Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Socializing young kittens and puppies means giving them positive experiences with things they’ll encounter throughout their lives. Building positive associations early in life helps animals feel comfortable with new people and new situations. Animals that are well socialized when they’re young are less likely to develop fear-based behavior problems (like aggression) that could put them at risk of being sent to a shelter or euthanized later on.
Sensitive Period for Socialization
For kittens, the window of opportunity for socialization is very early: from 3 weeks to about 7 to 9 weeks of age.[1,2] The sensitive period is the time when a young kitten’s brain is most receptive to socialization. During these early weeks, a kitten is exploring and learning, developing neurological pathways that will help the kitten learn in the future. After the sensitive period, brain development shifts; kittens don’t make positive associations as quickly or easily and they’re more likely to be afraid of new things. This is why it’s so difficult, if not impossible, to convert a semi-feral adult cat into a cat that can be happy living as a house pet.
You will have noticed that the sensitive socialization period for kittens is nearly closed by the time they’re typically adopted or purchased. Socialization needs to start with the person caring for the mother cat and newborns. When you adopt or buy a kitten, continue providing socialization (at the kitten’s comfort level and pace) to reinforce what the kitten has already learned.
The socialization process should always be positive. Don’t force kittens to interact with strangers or other animals if they’re shy, and don’t push them to be near things that scare them. Let them choose whether to interact. Give them room to walk away and let them hide if they want to. Use positive reinforcement (food or play) to encourage them to interact and build their confidence.
The following suggestions are adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association. For more tips, check out the First Year of Life page on the Cat Friendly Homes website: https://catfriendly.com/life-stages/first-year-life/
Socializing Kittens Before Weaning
Socializing Kittens 8 to 12 Weeks Old
Older Kittens and Newly Adopted Adult Cats
1. Welfare implications of socialization of puppies and kittens. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 9, 2015. Accessed July 8, 2022. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/literature-reviews/welfare-implications-socialization-puppies-and-kittens
2. Todd Z. The sensitive period for socialization in puppies and kittens. Companion Animal Psychology. July 26, 2017. Accessed July 8, 2022. https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/07/the-sensitive-period-for-socialization.html
Photo by Haley Owens on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.