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The View From the Top of the Bookshelf: How to Socialize Kittens

The View From the Top of the Bookshelf: How to Socialize Kittens

Hello blog world, Patra here!  I’m so excited about today’s topic.  Like everyone else, I am crazy about kittens.  What could be cuter than little baby kittens?  Besides being explosively adorable, ‘kittenhood’ is also really important for determining the later temperament, habits, and sense of trust an adult cat struts around with.  Scientific evidence affirms that many mammals have sensitive periods when environmental conditions and relations exert a really formative impact on their minds and hearts.  This applies to both kittens and human babes.  One of the key processes in this sensitive time period is that of socialization.  Socialization helps teach little mammals how to bond as well as helps them face difficult or stressful experiences with grit and resilience.  It is found also that for the growing kitten brain, isolation can be as debilitating as negative or traumatic encounters.

The ground rule, with the exception of a rescue, is that kittens should stay with their mums for 12 weeks.  In these 12 weeks, they learn from their mother’s example – how to use the litter box, how to choose what to eat – and from their siblings’ –how to play and share and resolve conflicts.  The period between three and ten weeks of age is crucial.  It’s important that their social circle, during this time, includes their mama, their siblings, and human beings.  Being introduced to human beings early on helps include them in their social geography.  If you’ve chosen a kitty from a litter, allow it to stay with its litter until it is 12 weeks old but make it a point to visit and handle it regularly during that time.  This will help forge the bond between you two as well as present many great photo moments!  If this arrangement isn’t possible, the next best option is to choose a kitten that was raised in a household where it received both high quantity and good quality of touch and affection and attention.  This has always been the ethos and policy of the best breeders.

In the light of the immense importance of early socialization, one can imagine the heartache of a kitten cleaved from its mother too early and put in a sterile cage.  If at all possible, when rescuing kittens, try to keep as many of the littermates together as you can, if only for the first three to ten weeks.  The companionship will make a big difference in laying the foundation for a healthy and friendly adult cat.

Once the critical period of time has passed and you move the kitten from its’ mama to your home, allow it free range to explore.  Find a balance of security and boundaries while encouraging novel and affirming experiences.  Use food treats to facilitate interactions between your lil kits and strangers, but don’t force your kitten to engage in a situation that feels overwhelming or scary.  Try to offer many different types of food and toys so that the kitten doesn’t grow to be a picky kitty that will eat only one thing.  When offering a new variety of food or litter, place the new option alongside the old.  Kittens, like people, will be more willing to try something unfamiliar if given a choice.

Some kitten parents, especially if they’re dealing with a somewhat chaotic household, provide the new member of their family with its own secure carrier as a “safe zone.”  Once the kitten is comfortable with his or her carrier, you can take them along on car rides and errands.  You can also use the carrier for visits to the vet for vaccines.  It may be prudent, too, to investigate whether the ‘queen’ has been vaccinated as her status may affect the transmission of viruses to her newborn kittens.

O.k. now that you know the importance of early socialization for kittens and a few ground rules, you can return to gushing and awwing over their unbearable cuteness. 

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