Socializing Your Kitten

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Want a friendly, confident cat? The way you raise her during early kittenhood plays a huge role in achieving that goal.

There’s a critical period in kitten development — between four and 14 weeks of age— when a kitten’s personality is shaped by her experiences. During this time, a kitten’s brain is like a sponge, soaking up all of her encounters and storing them away for future reference. If she’s socialized— meaning she gets lots of handling by people and exposure to different sights, sounds, and experiences— she’ll be self-assured and sociable when she faces these people, sights, sounds, and experiences as an adult. Without this crash course in kittenhood, she can grow up to be shy, skittish, and not very friendly.

The age at which your kitten leaves her mom can also affect development. Traditionally, kittens have gone to new homes at six to eight weeks of age, but knowledgeable breeders keep their kittens until 12 weeks. During the additional time with their mother and littermates, kittens learn important lessons such as bite and scratch inhibition — how to use their teeth and claws cautiously — as well as other perceptual, motor, and social skills.

Bring your new kitten home too early, and you risk getting a cat with behavior problems such as separation anxiety, obsessive sucking or chewing on objects, and poor litter box habits. She can also have more trouble adjusting to her new home and getting along with other cats, because she never learned how to behave toward them.

Don’t worry that a kitten won’t bond with you if you bring her home after her 12-week birthday. If anything, she’ll be a much better companion.

Hear me roar! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Let me get a closer look. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
I found it! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Mine! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
I need a break. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Killer instincts! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Bath time! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Over here! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Can you come outside to play? (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Mine! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
These smell nice. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Cup o' cute! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
No, thank you. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Queen of the jungle. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Fairy Princess! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Hang in there! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Cheer up! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Herro! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
I'll get it! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
City kitten. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Do you feel a draft? (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Just chillin'. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Ready for my closeup! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Kitten in the grass! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Is it Christmas yet? (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
This is fun! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
I'm taking a break. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Will you be my friend? (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Love your new patio furniture! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Don't worry! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Hello there tiny! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)
Spring! (Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

How to pick a kitten who’s been socialized

It’s easy to tell if a kitten has good social skills:

If the kitten’s younger than 10 weeks, you can still make up for poor socialization. Even feral kittens can be turned into people-friendly cats and adopted, if they’re caught and handled before 10 weeks of age. After that point, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to socialize. Do your best not to let sympathy for a tense or shy kitten affect your choice.

How to socialize your kitten

Socialization isn’t just up to the breeder or rescue group; you need to keep it up once your kitten comes home.

Although your kitten’s experiences during the early weeks and months are the most influential, continue to socialize throughout her life. It helps keep her sociable and mentally agile.

Bottom line: To get a well-socialized cat, pick a kitty who was handled frequently and exposed to lots of different people, sights, sounds, and experiences in early kittenhood. Keep up the socialization once you bring your kitten home, and don’t forget to make plenty of time for playtime.