To be effective cat socialisation to people must start within the first six or seven weeks. Once started it continues for several weeks.
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.
Play the audio file to hear how Yvette socialises feral cats….
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.