The world is such a big place for a kitten just starting to figure out where exactly they fit in it. A kitten’s early life is noisy, busy and full of new experiences. There are humans everywhere, other kittens around, older cats, objects big and small, plus all sorts of startling strange sounds and smells.
All of this can be overwhelming when you get a new kitten, as they arrive in your house and everything is new to them. Find out how to turn your shy ball of fur into a confident and happy adult cat and help your kitten learn life’s first lessons quickly.
What is kitten socialisation?
Kitten socialisation is the period of time early on in a cat’s life when they start to learn what is safe in their environment by getting familiar with different experiences. Exposure to new things from the beginning is crucial for cat socialisation, but make sure not to overwhelm the small bundle of joy with more information than they can handle.
The first 8-10 weeks are usually considered crucial for the process of socialisation. Kittens are like a sponge for new information, especially in their early days. There is no better time to show your kitten the ropes of life in general.
It is very possible that by the time you get to meet your new kitten the socialisation period has long passed. It may have happened at the breeder’s house or at a rescue centre where they will have learned the first things about people and what role they play in a cat’s life.
But this doesn’t meant cats have learned all they need to know about the world around them. It’s important to check with the breeder to see if there is anything in particular you need to focus on so you can continue kitten socialisation at home.
Although the first weeks are essential, don’t forget that kitten socialisation doesn’t stop after the 10-week marker, especially when the time comes to move into your home.
Top tips on how to socialise your kitten
The first time you welcome the new kitten into your home, you’ll notice they’re stepping into their new life somewhat reluctantly. They might be a bit shy or even looking frightened by all the attention they’re getting. Here are some useful tips for socialising your kitten with the least amount of distress for everyone involved.
Keep everyone calm
Once they’ve rested and are confident in their room, then it’s time to meet their new human family. Do try to keep everyone calm. Everyone should sit still on the floor and agree to touch the kitten only if the kitten approaches.
Grabbing or arguing between the kids will frighten your pet. If the kitten tries to hide, coax them out with a toy or treat to encourage them to be sociable. Never grab or force them.
Watch the kids
Meeting the kids is a big step for your kitten’s socialisation. Teach young children how to pick up the kitten properly, and how to stroke the cat gently.
Toddlers often 'pat' rather than ‘stroke’, which can be uncomfortable or even painful for tiny kittens. Teach them where to stroke the kitten - the top of the head and along the back. Tummies are irresistible but most kittens are rather sensitive about this area and may lash out. And remind the kids to never pull the cat’s tail.
Offer some privacy
Kittens need some privacy. Make sure they have their own little bed tucked away in a quiet spot. Make sure they’re left alone when they’re eating, going to the toilet or sleeping – and keep their litter tray away from toddlers.
Wash your hands after handling the kitten and especially after cleaning the litter tray. Encourage the little ones to do the same.
Introducing a kitten to other pets
Kitten socialisation also means getting the new kitten comfortable around other pets. The secret to introducing a new kitten to other pets is patience. Never put them in a position where they could fight with your other pets.
Cats and dogs often learn to love one another, or at least live together without problems, but the same can’t be said of all pets. Keep pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, birds and reptiles away from your kitten at all times, as a cat can see them as prey.
Animals recognise each other partially through smell. When introducing your kitten to a dog or a cat, try to intermingle their scent. Stroke one and then the other so the scent is transferred, swapping their beddings as well. This way they will start to associate nice things with the other animal's smell.
Use a pheromone spray
Another good trick for kitten socialisation is to use synthetic pheromone spray and plug-in pheromone diffusers, as these will let your kitten know the area is safe and help them feel relaxed.
Establish a routine
Once your kitten has found its confidence, it will soon be dashing around the house so watch your step!
They’ll be up for plenty of play but give them a nice quiet spot where they can nap without being disturbed.
Help them settle in by sticking to a routine, particularly with feeding, play and stroking.
If you’ve followed the steps for kitten socialisation but are still having problems integrating your kitten into your home, speak to your vet.