Was it Saint Francis Xavier, the founder of the Jesuit Order who said something like, “Give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the man”? I suppose he was referring to the first seven years of the life of a child during which, through good parenting, he could be molded into a good man.
If the first seven years of a human life are the sensitive years for development of the child, the first seven weeks is the sensitive period to socialise a kitten. More accurately it is said that the period is from 2 – 7 weeks of age.
Socialisation means instilling in the cat behavior that we find acceptable towards us and other animals.
During the first seven weeks the kitten is highly responsive to “interactions with others and to opportunities to form social attachments”1. The social attachments refer to the human caretaker(s) and other companion animals.
Without this period of socialisation the kitten is likely to be fearful of humans.
Socialisation is achieved by handling the kittens and interacting with them. Interactions with other socialised animals is also beneficial.
The most effective period for socialisation training is during the first four weeks. Thirty minutes or more every day is required, it is said1.
The amount of handling and interaction can be increased as the kitten becomes older (from 7 – 14 weeks of age). This enhances the cat’s sociability later in life.
This sensitive period of socialisation for kittens is very important for cat breeders for obvious reasons. Breeders achieve this by letting their kittens roam around the house interacting with other companion animals such as dogs and the breeder themselves.
Socialization is the nurture element in the nature-nurture influences that dictate the behavior of cats and people.
The inherited genes of the cat also dictate how the kitten will turn out in terms of behavior.
There are two basic types of cat: (1) outgoing and confident and (2) shy and retiring. Although the categorisation is not settled and is open to debate.
The outogoing cat will naturally be more open to the socialisation process.
1. The Cat, Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health page 120. ISBN 978-0-8138-0331-9