Understanding Cat Behavior with Socialization
Why cats do the things they do and how they behave towards their human owners, other people, and other cats and animals depends on several factors including their individual personalities. But to a large extent, it depends on their socialization; more precisely on whether they are well socialized or not, whether they have been socialized as kittens or adults and their experience during the socialization process (having positive or negative experience with particular situations and environments).
The Best Time for Cat Socialization
The best time for cat socialization is between 2 to 8 weeks of age when kittens are most susceptible for interaction with people and other cats (and animals). During this period, kittens are also more likely to learn to be comfortable and relaxed when exposed to different sounds, smells, situations and environments. After the age of 8 weeks, they become less and less comfortable with unfamiliar people, environments and situations, and consequently, more and more difficult to socialize.
Well Socialized Kittens are Better Companions and More Affectionate Pets When Adults
Kittens that are well socialized are generally better companions and more affectionate pets when adults than their unsocialized counterparts. If they are handled by people from a very early age and if they have been exposed to most things they will encounter later in life, they are more likely to enjoy human company and be more receptive to less familiar and completely new things.
Cats that have never been handled by people while kittens often remain fearful and suspicious of people for a lifetime. Socializing such a cat can take several months to several years. And even then, she will never be truly relaxed with people. Instead, she will remain very shy and cautious.
Positive Experience Just as Important as Socialization Itself
In order for a cat to fully trust her human owner and enjoy human company, it is crucial for her not only to be well socialized but to have a positive experience from the socialization period. In other words, it is crucial for her not only to get used to being around and handled by people but to associate interaction with humans with fun and enjoyment. If the experience was stressful, painful or unpleasant, the cat will to try to avoid it at all costs, often into the adulthood. For that reason it is of utmost importance to make interaction with people as enjoyable and pleasant as possible. The same counts for things such as veterinary examination, bathing and other grooming/care procedures, strangers, other pets/animals, children, etc.
Socialization Doesn’t Require Early Separation of Kittens from the Mother
Due to the above mentioned reasons, it is crucial to start socializing kittens at a very young age. However, there is no need for them to be separated from their nursing mother. If she is well socialized, she won’t mind if people are touching and petting her kittens although she may be very protective during the first few days. If the protective behavior continues, kittens should be handled when their mother is away.