Importance of socialising kittens

The earlier a kitten is socialised, the friendlier it will be in adult life. Here are 14 suggestions to to help your new feline patients

Posted: 11 January 2018

Importance of socialising kittens


It’s generally true that the earlier a kitten is socialised, the friendlier it will be in adult life. The benefits this can bring are invaluable, as they tend to be more relaxed and have fewer health issues associated with stress. 

It’s for these reasons that it’s important they’re given opportunities early on in life to experience sufficient, appropriate socialisation. Gentle positive handling during the first few weeks of life will almost certainly make future veterinary examinations easier for everyone concerned.

Kittens separated from the mother from a very early age seem to be at a higher risk of developing behavioral and emotional abnormalities and often show signs of fear and aggression.

Socialisation period

The critical socialisation period is between 2 and 7 weeks of age.

During this early period, kittens find out about their environment and determine what is ‘safe’. It’s felt that most things they come across during this time are likely to be accepted as something that is normal and okay. Anything they don’t experience though is more likely to produce a fear response as they become adults.  The greater the variety of positive experiences they have during this time, the more likely they are to cope with novel experiences in the future.

Since tolerance of people is a learned behaviour, early handling by a variety of people during this period is really important.

While it’s probably too late to change the personality of a cat after this age, it’s best to encourage owners to continue the socialising process with positive experiences throughout its life. After 7 weeks, attachments and preferences can still be developed, but they’re made slowly and with more difficulty. If the kitten’s mother is present and remains calm and accepting, the socialisation events can be more successful.

Food is important

Kittens born to malnourished mothers have behavioral and cognitive impairment, and are often antisocial to other cats showing fear and aggression. These abnormalities may also be seen in kittens whose mothers were undernourished during the lactation period. These problems often persist despite the kitten going on to be well fed and nourished.

It’s therefore vital to make sure that both the mother and kitten are well fed throughout gestation and the months after birth. At Burgess Pet Care we produce a range of high quality premium food for the different stages of a cats life.

Burgess Feline Diets

Training and social referencing

In addition to socialisation, kittens need to experience their surroundings early to make appropriate associations to help them cope with life in the home. This is sometimes known as social referencing, and should include a wide variety of experiences that involve all the senses. Below are 13 suggestions to tell your clients and help their new kitten explore the world.

  1. Floor surfaces - provide a variety of safe floor textures for the kitten to walk on. This can be at home as well as in the consulting room.
  2. Smells make a difference - different scents can be collected on a clean cloth and then placed near the kitten. Don’t forget to collect the smells of other animals in the house.
  3. Be objective - provide a variety of new objects in different shapes and sizes that can be investigated. Cardboard boxes are ideal.
  4. Sound advice – potentially unsettling sounds can be experienced by placing socialisation CD’s/mp3’s of common household sounds such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, barking dogs and fireworks.
  5. Freedom to explore – a new kitten in a new home should be allowed to explore its surroundings without too much interference.
  6. Start early - ensure kittens are handled early in life, between 2 and 7 weeks of age.
  7. Find out – tell your clients to get information about the kitten’s previous home, handling experience, litter and food.
  8. Keep them safe - set up a safe area with food, water and an appropriately sized litter tray.
  9. Consistent and regular - provide daily interaction as well as training and handling exercises.
  10. Stay calm - the kitten should be introduced to new experiences in a calm, non-threatening manner.
  11. Positive rewards – offer food rewards for remaining calm and well behaved. Regular handling exercises to aid future grooming and medicating can also be rewarded using food rewards.
  12. Safety first - care should be taken that any hazards are removed and that there are no small areas where the kitten could become trapped.
  13. Toys - appropriate safe and stimulating toys should be offered. Playtime is part of a kitten’s normal development and should be encouraged.