PDSA's Care Advice

Kitten socialisation

What is socialisation?

The experiences a kitten has during the early weeks of life are crucial in shaping their behaviour as an adult cat.

Kittens have a sensitive period (their first 8 - 10 weeks of age) which is when they get used to the things around them. Once they’ve experienced things during this period, called the ‘socialisation period’, they are less likely to be scared as adults. During this period kittens need to get used to people, other animals and everyday sights and sounds.

Why is it important to socialise my kitten?

Good, early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted cats. Sadly, without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous, which often leads to behaviour problems.

Whose responsibility is it to socialise kittens?

Most kittens are still at home with their mother during the socialisation period, so it is up to the owner or breeder of the litter to make sure that the kittens are well socialised. If you are thinking about getting a kitten, check that they have been exposed to different people and other pets, as well as normal household sounds at the breeder’s house. If they are not properly socialised, you may have problems later. You should continue to give kittens lots of positive experiences when they arrive at their new home.

Image of a suitable toy for kittens and cats

Toys

Is play important for cats?

Most cats love playing, which provides good exercise and allows them to behave naturally. Many people think that kittens stop playing when they get older, but many adult cats enjoy daily play with their owners, using suitable toys.

What are the best types of toys for kittens and cats?

The best types of cat toys are those that encourage chasing and hunting-type behaviour. Toys that do this are those that move quickly and unpredictably. Good examples are fishing rod-type toys, or balls intended for cats and kittens. Suitable cat toys are available from most pet shops and pet supermarkets.

Scratching (claw conditioning)

Why do cats need to scratch something?

Scratching (or claw conditioning) is part of normal cat behaviour and is used to keep their claws healthy and leave scent marks.

What type of scratching post is best for my cat?

A scratching post needs to be stable and tall enough for your cat to exercise at full body stretch. If it doesn’t allow this, the cat may choose your furniture instead!

Cat flaps 

Should my cat have a cat flap? 

A cat flap can be a good way of giving a cat free access to a garden but can also cause problems if other cats are using the flap to come into the home. This can be very stressful for cats and can be linked to stress-related medical problems. If this is happening you should consider using a cat flap that is operated by a collar or microchip.

For more information on cat flaps visit our Sureflap page.

PDSA's Findings

PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for cats and their behaviour.

Graph showing what cats are afraid of, the vacuum cleaner scores highest

Overview
 

A safe and effective socialisation programme is essential for young kittens. Good, early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted cats. Without positive early experiences cats can become nervous and this often leads to behavioural problems, such as aggression, in later life.

Key findings
 

1.3 million Cats show aggression to other pets on a weekly basis.

  • 11% of cats show aggression towards other pets on a weekly basis. In households with three or more cats this figure increases to 21%.
     
  • 48% of owners do not know what socialisation their cat has had. This is not surprising considering the fact that 33% of cats are acquired from rescue centres and 10% as strays so the owner is unlikely to know the history of the cat during the key socialisation period.
     
  • Compared with dogs there is a much larger proportion of cats that are aggressive to other pets (21% in multi-cat households compared with 5% of dogs that are aggressive to other pets).
     
  • 30% of cats regularly scratch the furniture, suggesting that the type or number of scratching posts provided for cats is unsuitable.


Improve one thing today ... Play with your cat using a variety of toys to keep them mentally and physically healthy.

“The social life of domestic cats is relatively complex compared to dogs, as cats will generally only tolerate living in close proximity to cats they have grown up with; other cats are often seen as a threat. Therefore, it is sadly not surprising that aggression increases with the number of cats in the household. Owners should think very carefully, and take appropriate professional advice, before introducing additional cats into their home.”
Jenna Kiddie BSc MSc The Royal Veterinary College
 

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