No More Scaredy Cat: Socializing Your Kitten

So you have a new kitten. Congratulations!

Besides making sure your little Fluffy knows how to use the litter box, what are you planning on teaching him/her? Is socialization something you’ve even thought about for your kitten?

If your answer is no (or you think that lots of cuddling is enough), you’re not alone. In fact, socialization and training aren’t things most people think about explicitly when it comes to their cats. The reason for this is that, since cats are often considered self-sufficient and instinct-driven, many people think that litter-training and putting out a scratching post or two (at most) is sufficient. Fluffy will learn everything else on his/her own, right?

Well, that depends on what you expect of Fluffy. 

If all Fluffy has to do is use the litter box regularly and be “catty,” then you may be done. But if you would like for your new kitten to become a confident, well-adjusted friend, rather than a strange, furry housemate who may or may not let you near him/her, then a little more socialization may be in order.

 

What Is Socialization?

But what do we mean by “socialization”?

Basically, socialization is how you get your kitty used to different people, animals, activities, and environments. Good socialization, that pairs new experiences with praise, rewards, and positivity can reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors and fearfulness as well as strengthen the bond between you and your kitten.  

For example, wouldn’t you prefer that Fluffy happily accept being brushed – especially if Fluffy is fluffy? What about having his/her nails clipped periodically? Teaching kittens when they’re young that these activities are okay – and rewarding them with praise and treats – makes it much more likely they’ll continue to enjoy them as they get older.

 

What Can I Teach My Kitten?

There are a number of different things you can socialize and train your kitten to, including

Of course, if your kitten just came from the street or a feral litter, your first order of business is to socialize him/her to you – to petting, holding and interacting well with his/her new family. Luckily, all of this is perfectly do-able because cats are just as trainable as dogs. They’re just motivated differently.

Also like dogs, the most effective way to socialize and train your kitty is to start young. Prime time for socialization to start is before 16 weeks of age. Because many kittens aren’t adopted until they’re about 12 weeks, hopefully some socialization has started before they get to you. (If you got your kitten from a rescue, shelter or breeder, it’s likely begun, but you need to continue it.) Not to worry, though: socialization can happen later, it’ll just take longer.

 

How Does Kitten Socialization Work?

No matter Fluffy’s age, the name of the game is patience. Socialization and training are a process, and rushing them leads to sub-par results (and a kitty that hasn’t learned the lessons you wanted).  Some things Fluffy will likely learn quickly (like litter boxes!), but others may take some time. Each cat is an individual, so they’ll each be different. It’s important to be patient and positive, keeping interactions and activities fear-free.

For example, if you want to get Fluffy used to interacting with houseguests (rather than running and hiding when people come over), you’ll need to invite over some friends. Be sure your friends know what your goal is and how to interact with your kitten. Then, when they come over, let Fluffy investigate them on his/her own. You can encourage or reward curiosity and friendliness with treats or another favorite food. And if Fluffy is afraid, don’t force it. If your kitten’s first experiences with guests are forced and fearful, that’s what s/he will associate with visitors in the future. Some kittens are born social butterflies and will be all over your guests quickly. Others may take some time – maybe even multiple visits – to get used to the new people. Try not to get frustrated, though. Eventually, Fluffy will “get it”.

If you need resources for kitten socialization, try some of the articles we’ve linked through this article as well as these:

 

If you have any questions or need to bring your new Fluffy-baby in for a vet visit, give us a call or fill out our online form!