A new kitten is one of the cutest and most unpredictable additions to a household. It’s an exciting time for families to be bringing in a furry member, but it can be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important kitten topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this, having resources for owners to read/keep has become a must. We’ve included top tips and considerations for socialisation/behavior here for new kitten owners.
- Having a well adjusted kitten takes time and training.
- Kittens are cute and small, but it’s important to remember that kittens don’t magically grow up to be well behaved and easy going. There are many new experiences that kittens will go through that shape the type of cat they eventually become. While it is easy to assume all kittens are mellow and welcoming, some kittens are timid and fearful. Behavioral problems are one of the number one reasons why cats are relinquished to shelters or requested to be put to sleep. Taking initiative early on can make all the difference. If you have a kitten at home, you have an opportunity to help them jump through the hoops towards becoming a well adjusted cat.
- Kittens experience their primary “learning” and “socialisation” period up to about 12-16 weeks of age, sometimes even younger.
- This means that the optimal window for teaching them how to acclimatize to new situations is before they hit this age. This often surprises owners, but I like to turn this into a plus. This gives us the chance to help kittens become great cats.
- Vaccinations vs. Socialization: When is my kitten considered protected?
- The answer is, it depends. This question arises because we know the primary socialisation period is prior to 12-16 weeks of age, but kittens have not completed their initial vaccine series to receive disease protection until that age or later. Our answer is to pick safe socialization opportunities, as we should ideally not wait to introduce new experiences.
- Allowing your kitten to have supervised time with other cats or dogs indoors that are vaccinated, on parasite prevention, and are good with other cats is a great chance for socialisation. Make sure to watch your kittens’ response to other pets and stop the interaction if they are becoming overwhelmed/scared. We want to foster positive associations with new friends.
- We recommend holding off on letting your kitten outdoors until their initial vaccination series is completed, to ensure they are protected. Additionally I encourage owners to wait to slowly introduce their cat to being outdoors until they are larger (i.e. closer to 10 -12 months of age) so that they are grown and able to protect themselves/retreat should a threat arise.
- Short and sweet is key.
- Keeping new experiences short and positive allows for kittens to avoid becoming overwhelmed or stressed. 10-15 minutes can often be enough at one time, though repetition over time is also important. Positive reinforcement for positive behaviors/responses are much easier for kittens to remember and associate with future behaviors. For example, a positive experience with treats and praise is much more likely to lead to repeating that behavior in the future.
- Remember that kittens will often be nervous in new situations.
- We need to keep in mind that everything is new to kittens and these things may be scary. Trying to avoid triggers can be helpful to creating a positive experience. For example, ensuring your kitten has a safe place to hide if they are nervous can be beneficial, like a carrier or a room that is gated off from other animals/people. Don’t forget treats and toys! Sounds can also be scary, so exposure to things like cars, vacuums, lawn mowers, washing machines, hair dryers, etc. are useful.
- Vary the exposure.
- The more types of situations and handling your kitten gets exposed to, the easier it will be for them to associate a positivity with new situations.
- We recommended touching your kittens head, feet, mouths, tummies, etc. to get them used to and not startled by human contact. This makes it less likely for them to react later on, and easier for both owners/vets to handle the cat as an adult. Prime example here – trimming their nails 🙂
- This also comes into play with children. Children are often unpredictable in terms of sounds, smells, and behaviors which can be challenging for kittens to comprehend. Getting kittens used to children is a good way to curb a common cat fear later on in life. It is also essential to teach your children appropriate behavior around kittens/cats! Cats and children should never be left unsupervised.
- Similarly, kittens should not be left unsupervised with other cats/dogs. Starting by letting them see/smell each other without contact is ideal (through a baby gate or a screened door), then slowly working towards time together. Dogs should be kept on a lead until kittens are more used to them and dogs can respect their boundaries. These scenarios should always be supervised until both pets are comfortable. This may take weeks in some scenarios, but the diligence and patience is well worth the results.
- Don’t forget to make the vet less scary too!
- There are several things we can do to make the vet less scary, including getting cats used to their carriers and the car early in their lives. We encourage pet owners to leave their cats carrier out for 5-7 days prior to any trips in it, so that it is not associated with fear. Your cat can get used to the carrier with plenty of time before having to go in it. Keeping treats, toys, and blankets in the carrier also helps make it more welcoming and less scary. Pheromone sprays for stress such as Feliway can also be used to decrease your kitty’s anxiety. I often spray the carrier inside, as well as spray a towel that I put over the carrier while the cat is being transported. Taking your cat in it’s carrier in the car on short trips without going to the vet first can be helpful, so the car is also not automatically associated with the vet. Trips to the vet solely for treats and a pet (no medical care) is also another way to associate positivity with the vet!
- Consider training non-negotiables to help make a ROUTINE.
- The best training protocols rely on creating one that works for you and your kitten then sticking to it. Consistency helps reinforce concepts you are trying to teach, and also helps them retain these faster. This may include feeding times and styles, what surfaces your cat is “allowed” to be on, encouragement in using a scratching post (rather than your couch), nail trimming, etc. This takes some of the uncertainty out of learning for kittens and can relieve stress in new situations.
Positive rewards for positive behavior/interactions, routine, and consistency win the game here. Exposing your pet to a variety of safe new environments, people, and animals while they are growing is essential to helping them grow into a well adjusted adult cat.
Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS