Unlike humans, kittens have a very short window of socialization. By the time they’re 12 weeks old, most of their understanding of how to interact with the world has been fully formed. While it is possible to teach older kittens and even cats to trust people and situations they haven’t encountered before, it takes a lot more patience. Here are five things you should do to ensure that your cute kitten turns into a happy cat.
1. Keep kittens with their mom and littermates for at least 12 weeks
Kittens learn how to interact with other cats through playing with their siblings. Play fighting teaches them limits and boundaries, and they learn about the world by watching their mother’s reaction to the environment. Kittens who don’t have these experiences are more likely to be shy, anxious, or aggressive.
2. Get them used to being handled
Start trimming your kittens’ nails, brushing their teeth, and grooming their fur while they’re still young. If you’ve ever had to groom a cat who’s not used to being brushed, you know it’s not pretty.
3. Train them to scratch the right things
Tempt your kittens to use a sisal scratch post or cardboard scratch tray by running your fingernails across the surface — the sound will probably bring them running. If that doesn’t work, use an interactive toy like a feather wand to coax them to the scratch post. When they dig into that delightful scratchy goodness, they’ll be hooked. Give them lots of praise when they scratch the post or tray.
4. Give them the human diversity experience
Expose your kittens to people of both genders and a variety of ages. Men and women, children and elders have different ways of moving and tones of voice. Kittens who are exposed to as much human variation as possible are more confident when they’re on the adoption floor or moving into their new homes.
5. Teach them to love the carrier
Whether they’re heading to the vet, moving to a new home with you, or accompanying you on a road trip, cats will have to be placed in carriers. Make travel a more pleasant experience for your kittens — and their people — by teaching them that the carrier is a place where awesome things happen. Cat behaviorist Amy Shojai wrote a how-to guide for carrier training, which you can find here.
Do you have any other tips and suggestions for raising well-adjusted kittens? Please share them in the comments!