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Choosing the Right Kitten for you: Behaviour & Socialisation

So, you’ve decided to become a cat parent?

Congratulations on your decision to adopt a kitten and make it part of your family. 

Being owned by a cat is a huge responsibility and comes with many sacrifices, as well as countless years of entertainment and companionship. There are many things to consider when deciding which kitten will be right for you, depending on your circumstances and resources. 

The suggestions in this article will help you to make the choice which is right for you and your family, and for your new kitten. 

Which kitten is best for me? 

Our own Arya adopted at 10 weeks, beautiful in and out!
Many people choose a cat because certain characteristics of that cat appeal to them, such as physical appearance (e.g.: colour), coat type, gender, current popularity of the breed and temperament. 

Regardless of the type of kitten you choose, it is crucial that your choice is based on the temperament and health of the kitten as well as your own level of commitment to that kitten’s care (for example, do you have time to brush the coat of a long-haired cat every day for the next 15+ years?)

While there are numerous other factors to consider, this article focuses on early kitten behaviour and socialisation and how you can help your kitten to become a friendly, well-adjusted adult.

Did you know? 

A kitten’s temperament can be partially determined by the father… even if he doesn’t stay around long enough to meet his offspring!
A cat’s personality is influenced by a combination of genetics/breed, early experiences and its current environment [1].

The age of 3-9 weeks is the most crucial stage in a kitten’s life for developing its social behaviour [2]

This is when it is most receptive to new experiences and it should be introduced to a wide range of situations during this time such as other cats and animal species, people (including children of various ages) and a variety of situations (such as riding in the car, a vacuum cleaner, rubbish trucks passing the house). 
A kitten which does not begin its socialisation during this time is likely to be a timid, aggressive, fearful and anxious adult, and more likely to bite, scratch and hide when exposed to situations it is not used to. 

It will not be happy living in a busy home with other animals, many people and children if it is not appropriately introduced to these during the early window for socialisation. 

“They didn’t teach me about this at orphaned kitten school!” 
I’m not coming out from behind the books until the vacuum cleaner stops chasing me!” Cee’s hidey-hole on the bookshelf. 

It is also important to avoid punishment and similar negative experiences during the socialisation stage, because a kitten’s experiences during this time will be “imprinted” and affect the way your kitten reacts in the future. 

Kittens which are separated from their mother from the age of two weeks and hand-reared tend to be more fearful, slower to learn and less able to adapt to new stimuli and situations. 

It is possible that they will develop attachments to other kittens but it is a slower process. 

Kittens are more likely to attach to people if they are handled from an early age in a non-threatening way. They also tend to tolerate being handled for longer and initiate interactions with people if they have been handled between 3-14 weeks of age [2].

The temperament of the sire (father) has been shown to be an important contributing factor in a kitten’s personality. Males who are bold and friendly tend to have kittens with the same characteristics, whereas timid males can sire kittens who are also timid and fearful [3]

It is not always possible to view both parents, especially the father, however if you are adopting a kitten from a registered breeder it is a good idea to view the parents or at least ask about their temperaments.

Remember, kittenhood lasts for one year only, at which point your family cat is an adult. 

A cat can live for 15+ years so its kittenhood is a very small part of its life
Its early experiences help to determine what kind of adult your kitten will grow into. 

When choosing a kitten, remember to consider the following points:

✔️ Visit the kitten at least once before adopting it, and get to know his/her temperament and reactions to those around it. Avoid impulse buying and don’t adopt a kitten because it appears unwell or stressed and you feel sorry for it

✔️ Does the kitten look physically well, and is it an appropriate size for its age?

✔️ What is the kitten’s body language? Does it cringe, flatten its ears, hunch over, raise its hackles, or does it appear outgoing and “fearless”?

✔️ How does the kitten interact with its littermates (if present)? Does it play and curl up to sleep with them, or does it isolate or hide in a separate area?

✔️ Does the kitten approach you with curiosity or does it hide/run away from you? 

✔️ If you have children, how does the kitten respond to and interact with them? 

✔️ How does the kitten respond to being stroked and picked up (by both adults and children)?
✔️ Ask about the kitten’s parents and their temperaments (if known) and meet the parents if possible. At what age was the kitten weaned and/or separated from its mother? Was it hand reared? At what age was it first handled by people?

✔️ Ensure your interactions with the kitten (before and after adoption) are consistent, friendly and non-threatening, which will encourage the kitten to accept and trust you [2].

✔️ Ask the breeder/shelter about what experiences the kitten has already been exposed to, for example living with dogs in a foster home, travelling in a car, being handled for procedures such as parasite control, grooming and nail trimming, attending kitten classes?

✔️ In spite of the degree of early socialisation, kittens and cats vary widely in their acceptance of other cats and people. This is due to other contributing factors such as breed/genetics, relationship with the mother, environment and early experiences [2].

✔️ How does the kitten approach you and other members of your family? How does it respond to being picked up and handled?

Remember: while physical appearance might be appealing, it is important to choose a kitten which is well-adjusted and healthy, and which will fit in with your family and your lifestyle. 

Kittens and cats are important family members and it is crucial that their quality of life allows them to express their normal behaviours, so that you and they have many years entertaining one another and enriching one another’s lives!

written by Candice Drew, September 2020 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved).

About the Writer

Candice qualified as a veterinary nurse in Australia in 2005, being awarded the Novartis Award for Outstanding Achievement in Veterinary Nursing in her qualifying year. 
She has worked extensively in Australia and the UK, and is a UK Registered Veterinary Nurse. Candice is experienced in general practice, shelter nursing and referral nursing (Surgery and Emergency & Critical Care [ECC]). 

She attained the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing (surgical) in 2009, qualified as a trainer & assessor in 2015, and completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing in 2018. Candice is interested in most aspects of veterinary nursing but her passions are feline nursing, ECC and working with students.
Candice is the happy slave of a 10-year-old rescue cat named “Maggie”, whom she adopted in January 2018.

1. International Cat Care: “Choosing a kitten”, October 2018,
2. Landsberg, G. Behaviour Problems of the Dog and Cat, 3rd edition, Saunders Elsevier, 2013
3. Seksel, K.: Training Your Cat, Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd, 2001
4. Cat Protection Society of NSW: “Your new cat. Tips for ensuring a healthy and happy life for your new family member”,
5. Cats Protection: “Bringing a new Kitten home”,
6. Cats Protection: “Caring for your kitten. Essential Guide 15”,
International Cat Care/The Cat Group: “The Kitten Checklist”,