is the process during which
the kitten develops relationships
with other living beings in
cats develop, there are numerous
stimuli (sounds, smells, sights
and events) that when they are
unfamiliar, can lead to fear
and anxiety. Habituation is
the process of getting used
to and not reacting to those
stimuli by continuous exposure
under circumstances that have
no untoward consequences.
is the process during which
the kitten develops attachment
to particular places.
are these terms important?
that receive insufficient exposure
and contact with people, other
animals and new environments
during their first two months
may develop irreversible fears,
leading to timidity or aggression.
Expose your kitten to as many
stimuli (people, places and
things), when they can most
effectively socialize, localize,
and habituate to these stimuli.
The first 1 to 3 months of life
are the most critical periods
in the social development of
cats a social species?
they are fairly independent
and can do well on their own,
cats are quite social. Although
feline social behavior has not
been as extensively studied
as for the dog, the domestic
cat is much more social than
has been traditionally reported.
There are many situations where
cats live together in groups
and interact in a friendly manner.
The composition of these groups
differs from dog groupings.
Usually they consist of mothers,
daughters, aunts and grandmothers;
female cats that are related.
In large colonies, there may
be many smaller related groups
sharing the same space. Male
cats will leave the group but
return for breeding. Males that
have been neutered join the
group in much the same way as
females. Colonies of feral (wild)
cats will be found in areas
where food is abundant and shared,
such as barns, dumpsites or
around fishing ports. The cats
in the group will allogroom
(lick each other) and allomark
(rub against each other). They
will share the raising of kittens,
fostering others from different
cats have "personalities"?
has shown that it may be possible
to classify cat "personalities"
similar to what has been done
for dogs. One such study identified
cats that were shy, timid or
fearful and those that were
confident. The timid cats took
significantly longer to approach
persons and be held by them.
Another study identified cats
that were "shy" and
those that were "trusting".
That research noted that trusting
cats were trusting regardless
of where they encountered people;
while shy cats were more fearful
the further from home they were
encountered. Based on these
and other studies there are
two common personality types:
(a) sociable, confident and
easygoing; (b) timid, shy and
unfriendly. Some other research
has also indicated an active
aggressive type as well. What
influences the development of
personality type? Not surprisingly
studies have confirmed that
not only is personality inherited
from the mother, but that friendliness
specifically is, in part, inherited
from the father.
does the mother cat (or queen)
teach her kittens?
are very good at observational
learning. This occurs when an
animal watches a behavior being
performed by another. The queen
starts to teach her kittens
at a young age. From the queen,
kittens learn elimination behaviors
and predatory behavior. Kittens
will begin to spend time in
the litter box at about 30 days
of age and will learn appropriate
litter usage through observation
of the queen and certain olfactory
(smell) cues. If allowed access
to prey, the queen will begin
to bring them to her offspring
at about 32 - 36 days of age
and teach them to hunt. The
kittens will also begin to be
weaned and eat solid food at
the same age. The choice of
food is also influenced by the
queen. Play between kittens
is also an important part of
social development, particularly
for those kittens that will
be housed with other cats later
can I do to improve my chances
of having a social non-fearful
Selection: The genetics of an
individual cat plays a critical
role in how sociable, playful,
fearful, excitable, or domineering
a kitten will become. The first
issue in helping to ensure that
a kitten will be friendly and
social when it grows up is to
choose an appropriate kitten
for your family. Since cats
have a variety of personality
types, the question is whether
these personality types can
be determined at the time of
selection. As kitten socialization
begins to decline at about 7
weeks of age, selection testing
may become increasingly more
accurate after this age. Therefore
assessing older kittens and
adult cats may provide more
addition to genetics, early
handling and the situations,
people and other animals that
your cat is exposed to during
development, (especially during
the primary socialization period),
are important factors that contribute
to your cat's adult personality.
Therefore, knowledge of the
breed, assessment of the kitten's
parents and evaluation of the
kitten's environment and
upbringing are important considerations
when selecting a kitten. Some
important questions to ask are:
Has there been adequate exposure
to people, both adults and children?
Has the kitten been handled
frequently, preferably on a
daily basis for at least 15
minutes? How does the kitten
behave when picked up by prospective
owners? Does it hiss, bite or
scratch, or does the kitten
purr and solicit affection?
Does the kitten approach people
or does it stand away? What
has been the historical behavior
of the queen and tom? Did they
hunt and/or have access to prey?
Do they have a good history
of litter usage, and what type
of litter material is used?
What are the feeding habits
and preferences of the parents?
General observation of the temperament
of both the kittens in the litter
and the parents is helpful.
Are they outgoing, shy or timid?
Assessment of young kittens
is likely of limited value if
the kittens are still progressing
through the primary socialization
period, and the assessment of
the parents may provide just
as much information.
Kittens that are stimulated
and handled from birth are more
confident, more social, more
exploratory, faster to mature
and are better able to handle
stress as they develop. Early
handling of kittens decreases
their approach time to strangers
and increases the amount of
time that they stayed with them.
The more handling the better
but even 15 minutes a day will
help to improve later behavior.
Regular and frequent handling
from birth increases the likelihood
that the kitten will relate
well to people when placed into
a home after weaning at 6 to
9 weeks of age. Therefore, kittens
obtained from a breeder or home
where they have had frequent
contact and interaction with
the owners are likely to be
more social and less fearful
as they develop.
of cats to people is variable.
The two most important factors
appear to be the cat's
genetic personality, and the
amount of socialization it receives
during the sensitive period
of socialization which is thought
to be 3 - 7 weeks of age. Certainly,
the greater exposure a kitten
has to humans of all ages, other
pets and novel situations, the
better adjustment that kitten
will have. Therefore the best
options may be to obtain a kitten
from a home where good socialization
has already taken place, or
a new kitten prior to
7 weeks of age and insure immediate
best should I introduce my new
kitten to my home?
interaction with your new kitten
begins on the ride home. Cats
should always be transported
in some kind of carrier in the
car. By teaching your kitten
to ride in a confined location
you are providing safety for
your cat in future car rides.
Upon arriving at home, place
the kitten in a small, quiet
area with food and a litter
box. If the kitten is very tiny,
a small litter box with lowered
sides may be necessary at first.
If possible, duplicate the type
of litter material used in the
previous home (see our handout
on House-training – using
the litter box).
first place you put your new
kitten should be inspected for
nooks and crannies where a kitten
might hide or get stuck. Often
in a new environment, a kitten
may look for a secluded place
to hide. However, all kittens
and cats will need to investigate
their new surroundings. For
a new kitten this is a more
manageable task if you limit
space available and initially
supervise the kitten. When cats
do investigate they use a random
method of search. After your
new kitten has had some quiet
time in a restricted location,
slowly allow access to other
areas of the home.
are natural explorers and will
use their claws to climb up
onto anything possible. In the
first few weeks slow access
to the home will allow exploration
as well as the ability to monitor
the kitten's behavior.
information sheet is based on
material written by Debra Horwitz,
DVM, DACVB and
Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn
Inc. Used with permission under
license. March 11, 2004.