How well socialized is a cat? A test that will tell you.

Curious and seriously cute kitten
Curious and seriously cute kitten. Photo: Pinterest.
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As I see it, this is a test to assess the degree of socialisation of a domestic cat. I am working backwards from a study on the socialisation of kittens.

The researchers handled kittens at various stages of their young lives.

They handled some for the first time from:

  1. 3 weeks old;
  2. 7 weeks old;
  3. 14 weeks old.

The kittens handled from their 3rd week were happy to sit on a lap when they reached 14 weeks old.

The kittens who were handled at 7 weeks old stayed on the lap for a while but jumped off within 30 seconds.

The kittens who were handled for the first time at 14 weeks old stayed on the lap for less than 15 seconds.

The study seems to be a precise way to gauge the level of socialisation.

How long will a cat stay on a person’s lap? But there may be a weakness in the concept as some cats have personalities which predisposes them to like being on laps. This would blur this method of measuring the degree of socialisation.

The study confirms what we know, namely that there is a window of opportunity when a kitten can be socialised. Miss the window and you have a long journey to socialise.

All kittens are not born to be attached to people as Dr Bradshaw says. But they are born with the ability to learn how to become attached. This is a trait of the wildcat ancestor I’d argue.

Southern African wildcat
Southern African wildcat. Photo by hyper7pro on Flickr. Note: This cat is clearly semi-domesticated as the photographer wouldn’t have been able to approach so closely.

The African wildcat has the personality trait to become attached to humans via socialisation. Not all the small wild cats have this ability. For instance, the Asiatic leopard cat retains its fierce independence. When attempts are made to domestic the Asiatic leopard cat you only get so far. They have to be kept in an enclosure.

This makes sense because if all the small wild cats were as predisposed as the African wildcat to become attached to people it would have happened. They would have migrated towards villages and got matey with the humans as the wild cat does even today. There’d be more than one wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat.

Street cat regularly jumps on this person's lap when he comes by
Street cat regularly jumps on this person’s lap when he comes by. Photo: Pinterest.
Clouded leopard lap cat
Clouded leopard lap cat. This clouded leopard must have been socialised like a domestic cat. Clouded leopards are friendlier than the average wild cat as are snow leopards. Picture: in public domain.


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