A kitten that does not encounter a human until his or her 9th week or later is quite likely to be anxious when near people for the remainder of his life.
Scientists have come to the conclusion that cats need to begin learning about people much earlier than dogs need to. Dog breeders will want to handle their puppies before they are 8 weeks old. However, if they are not handled until that age the puppy can still become a well socialised dog with proper remedial treatment. This is not the case with cats, however.
A kitten born to a domestic cat can follow two paths. The factors which dictate which path the kitten – and then the adult cat – will follow depends on experiences very early on in the cat’s life.
One path is that of a confident, relaxed domesticated cat while the other is of a cat that finds difficulty fitting in with the life of humans and is therefore less likely to be confident and contented but perhaps fearful and timid or defensively aggressive.
Kittens start learning about people much earlier than puppies. In a study, kittens that were handled from their 3rd week were happy to sit on a person’s lap when they reached their 14th week of age. However, kittens who had had contact with people from 7 weeks of age jumped off a person’s lap within about 30 seconds. Kittens who had been handled only after 14 weeks of age would remain on a person’s lap for less than 15 seconds.
It was decided in this study that the variation in time a kitten remain a person’s lap was not due to the fact that some kittens were more active than others but rather due to the fact that very early handling had produced a powerful attraction to people. Indeed, when each kitten of varying degrees of socialisation was given the opportunity to cross the room to meet with one of his handlers, only the kittens that were handled at 3 weeks of age did so reliably.
Kittens that are handled late behave more like kittens that have not been handled at all. I don’t think that the importance of proper socialisation of domestic cats can be overstated. Any person who is involved in informal breeding of cats at home takes on a responsibility that perhaps she is unaware of. It is another reason why people should not be involved in careless or haphazard breeding of cats. There is an argument that there should be no deliberate breeding of cats in any event but careless breeding should be frowned upon.