Early kitten socialization
Animals should be exposed to a variety of stimuli they might encounter in their lives as a pleasant experience. This could include new dogs/cats or people, various surfaces, new places, veterinary clinic experiences, or anything else they may come across in their adult lives. The main objective of socialization is to get young animals used to the world in a positive manner, so that they become well-rounded adults.
The Critical Period
The critical period of socialization for kittens is when they are between 2-8 weeks of age. This is when caretakers should properly introduce their kitten(s) to new experiences, as improper and inefficient socialization within this critical period can produce negative long-term effects, such as fear.
What to consider:
1. Avoid potentially stressful situations
Every experience they have should be positive. This can be done by either providing treats or petting as a reward to your kitten to maintain a calm temperament. When positive reinforcement is combined with a variety of situations, it becomes more likely that your kitten will mature into a confident cat.
2. Appropriately introduce them to a variety of people, animals, objects and environments
If your cat has not had proper exposure to a variety of situations, your cat may automatically label anything unfamiliar or new as threatening. To prevent this from occurring, it is beneficial to expose your kitten to a variety of situations your cat will likely experience as an adult. It is also important to consider different sounds and smells that they may be exposed to in their household.
Examples of situations to expose your kitten to: humans of different sexes, heights, appearances, and ages, well-socialized and cat-friendly dogs, cats of various breeds, nail trimming, veterinary clinics and staff, car rides, their carrier, outside (while on harness), etc.
3. Give space, time, and positive reinforcement
The key is to not over stimulate your kitten! One new object/environment/animal/human should be introduced at a time. Introduce your kitten to new things in a manner that provides your kitten the ability to approach on their own terms and at their own pace. Treats or a form of reward should be provided when they are being exposed in order for your kitten to build a positive association. If they have a bad experience, for example, when interacting with a child, they will be less likely to engage with children in the future. If a positive association is maintained during each interaction, your cat will associate this interaction as positive as an adult.
Example of methods to use: ask guests to come over and let your guests give your kitten treats if they approach on their own, have controlled cat socialization sessions if you have any friends or family with cats, bring your cat to the veterinary clinic to get them used to the environment, place treats in the carrier to establish a positive association with its use, etc.
4. Get them used to being handled
Many cats are very sensitive to types of handling – e.g., when being picked up, or when paws, mouth, ears are all handled, etc. – and there is the potential for them to display aggressive behaviours when a certain body part is handled or touched when they have not been properly socialized to this form of handling. Handling these body parts regularly as a kitten allows them to become comfortable with handling, increasing the likelihood that they will not become fearful or aggressive when handled by their owner, a stranger, or a veterinarian.
5. Source of animal
Kittens are likely adopted after the critical period of socialization is over. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the breeder, rescue, or any other source of acquisition performs these socialization practices if you are not able.
*Keep in mind: Although the critical period of socialization is between 2-8 weeks of age, this isn’t an end point. Cats can and should be properly socialized to new things throughout their lives!*
BENEFITS: FEARLESS, CONFIDENT CAT
Overall, proper socialization for your kitten can help increase confidence and reduce problem behaviours in their adult lives. This can help ensure your cat is more well-rounded, tolerant and accepting of new situations and experiences, and reduce fear towards novel stimuli they may be exposed to.
Always follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding safe exposure of your kitten with other animals. If you have any concerns or questions regarding how to adequately undergo the socialization process successfully, please speak to an appropriate professional.