Tiny paws, big eyes, and full of personality, who wouldn't want to get to know a feisty young kitten? Well, if you've ever heard the horror stories of evil, temperamental kitties (or if you've caught a late night showing of "My Cat From Hell") you likely know that not all felines are our friends.
Luckily, there's an easy way to prevent your kitten from going down the Norman Bates path. The trick? Socialization. By teaching your kitten how to be a friendly ball of fluff rather than a demon spawn, your cat will be far more likely to enjoy a happy, stress-free life – as will all the other living things in your home.
Here's all you need to know about how to socialize a kitten so your little fur baby is one of the ones the whole world coos over. Pretty soon, you'll have #GrumpyCat drooling over your kitten's Instagram stats.
Kitty Cat Socialization
Technically speaking, socialization is "the process of learning to communicate with and relate to humans, members of the same species, and other animals," say the experts at American Veterinarian. Much like the process we humans go through of making our first friend in kindergarten, socializing your kitten gives her to mental and emotional tools she needs to play nice with other creatures.
Socializing a kitten should start as early as possible after the little one's eyes are open and she is able to walk on her own. The best time to socialize your itty bitty kitty is between the ages of 2 and 11 weeks of age. This is when cats are most likely to absorb socialization lessons quickly and adopt them long-term.
However, if you find your furry soul mate after the 7 week mark, you can still socialize your cat. It just may take an older cat a bit longer to come around to the friendly side, depending on her life experiences up to that point.
How to Socialize a Kitten with Play
There are two phases of play that determine how to socialize a kitten and when. In the first phase, your kitten should be between 2 and 7 weeks of age. During this time, you can give her toys (large enough that she can't get them in her mouth to accidentally swallow them) to bat around. This is referred to as self-play and is an important part of your kitty's development.
Good news! That ridiculously irresistible urge we all have to pick up a kitten and cuddle it and pledge to spend every moment of the rest of our lives loving it is actually great for socializing a young kitten. That's the second phase of play, which is called social play and takes place between the ages of 4 and 11 weeks of age.
In fact, being held by multiple people for at least 5 minutes per person per day is at the top of veterinarians' list of tricks for how to socialize a kitten. There are still genetic factors that will have an influence on how your kitten behaves around others, but even if your kitten's papa was the fiercest tomcat on the block, your kitten can still end up a lover rather than a fighter.
Disclaimer: if your little one is squirming to get away, let her go. Socialization does not involve forcing her to stay in uncomfortable situations. Rather, the goal is to gradually get her used to being held (and adored) by people and other pets.
If your newbie can only tolerate 2 minutes of being held in the beginning, that's OK. The more often you interact with her, the more she'll get used to the attention and you'll gradually work your way up to 5 minute cuddle sessions – or longer!
Quick Guide for How to Socialize a Kitten
- Focus. Turn off all the loud, distracting things. You want your kitten's attention to be all on you.
- Positive Reinforcement. Let your kitten waddle toward you at her own pace. Encourage independence, but reinforce her behavior with positive affection.
- Touch. When she's close, begin by petting her back and sides.
- The Pick Up. When you're able to pick her up, support her torso with your palm and gently massage around her head and down her back. Getting your cat used to you touching her face is an important step that will help you care for her in the future.
- Negative Response. If your cat accidentally scratches you, withdraw your physical touch for a few moments, but do not scold, hit, or make any loud noises. She's still learning how to use those tiny daggers attached to her toes. It takes time!
- Play. Set your kitten down and play with her on the floor using a ball, plush toy, or laser. Avoid strings as they can be easily swallowed by little mouths and can cause serious health problems.
Repeat. Pick your little one up again and continue getting to know her. Repeat this process as often as you'd like and as much as she'll allow, ideally a few times per day.
Other Tips for Socialization
There are other tricks for how to socialize a kitten, including tasty rewards, exercise, and showing off your adorable new fur baby to friends.
If your cat is reluctant to be picked up for longer periods of time or is resistant to letting you touch her head or face, use treats to build a positive association with those experiences. This is also a great trick for older cats who need to relearn certain socialization lessons.
Oftentimes, a misbehaving cat is one that just has a lot of pent up energy and stress. Help your cat get some exercise by picking up a $2 laser pointer at the pet store. Or, if you're one of those ultra-dedicated pet parents, you may even want to build your kitty a catio for some natural fun-in-the-sun exercise and entertainment.
Finally, one of the best ways to help your cat get over a fear of others is to invite trusted friends over to meet your kitty companion. Start by asking one friend to come over and spend some time with you. Allow your kitten to hide or do as she naturally does for the first 10 minutes while you and your friend chat. Then, bring your kitten into a safe, open place to let her meet your friend.
In time, introduce your kitten to more people and let them hold her for a few minutes. This is also a great trick to use for adopted cats who may have had a traumatic experience before you met them.
Life Long Lessons
Socialization is a life-long journey. It's not enough to perfectly socialize your kitten in the early weeks of her life. You'll need to keep socializing your cat as she gets older to ensure she's a healthy, well-adjusted kitty.
This is especially important for when you need to take her to the vet or if you go out of town and have someone else look after her. Those experiences can be stressful enough on your cat. If she doesn't have the social skills to cope with interacting with humans – other than you – it can be doubly hard on her.
Have you had experience socializing a young cat? Share your best tips for how to socialize a kitten in the comments below! Then share a photo of your fur baby with us on Instagram by tagging us @PrettyLitterCats.