Anytime a group acquires a new member, a certain amount of socialization is required. That holds true for both humans and animals. So if you’ll soon be adding a new kitten to the household, it will need to socialize with all family members, animal and human alike. You can take an active hand in getting your kitten socialized properly from the very beginning. And you’ll need to start early.
But the socialization of your new kitten shouldn’t occur just by happenstance. You can take an active hand in overseeing and guiding the process. And by doing that, you’ll assure the best outcome possible for all involved.
According to an old saying, old dogs can’t learn new tricks. That’s not entirely true, for dogs or for cats. But there is some truth in the old saying that does apply to cats.
Socialization lessons are most readily learned when a kitten is very young; about 2 to 7 weeks of age is prime socialization time for a kitten. Socialization can continue until the cat is about 6 months old.
If certain lessons aren’t learned during that period, they probably never will be. Kittens that aren’t exposed to humans during this time period, for example, will probably never become comfortable being around people.
SOCIALIZED FOR WHAT?
When your cat is at the optimum age for socialization, that’s the time to acquaint the cat with the experiences it’s likely to encounter during its life. That takes some planning ahead on your part. Think about the things your cat is likely to experience on a regular basis throughout its life.
If your cat will be going on road trips with you, for example, the socialization period is the time to get it accustomed to riding in the car. Getting the cat accustomed to new things will never be easier than during this period.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Handling your kitten every day will help it become accustomed to humans. But it will pay other dividends as well. Kittens that are handled regularly during the socialization period tend to be more accepting of new experiences later in life.
You can start very early. If you have access to the kitten before it’s weaned – and if mama cat doesn’t mind – you can pick the kitten up and stroke it gently for a minute or so.
Continue handling the kitten every day during the socialization period. Don’t overdo it though; just a minute or two of petting a couple of times a day is plenty. When you’re petting the cat, get it accustomed to being touched on all parts of its body.
And don’t just touch your kitten; talk to it, too. The kitten will quickly become accustomed to your voice, and will even begin to pick up on words surprisingly early.
LEARNING TO PLAY NICE
The socialization period is also the best time to teach the cat to play nice. If your kitten shows a tendency to bite or scratch you (or other people) this is the time to squelch that habit.
Have some good play toys on hand, and when the kitten plays aggressively by biting or scratching someone, divert its attention to the toy.
GETTING ALONG WITH OTHER ANIMALS
If you have other pets in the family, it’s just as important to get the cat comfortable with them as with the human members of the family. The socialization period is the best time to do that. But socializing with other animals can be a bit tricky; it’s probably best to get your vet’s advice for your particular situation.
One technique that can be used with a dog is called ‘scent transfer.’ Pick a time when both dog and kitten are relaxed, and then – with the dog on a leash – gently rub the kitten on the body of the dog. Keep the dog happy with treats while you’re doing that.
And NEVER allow the dog to chase the cat. If it begins to chase, put a stop to it immediately.
If you already have a cat in the household, try this socialization technique: Feed the new cat and old cat on opposite sides of a closed door. Make sure that the older cat is hungry so that it wants to eat.
If the cats are uncomfortable (hissing or growling) slowly move the bowls farther apart until the signs of aggression stop. Then you can gradually move the bowls closer together each time you feed them.
With time – and a bit of luck – they’ll become comfortable in the presence of each other. When they do finally meet without a barrier between them, have a treat on hand to feed each of them during that first face to face encounter.
ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY
Whether your household is brimming with kids and critters, or it’s just you and your new kitty, socialization is important. It’s the key to getting off to a great start in your relationship with your cat – a relationship that’s likely to yield years of happiness.
IF you get off to the right start.