A picture of a grey and white kitten playing with a cat teaser

Early kittenhood: Socialisation and habituation

Lucy Hoile

The first eight weeks of kittenhood are key to helping a kitten get used to the world and become a well-rounded feline.

Below, expert feline behaviourist Lucy Hoile shares her top tips on early kitten socialisation and habituation. Plus, learn what positive signs to look for when choosing a kitten.



A picture of a kitten sitting in the lap of a young girl

Kitten socialisation

Socialisation is all about getting a cat used to the people and animals in their life. The critical window for socialising a kitten is the first two to eight weeks of their life.

As kittens don’t leave for their new homes until at least eight weeks old, this responsibility usually falls on the breeder.


> How to socialise a kitten

Always remember that any meetings or interactions should:

  • Be calm, relaxed, and positive
  • Allow the kitten to approach in their own time and interact on their terms
  • Not be overwhelming or too much too soon

You can use toys or kitten treats to invite a kitten over and help build that positive association.

When socialising a kitten, the main focus is getting them comfortable with a wide range of people. This could include introducing them to:

  • Babies and toddlers
  • Young children and teenagers
  • Men and women
  • A variety of hair/beard colours and styles
  • Different ethnicities and cultures
  • Different clothes
  • Glasses – eye contact is important to cats and glasses can spook them

Having friendly adult cats and dogs meet the kitten can help make them comfortable living in multi-cat or dog households. But don’t worry if this isn’t possible – no experience is better than a negative one.

Breeders should be mindful of keeping away cats in the house who don’t like the kittens. You don’t want the kittens exposed to hissing and fighting.


A picture of a Birman kitten sitting on a robot vacuum

Kitten habituation

Habituation is about getting a cat used to their environment, including different sights, sounds, and smells.

This means gradually exposing a kitten so they’re comfortable with the everyday sounds of a house, such as:

  • TV
  • Vacuum
  • Pots and pans
  • Doors opening and closing
  • Raised voices
  • Footsteps going up and down the stairs

It can be difficult to re-create these noises in a rescue centre, so you may need to turn on the radio or bring in items from home. You can also search for videos online to play on low volume for a rescue kitten.

Don’t habituate a cat to traffic noises as we want them to be careful and hesitant around roads.

Remember also to get your kitten used to:

  • Carriers – leave a carrier out and about for the kitten to explore whenever they like.
  • Car travel – you’ll need to make several trips to the vet for check-ups and vaccinations. So try taking your kitten out for a few short drives around the corner so they can get used to it without anything scary happening.


A picture of a sleepy kitten cuddled up with with their owner

How to get a kitten used to being handled

Kittens are recommended around 40 minutes of daily gentle handling, broken down into small amounts throughout the day.

Carefully pick them up, stroke them, and cuddle them without roughhousing. This helps the kitten get used to handling in a way that’s easy to accept.

You’ll also want them to get comfortable with:

  • Being handled by different people
  • Having their paws touched
  • Someone looking in their ears, eyes, and mouth – common in vet check-ups
  • Grooming – especially if they’re a long-haired cat

Try and also get the kitten used to vet instruments if possible. That could include clipping their nails and raising them onto a table.


A picture of four tabby kittens sitting on a cat tree

How to choose a kitten

When looking for a kitten it’s important to ask the breeder lots of questions and not be afraid to question them. For example, what steps have they in place to socialise the kittens?

Equally, the breeder should ask you questions about your family and home set-up to make sure it’s the right match.

Other things to look out for when choosing a kitten:

  • Are they confident and playful or timid and shy, as this personality carries through to their new home
  • Have they had at least one vaccination
  • Have they been microchipped
  • Do they come with cat insurance
  • Do they look healthy – clear eyes, no runny nose, no signs of parasites
  • Can you meet mum, if not both parents – not being able to meet mum is a big red flag
  • Is either parent feral or unfriendly – reactive genes, stress, and negative behaviour can be passed onto the kittens

As a general rule, make sure you’re getting good vibes from the breeder (whether they’re professional or accidental) and have the kittens’ best interests at heart.


> How to choose a rescue kitten

When it comes to choosing a rescue kitten, you’ll want to ask:

  • Where they come from
  • At what stage were they brought in, or were they born in the rescue centre
  • How have they been so far in terms of personality and behaviour

Finally – if you can – try and take home two kittens instead of one. This is key to making sure they have lots of stimulation, especially if you’re not home as much. Look for compatible kittens who are already playing and sleeping together.

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