While some cats will adapt quickly to new people and other pets, others might take longer to adjust. So be ready to tailor your approach to each kitten and talk to your veterinarian about different options before you begin the process.

When is the best time for kitten socialization?

As with human babies, kittens begin adapting their behavior to their surroundings at a very early age. So it is extremely important to start guiding that process as soon as possible. Studies have shown that kittens are the most receptive to socialization between the ages of two to seven weeks. If they are handled frequently, have pleasant interactions with other pets and enjoy generally positive experiences during that period, they are more likely to grow into friendly adult cats.

Conversely, if they have not had much social contact by seven to nine weeks of age, kittens are more likely to fear humans and other pets for the rest of their lives.

Though handling a kitten is beneficial to its development, it does not mean that it should be separated from its mother at too early an age. If possible, a kitten should stay with its mother for up to 12 weeks after birth. Taking a young cat away from its mother before this time not only can leave psychological scars but can also deprive the kitten of important skills. Young cats learn a lot from observing their mother, so seeing the mother interacting positively with the people and other pets in the house passes on an important lesson.

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