What is socialization?
“Socializing” a cat means getting a cat used to a variety of experiences (e.g., different people, sounds, smells) in a positive way. It is particularly important for these experiences to be things the cat will encounter on a regular basis in your home or with your lifestyle. We want our cats to feel comfortable and minimize the amount of fear a cat feels when encountering something new.
Why is socialization important?
Developing social skills
If a kitten or cat is exposed to people, other pets, and new experiences in a positive manner, it is more likely to respond in a friendly manner towards other humans and animals as it grows up.
Confidence building, fear minimizing
The experiences your cat has during the socialization period will help shape general patterns of how your kitten will react to situations later on. This is why slowly getting your dog used to a variety of people, experiences, and sounds is important. A well socialized cat is more likely to be outgoing and social, and integrate better into a family. In addition, the cat will be better able to deal with normal life stresses such as changes in your schedule and/or its routine, visitors coming to the house, family members coming and going, and adding new pets into the household. Cats that have not been exposed to many different things are more likely to be timid and be suspicious and anxious of things they haven’t yet experienced. These cats are more likely to react with fear and/or aggression to unfamiliar experiences.
When should kittens be socialized?
Many experts suggest the primary and most important socialization period for a kitten occurs from approximately three to nine weeks of life. Good sources will begin to sell kittens at approximately 8 weeks of age at the earliest; therefore, the initial socialization of a kitten is often the responsibility of an animal source. This is why it is a good idea to ask the animal source you’re considering how they have socialized your prospective pet. For more questions to ask animal sources, check out our “Questions to ask” page.
Although we have said the primary socialization period for a kitten is from three to nine weeks of life, it is possible to socialize an older kitten or adult cat! Be patient and work slowly to get your cat comfortable with its surroundings and to begin modifying its behaviour.
What kinds of things should I expose my kitten to?
It would be impossible to try to expose your cat to everything it will encounter in its whole life! However, the more things you expose your kitten to within the first few months of life, the more likely the kitten will be able to generalize from previous experiences and find something familiar in a new situation. It’s important to get your cat used to different people, environments, experiences (e.g., physical handling for veterinary exams), and sounds that it will encounter on a regular basis.
In saying this, remember, you also want to make the experience a positive one. When exposing your cat to a new situation, it is important to watch your cat’s response. You don’t want your cat to become too overwhelmed or overly fearful. If your cat looks scared, you will need to tone down the exposure and introduce the situation even more gradually. In order to ensure the experience was positive, always reward your cat after a socialization experience. A reward could be in the form of praise, petting, giving a treat, or some combination of these.
Please see this checklist that was developed by Dr. Sophia Yin for ideas as to what you could expose your kitten or cat to and how to gage your cat’s response during exposures. Remember, you want to make the experience a positive one. Watch your cat’s response. Tone down the exposure if your kitten or cat shows fear. Give praise and treats to ensure that it is a positive experience.
American Association of Feline Practitioners. (n.d.). Importance of socializing your cat. Retrieved from http://www.catvets.com/cat-owners/socialization
Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. (2011). Feline social behaviour and selection of a new kitten. Retrieved from http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/vth/small-animal/community-practice/Pages/feline-social-behavior.aspx
Landsberg, G.M., Hunthausen, W.L., & Ackerman, L.J. (2012). Feline development: socialization period. In J. Rodenhuis and Z. Youd (Eds.), Behaviour Problems of the Dog and Cat (3rd Edition). Retrieved from
Yin, S. (2011). Kitten Socialization. Retrieved from http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/kitten-socialization