Tips for Socialising Your Kitten with People & Other Pets

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Kitten with owner imageYou'll want your kitten to become a cat that relates well to people and is a friend and companion. To achieve this, you need to bear in mind that cats have a very short socialisation phase. So the first four to 16 weeks of life are a critical time for behavioural and social development.

Your kitten's early experiences

Before your kitten comes to live with you, they will have been interacting with their mother, the other kittens in the litter and probably several different people.

Be wary of choosing a kitten that has had little human contact, such as a kitten that has been raised in a shed or pen far from the house. Kittens need to get used to being handled by people very early on, preferably by several people so they don't just learn to accept a single caregiver. They also need to become accustomed to the sights, smells and sounds of everyday life.

Your kitten will probably move into your home at about eight to 12 weeks of age. Assuming they already had lots of human contact, it shouldn't be too difficult for you to reinforce all the good work and help them grow into a friendly, happy, confident cat.

When your kitten first arrives home with you, remember it can all be a bit overwhelming. Take your kitten to a quiet, safe place and show them where food bowls, water bowls and litter boxes are. Give lots of love and reassurance and pet gently, talking in a soft, calm voice. Playing is also a great way to socialise your kitten and form a bond early on in your relationship.

Kids and kittens

Your kitten should be socialised with children as early as possible, as they may reject or bite children later if they haven't become used to them early on.

If you have children, they will naturally be very excited about the arrival of a new kitten. Your job is to teach them that your kitten is not a toy and must be treated carefully. Play time must end when the kitten has had enough. It's also a good idea to warn the children that they kitten may scratch or play-bite.

Your kitten and other people

People come in all different shapes and sizes and your kitten should have the opportunity to encounter them all. Get them used to strangers but be careful that they don't scare or overwhelm with a strong show of affection.

It's a good idea to introduce your young kitten to as many people as possible. That way, you're likely to avoid them developing a fear of strangers in later life.

Don't forget that kittens can become tired quickly; make sure that meeting times with new people are kept quite short so your kitten has time to rest.

Introducing your kitten to other pets in the home

Before introducing your new kitten to other pets in your household, visit your veterinarian to ensure all pets are healthy and their vaccinations are up to date.

Smell is the most important sense for cats, so it's a good idea to transfer some of the smells of your home onto the coat of your new kitten before the introductions. Mix the scents by stroking first your resident cat, then the kitten, without washing your hands, and vice versa.

Introduce your new kitten to other pets gradually and one at a time. Keeping your new kitten in a carrier or behind an expandable baby gate is a good way to supervise the first encounter.

During the introduction, separate the pets at any sign of aggression. Acceptance may take time, so never leave your new kitten unsupervised with any of your other pets until you are certain they get along well. Always keep smaller pets, such as hamsters, fish and birds safely out of reach.

Separation anxiety

The good news is, you've done a great job raising your kitten to get along well with people. The bad news is, your kitten is now so attached to you and won't like it when you go out.

Separation anxiety, previously only recognised in dogs, is now acknowledged to occur in cats. Signs that your kitten may be suffering from separation anxiety include seeming stressed by you going out, being excessively vocal or soiling the house in your absence.

Tips on dealing with separation anxiety include limiting the time you leave your kitten alone as much as you possibly can and trying not to make a big "production" out of leaving the house. If your kitten does soil the house, don't punish. Cats don't understand punishment and, since the behaviour is a result of stress, you'll actually be making the problem worse.

You can easily teach your kitten to tolerate short absences by leaving them in a room, closing the door and walking away. After a few minutes, go back in but don't greet your kitten. When you've done this several times, extend the absences to 30 minutes. If they begin to get distressed, and start meowing or scratching at the door, you should shorten the absence period.

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