Can imprinting take place between young kitten and human?

When a person raises a newborn cat, does imprinting take place whereby the kitten sees the person as his/her parent? It may not take place but this article is about whether it could take place and whether it does sometimes take place without the knowledge of the person.

Kitten imprinting? Do we know or realise it?
Kitten imprinting? Is it taking place? Photo by Sam.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

I am not referring to the usual close bond between a good cat caretaker and her cat. No doubt there is a close bond in that situation. I am referring the biological process called “imprinting”. There is a short window of opportunity for imprinting to take place.

Imprinting can only occur between a newborn or very young kitten and a person. It need not be a person but I am discussing the human/cat relationship. If imprinting does occur between a person and a newborn then the newborn cat will firmly recognise the person as her/his parent. It will be a hard-wired relationship.

This normally won’t occur because nearly all newborns are parented, initially, by their biological mother.  However, where a person raises a kitten from a very young age it seems plausible that the person could be imprinted on the kitten’s mind that she is the mother.

This may account for some exceptionally strong bonds between cat and person. This sort of relationship goes beyond the usual. It is pure biology. The well known example of animal imprinting is ducks flying with a person in a light aircraft when migrating. The video below (sad, in my opinion, as it is in China) shows a duck that has been imprinted with the notion that a puppy is his/her parent.

Let’s assume kitten to human imprinting takes place. On that basis, shouldn’t people be aware of it? It places the person in a greater than normal position of responsibility. The person genuinely becomes the cat’s parent. This is not about good standard cat caretaking but a person being the parent of a cat.

I have not seen this discussed on the internet. It does present a delicate question. If a person is a known excellent cat caretaker might it be a good idea if, under the right circumstances, she is imprinted on a cat’s mind as the parent because it will create the best possible bond. It could result in better relationship and better cat caretaking.

Foal imprinting
Deliberate foal imprinting. Photo by Sundance Stables.

Horse imprinting sometimes take place in some stables. It is done deliberately and it makes the foal that much….

….braver, calmer, more trusting, inquisitive and willing, and who see us, and their future owners, as friends and partners…(Sundance Stables)

Now, I don’t know if imprinting is a good thing. After all, it is taking some of the naturalness out of life for the young animal. However, if the animal is a domestic animal and therefore has to live in the human world, imprinting would seem to make the animal better adapted to being a companion. This is a tricky ethical question.


26 thoughts on “Can imprinting take place between young kitten and human?”

  1. I came home from work and this kitten has been all over my apartment complex down stairs. She ran up the stairs look d at me I said it’s ok and slowly reached out to pet her. She was hesitant at first ready to run but as soon as my fingers ran across the back of her neck and down her back she backed up looked at me then jumped onto my outside patio couch. Still unsure of me I said it’s ok and petted her again she backed up looked at me and then just dove onto my chest. Now me I’ve always been a dog man never liked cats. But I hen the cat jumped to my chest she started to lick my face my hand and then she rung herself on he back and stretched out like a dog will. I can rub her belly all I want I can’t go 5 feet without her at my feet to any other room. She now follows me like a dog I’ve not had this teenage cat for more then three hours she will grab my hand and just hold my thumb like my son did as a child she is laying on her back covered in my bed and holding onto my arm I have never seen a cat do this

  2. I walk in a pet store and quickly petted some very young black kitten.
    When talking with the staff, someone says whatch her, she was climbing a 4 foot fence to run and climb on my shoulder. The staff pick her up to get her back in the cage, Minwi escape the grip and ran back to my shoulder and fix me in my eyes like o cat ever did to me.
    I crack and brought her home.
    She is now 5 month old and I ve never a connection like that with any other cat.
    Yes a cat that choose you is fantastic


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