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The importance of socialising your kitten

Kittens that are exposed to a variety of people, animals, sounds and environments are healthier and happier

Start socialising them early, ideally when they are 2-7 weeks old, and keep it going for a year(Unsplash/Azimbek Assarov)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 07.03.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

Over the past decade, more homes have been welcoming cats as pets. With busy work schedules and the prevalence of apartment living in urban areas, cats are popular as pets due to their independent nature. Despite their self-sufficiency, cats still have specific needs that require attention. Many cats exhibit signs of anxiety and fear when faced with new situations or environments.

Socialising your kitten early on by exposing them to different people, animals, sounds and environments sets them up to be a confident and well-adjusted adult cat. A well-socialised cat is more likely to be outgoing and curious, and less likely to be anxious or fearful. Kittens that aren’t properly socialised might develop fear-based behaviours such as hiding, hissing and showing aggression towards people or other animals.

Socialising your kitten isn’t a sprint—it’s more like a stroll. Start the process early, ideally when they are 2-7 weeks old, and keep it going for a year. During this time, introduce them to people, other pets, babies, noises, and places. This will make them more confident and adaptable.

Also read: Read your cat’s behaviour

Help your kitten get used to being handled gently and touched all over. Begin with short sessions of soft strokes, gradually increasing the time as your kitten gets more relaxed. Get them used to a harness and leash. Try leaving a collar on them for short bursts and rewarding them when they are comfortable with it. Once they are comfortable, you can also start with short walks in a safe, enclosed area like a balcony, terrace, or garden to expose them to new sights, sounds and textures. Gradually progress to taking them outside.

Playtime isn’t just about fun—it’s a prime opportunity for socialisation with your kitten. Grab some toys, like feather wands and balls, to get your kitten engaged. Let your kitten explore new things at their own pace, giving them plenty of chances to sniff, climb and investigate.

Ensure that they meet other pets during this period. Invite friends and family over and have them interact with your kitten. When introducing them to another cat, dog or a baby, ensure that the initial meetings are supervised, and your kitten has a safe space to retreat to when it feels the need.

Kittens who miss out on socialisation may develop troubling behaviours like excessive grooming, scratching or self-harm due to stress and anxiety. For instance, relentless grooming can lead to painful skin infections or sores. Plus, anxious kittens may resort to destructive behaviours like chewing on inappropriate items, risking gastrointestinal blockages or injuries.

Socialisation is all about giving kittens opportunities for physical activity and mental stimulation. Without these experiences, kittens may become couch potatoes, losing interest in their surroundings. This lack of activity can pave the way for health issues like obesity and digestive problems.

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Regular trips to the vet are essential for keeping your kitten healthy and happy. Take them in on time for their vaccinations so they get used to their vet handling them. When it comes to the carrier and car rides, ease them into it gradually. Leave the carrier out in the open so they can explore it on their terms, rather than only bringing it out when it’s time for a vet visit. You can also make it a positive experience by feeding them meals in the carrier. During vet visits, reward them for staying calm with treats and praise to reinforce positive behaviour.

When kittens miss out on proper socialisation, it’s not just their behaviour that suffers—it can affect their mental and physical health too.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

Also read: How to teach pets and children to coexist