Cat socialization to people must start within first six or seven weeks

To be effective cat socialisation to people must start within the first six or seven weeks. Once started it continues for several weeks.

My cat the moment he was socialized
My cat the moment he was socialized
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

A study by Dr Bradshaw confirms the above. In the 1990s Dr Bradshaw worked with the UK charity Cats Protection in order to study the age at which the socialisation of kittens should take place. The Cats Protection organisation rescue stray and feral cats.

They have first hand experience of dealing with kittens born ‘in the wild’ so to speak. These kittens are born in back gardens and so on without any contact with people until rescued.

Bradshaw confirmed what is general accepted today namely that ‘the older the kitten when it was first handled, the less friendly it seemed to be – at least to begin with’.

Kittens who received no human contact until they were six-weeks-of-age ‘behaved distinctly from normal kittens’. He means they behaved differently from kittens who had been fully socialised. He says this difference in behaviour continued after settling in at their rehoming centres.

When rescued at aged 6 the kitten rarely purred when stroked and were not easy to handle. When rescued at 8 weeks old the kitten was difficult to handle while at 10 weeks the kitten was ‘virtually wild’. They are unlikely to become pets Bradshaw says. They’ll have to be stray or feral cats all their lives.

Adult feral cats are socialised successfully

This clashes with the experiences of some great feral cat caretakers such as Yvette in Australia who has socialised 700 feral cats! And they have been rehomed and live as great companions in homes. Sometimes it took her 18 months maximum to socialise a single feral cat. Such patience.

Yvette Harper with one of her cats

Play the audio file to hear how Yvette socialises feral cats….
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Interestingly kittens rescued at 11 weeks but touched by people at 8 weeks behaved in a way suggesting they had been socialised at 7 weeks of age.

Handled by more than one person

The way kittens are handled once rescued also plays a role in socialisation. In order to make them more relaxed around strangers two or more people should handle the kittens.

Kittens socialised to one person become attached to that person but are wary of others. Kittens socialised to several people are more accepting of unfamiliar people but not so attached to a single person.

Despite late socialisation feral kittens normally become good human companions. My experience tells me that they do retain a wild side in terms of hunting skills and drive and caution around strangers.

Shelter feral kittens often receive more intensive socialisation which may make them more friendly than kittens born at the shelter.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

4 thoughts on “Cat socialization to people must start within first six or seven weeks”

  1. Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

    Monty definitely is a cautious cat. His socialization began at nine weeks or so. He was just outside the optimal window for socializing him.

    He is doing better all the time, becoming more tolerant of visitors, sleeping on our bed instead of under it.

    But he does catch a lot of mice and he is quite intense about defending his territory. There is a wild side to him, but he can be very sweet. When he is aggressive towards humans I see that it stems from fear. I don’t know everything that happened to him before I caught him. Maybe I don’t want to. He is a fine companion for me and I’m glad to provide a home for him but he is a bit different from other cats I’ve known.

  2. My now 9 year old Tomcat Matata was born in my house in 2009 along with 5 other kittens. Hence since birth he was accustomed to the presence and handling by humans. At 2 months of age I gave away the 5 other kittens and kept ” Matata ” the odd brown color first born of the litter. Strangely ” Matata ” is prettified of strangers and hides in the house as soon as our house bell is rung or some stranger enters our house. His 11 year old Dam Matahari is just the opposite and lies majestically on the couches or table whenever strangers enter our house akin to a ” Cat beauty contest “. It always confuses me as to the reason for Tomcat Matata behaving like a wild animal in the presence of strangers.

  3. All of the rescues I’ve talked to locally take kittens at 4 weeks. Those kittens should be placed in a foster with their siblings and other kittens the same age and adult cats who nurture.
    The kittens should not be adopted out until at least 12 weeks but many shelters here allow them to go at 8 weeks if they are sufficient weight to undergo S/N.
    Feral is not the same as wild and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. You can eventually tame an adult feral likewise you will never tame an adult tiger.
    Wild animals rescued may form strong bonds with certain humans but they are never predictable.
    With kittens taken from colonies not only is handling important so is being with other kittens the same age who teach them how to behave with tooth and claw.
    My babies were always confined to a small area until they established good litterbox habits. Most kits have a small radius where they can literally make it in time.
    I believe one of the reasons some kittens born to feral mothers have such a strong hunting drive is the survival of the fittest. Only cats that could fend for themselves could raise a family. And only the kittens as adults that posses that drive live any significant time to reproduce.

    1. Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

      There’s a zoo, maybe in New Zealand but I am not sure, where they had successfully tamed tigers. They did it by having humans with them 24/7. So long as they kept the tigers with humans all the time the cats remained tame. But that didn’t mean they were safe. One of the handlers had his knee blown out by a big cat. A tiger is a big and powerful animal and as it jumped away from him the back paw gave lateral pressure to his knee. Ouch.

      I think a cat is a cat and if you put the time into it you could socialize even bigger cats but because of their size and the fact that they are predators at heart you would never really be safe living with them.

      How many times has Monty playfully pounced on me? A tiger does that and you would be hurting. Turn your back and walk away fast and a tiger’s prey drive could be activated. My mom knows someone who works at a big cat rescue and he got mauled when he turned his back and walked away from the cats. He had been taught to always back out of the enclosure but he became complacent.

      It’s amazing that we can safely live with an animal as equally as magnificent as a tiger when we share our homes with domestic cats.

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