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How to Socialise your new Kitten or Cat

Socialisation: Helping your Itty Bitty Kitty become a Friendly, Fearless Feline ... 

Is your kitty an attention-seeking purr-ball, a fearless dog-smoocher or a chilled-out couch potato, even in the midst of household chaos? Purrrfect. 


The flipside is just as common; a skittish kitty, ready to run for the hills, or at least for the nearest hiding spot, as soon as a strange car pulls up. Why is this so?

Nature or Nuture?

The age-old question of nature vs. nurture arises. 


What makes a great temperament in a cat? There isn’t one simple answer. 

I have had a wild kitten spitting and hissing at me for 3 days until I could coax it out from our shed, and it became the friendliest of all the cats I’ve ever loved. The mother disappeared and the father was unknown. 

Another kitten a family member acquired from school was hidden in a handbag to remain undetected by said family-member’s mother for several weeks before being discovered, then re-homed to her grandfather. Luckily, it was a peaceful house as the kitten remained a shy spooked-out cat: loving to its new owners, but never seen by anyone else, except the occasional glimpse of a fluffy tail poking out from under the couch.

Some of this is certainly nature. Some research has shown that there are genetically 'friendly' and genetically 'unfriendly' or timid cats and that this part of the personality is influenced by the father.

On the other hand, nurture has also proven to be extremely important. The first 9 weeks of a kitten’s life is the crucial period that will have a strong influence on its future behaviour and personality.

What is socialisation and why is it important?

Socialisation is this crucial nurture period early in a kitten’s life. It needs a mother and litter mates to develop normal cat behaviours. Equally, it must have human contact and regular gentle handling as early as possible, preferably from birth, certainly before 7 weeks of age, to develop socially-acceptable behaviours for living in our human households.

Generally, kittens that receive insufficient exposure and contact with people, other animals and new environments during those first two months may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression. Of course, as I’ve said before, there are always exceptions.

So, how can you can help your kitten develop into a sociable, well-adjusted cat?

Firstly, choose wisely. Early handling by the cat breeder or owner will result in a kitten that is more confident, more social and more exploratory. It will also mature faster and be better able to handle stress as they develop.

Even if you are adopting a kitten with an unknown history, you should be able to tell the shy kitten that hides at the back of the cage from the bolder, friendlier kitten that comes to the front, accepts handling and is playing with objects or the other kittens.

Secondly, socialisation doesn’t stop once you obtain your kitten


It continues to be beneficial to teach your kitten to be comfortable around other people, children and animals in its environment, including dogs and other pets, and become accustomed to new experiences and stimuli that it will encounter in everyday life, such as vacuum cleaners, music, car travel, grooming, and fireworks.

How can I help my kitten's socialisation at home?

Provide your kitten with a safe, quiet area that contains its food and litter tray


Supervise your kitten’s first forays into its new environment, and ensure there are no danger areas where it can get stuck or in trouble.
Handle your kitten gently as much as possible, so that it gets used to being picked up and held by you and other members of your family. You can train your kitten to allow grooming, bathing, tooth brushing, and nail clipping, and walking on a lead at this young age. 

Do not force your kitten if he or she seems fearful, but reward positive non-fearful behaviour with praise and treats. Gradual introduction to these types of handling will result in a well-adjusted cat that trusts you to allow these procedures. 
Try to expose your kitten to new people of all ages,  other pets and to different stimuli as early as possible, so that it can adjust to them at this critical time of development. 

Where dogs and other pets are concerned, have them on a leash or carrier, and introduce to the kitten from a safe distance to start with. The kitten can also start in a carrier to avoid any problems and a fearful reaction. Slow is the go.

The same applies to noises like vacuum cleaners and music. Have them softer and at a distance to start with if you want a cat that is happy to ride around on the robo-cleaner! Also start with short car-rides in a carrier sprayed with a pheromone like Feliway. This contains a synthetic version of the pheromone found in the facial glands of cats and can have a calming effect.

Can you teach kittens to play?

Absolutely! Play is a very important part of a kitten’s mental and physical development. Not all kittens have learnt to play with toys, so start with toys that are easy for them to move, and stimulate them with noise or colour. 

Use wand toys, with feathers, mice or balls on the end of a stick so you don’t encourage your kitten to attack your hands by using them in games. It will hurt a lot more when your kitten gets older! 

Rolled up paper, cardboard boxes and rolling balls are also fun.

Individual kittens differ in the amount and type of play they like so experiment and play for as long as your kitten is willing.

Should I get a playmate for my kitten? 
The ideal situation - if the kitten is to be left alone during the day - is to pick two littermates so they can play and entertain each other in your absence. 

They often bond closely and provide hours of entertainment for each other and their owners. The costs of keeping two cats needs to be considered, of course.

written by Dr Julia Adams, April 2019 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved)



Dr Julia Adams BVSc is a veterinary animal behaviour consultant with over ten years of experience in assisting dogs, cats and their pet parents navigate canine & feline communication, frustrating problem behaviours, and behaviour problems that require a further investigation. 

She is passionate about pets and their families living their best lives together, having fun, and making it simple.

As well as being a veterinarian, Dr Julia is also a 100% positive, reward-based trainer and graduate of the nationally recognised Delta Institute Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services.


For more information, visit www.petsonthecouch.com.au
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