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How to socialize a kitten: teach your young cat good manners

A ginger cat and ginger kitten being affectionate towards each other
(Image credit: Getty)

No matter how much of the best kitten food you’ve been feeding your cat, or perhaps enticing them to behave with the best kitten treats, there’s always work you can do improve the social skills of your pet.

Socializing a kitten should mean that you end up with a well-tempered, happy and healthy adult cat that doesn’t display worrying or some of the common kitten behaviour problems. They can be at ease in your household with children, other cats and even other animals such as dogs providing the right work is put in consistently and from an early age. 

The hard work of socializing kittens should start from a very young age - so you should find that your breeder has been working with them to get them started on the right path already.

If you’re adopting a kitten, you might find you have a harder challenge ahead of you, but, you can still ask rehoming centres about socialization and/or any problems that they might have identified that you should be trying to resolve.

Before you start on the socialization, you might want to look at our top six kitten care tips: which is a vet’s guide to the techniques you should think about employing. 

When to socialize kittens

Kittens should be socialized from an extremely young age, starting from as young as two weeks. Between the ages of two to seven weeks is when the bulk of socialization should be done, with kittens needing to stay with their mother until they are at least eight weeks old - indeed their mother and littermates will form a good bulk of the socialization they need. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your breeder as many questions as you can before you commit to buy or take home your cat. Think about your set-up at home, such as whether there’s a dog also living at home, or very young children - and whether the breeder has already done some work in that area.

Make sure you go and see a kitten in its home before agreeing to buy or adopt. If you find that the kitten runs up to you and craves attention, there’s a good chance that it has already been well socialized and will be a happy cat. If however they exhibit shyness and are fearful, you might have a steeper learning curve ahead of you both. 

That said, the work doesn’t stop at eight weeks, so you’ll want to practice good socialization techniques as soon as you bring your cat home. It doesn’t hurt to keep refreshing these techniques as the cat grows and even into adulthood. 

Following these five essential kitten training tips is a great idea as soon as you can, too.

A woman with black hair touching a grey kitten on the nose

(Image credit: Getty)

How to socialize a kitten with humans 

Happy kittens tend to seek affection from humans which come to visit them in a familiar environment, but remember it can be overwhelming for new kittens as soon as they enter a new home - so don’t be surprised if they revert to being a bit shy at first. 

It’s important to give your new cat the time and space they need to progress from being a kitten up to adulthood, by not rushing the socialization process. Play close attention to how your cat behaves, and if you think you’re introducing too much too soon, scale your efforts back. 

A good and fun way to socialize your cat with humans is simply to play with them. Rewarding for both of you, it should give your kitten the opportunity to explore new surroundings and toys, while introducing new scents, experiences and even other humans that live in your house all at the same time.

Make sure that humans that are interacting with your kitten are calm and approach the cat gently and calmly too, perhaps limiting new introductions to one or two humans at a time.

Another way to socialize kittens with humans is through food. When introducing wet food to your kitten for the first time, make sure to stay in the same room as them so your presence is happily associated with food. If you have a particularly nervous kitten, you can move the bowl of food closer to you over a series of days.

Once they’re used to you being there, you can start to stroke or pet them gently while they eat, being careful not to spook or disturb them as you do so.

How to socialize a kitten with other cats

If you’ve already got a cat or cats at home, you might be wondering how your newest addition is likely to settle in.

Once again, it’s about a slow, steady and consistent approach to get the best results. You should be preparing your older cat for a new kitten in the days and weeks leading up to the new arrival, such as by blocking off a specific area that your current cat doesn’t need access to.

Setting up a specific area for the kitten is the best way to avoid any turf wars when you first bring them home, and allows for gradual introductions to be made. 

Once you’ve adopted your kitten, allow them to spend some time in your house while your existing cat is confined to a specific room. This should allow both of them to understand the smells of the other one. 

Eventually, you’ll be able to introduce them to each other - with careful supervision to make sure there are no arguments which get out of hand. 

Make sure to read our guide on how to introduce a new kitten to a cat for more detailed information on this kind of socialization. 

How to socialize a scared kitten 

Some cats are naturally more fearful than others, while if you've rescued a kitten that hasn’t been properly socialized, you might be starting with a scared kitten. 

Don’t panic, there’s still plenty you can do to help transform your scaredy cat into a happy and loving adult. 

The key thing here is to remain calm and show a huge amount of patience. Don’t expect a transformation quickly, and work at the pace your cat seems to be comfortable with. 

When you bring the cat home for the first time, confine it to a small room which has all the essentials - food, water, a bed, a litter box - already in it. You should also try to include some safe and cat-friendly hiding places, but ones that you can easily access yourself should you need to. Sturdy boxes with blankets in them are good for this purpose. 

To help the cat get used to the general noise of your house, try playing the TV or radio in the room that the cat is in, which should also help to block out any sudden or sharp noises (such as doorbells or pans clattering) coming from elsewhere that may startle the cat. 

Next, it’s just a question of waiting and approaching your cat slowly - but confidently. Don’t try to grab them or pick them up when they don’t want to be, and try to understand when they just want to be left alone. Use food and toys to encourage happy behaviour towards you - eventually you’ll get there with a gentle approach.

Amy Davies is a freelance writer and photographer with over 15 years experience. She has a degree in journalism from Cardiff University and has written about a huge variety of topics over the years. These days she mostly specialises in technology and pets, writing across a number of different titles including TechRadar, Stuff, Expert Reviews, T3, Digital Camera World, and of course PetsRadar. She lives in Cardiff with her dog, Lola, a rescue miniature dachshund.