Socialization is the process by which a cat learns to relate appropriately to people, other cats and to her environment. Getting the
socialization of your kitten right in the first few months of life ensures your kitten will develop a secure, well-adjusted personality, improves the quality of the cat-owner relationship and is very important for preventing behaviour problems. Although cats will benefit from friendly handling throughout their life, it’s particularly important in their first weeks of life if they are to develop into friendly adults.
The “sensitive period” for socialization lies between 2 and 7 weeks of age in kittens which is earlier than the equivalent period in puppies.
Gentle handling should begin at 2 weeks of age for a few minutes several times a day. Over the next few weeks, the handling should be increased in duration and intensity so that kittens receive up to an hour a day in total. The kittens should also be spoken to softly during handling and if possible several different people should handle them.
During the socialization period the kitten is also learning about its environment. They increasingly spend time away from their mum exploring their surroundings and interacting with their litter mates. Play increases and their movements become more coordinated. Kittens are normally weaned during this time and will start to eat solid foods. Fear of the unfamiliar is best prevented by letting kittens have a wide range of experiences.
Gradual introduction to everyday sounds such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, door bells, etc. helps them adapt to the home environment. And although the vaccination program limits early direct contact, cats can be taken outside in a carry basket to experience sounds, sights and smells. The introduction of all this novelty should be on a gradual basis so as not to be too overwhelming. Kitty will feel safer if she is with her litter mates or mum when having new experiences.
The objective is that later on she will respond to new experiences with interest rather than fear or aggression.