Socialising kittens through appropriate play

Getting a new kitten is a very exciting time and they make a wonderful addition to the family. All pets are a commitment, so it’s very important to think about the impact your home and family can have on their development.

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Getting a new kitten is a very exciting time and they make a wonderful addition to the family. All pets are a commitment, so it’s very important to think about the impact your home and family can have on their development.

While kittens still live with their mother, they learn lots of new things from her and eventually they begin to develop their own personalities. Their natural instincts will also kick in and they will start investigating and honing these skills.

We often see and hear the word ‘socilaisation’ used when talking about cats, but what does this really mean? We’re going to explore the different factors.

Human socialisation

Human interaction is vital for a kitten’s development, it gets them used to being around and interacting with people, which helps them grow into a confident adult cat. This should be a gradual process and it’s important these interactions are introduced gently to ensure the kitten feels comfortable.

Kittens should have the choice of being fussed and spending time with their owners. Remember, not all interaction has to be hands on. Simply sitting and reading out loud to your kitten will help them get used to your voice. Using toys to interact with your kitten can also help you to build a stronger bond with them.

Playing is one of the main things you will see your kitten doing, it’s their way of entertaining themselves and it’s also a way for them to learn new things and practise their natural hunting   instincts.

Hunting instincts

Every cat has a desire to hunt, it’s one of their natural instincts. No cat is the same though, their natural drive to hunt will vary from cat to cat and some are better than others! All the playing and hunting you see from an adult cat has been practiced since they were kittens. Therefore, teaching appropriate play for a kitten is critical to prevent unwanted behaviours as they grow up.

Appropriate play

It’s tempting for everyone to play with their kitten, getting them to chase your hands or wiggling your feet under the duvet, but imagine this happening when the kitten has grown up. It’s going to hurt a lot more!

By playing with your kitten in this way and encouraging them to chase your movement, you are teaching them that it’s okay and they will be encouraged to continue behaving and playing in this way. If you then expect them to stop this behaviour as they grow up, you risk confusing your cat and this can be quite unfair.

Toys

When playing with your kitten, remember the following stages of play: ‘stalk, chase, catch and kill’.

We recommend using feather and wand toys when playing with your kitten. You’ll be able to see their hunting instincts kick in. By wiggling a feather or wand, they’ll be able to catch the end and pounce on it. Make sure they miss it on occasion though, no cat would catch their prey perfectly every time!

Ever seen a kitten grab on to slippers or toys and hold them in their front paws, kicking at them with their back paws?

This is another crucial part of a kitten’s play session, this is where they get all their frustration and energy out.

Providing toys for them to do this will help your kitten feel satisfied and calm after a great playing session. This will enable them to exhibit their behaviours in a natural way and teaches them what’s appropriate play as they grow up.

Laser pointer pens

Many cats love chasing lights, pouncing and jumping on it, but because they’re unable to physically catch the light, this can leave them frustrated. For this reason, we suggest avoiding laser pointer pens when playing with your cat. Because of the frustration a cat may feel after a play session like this with a laser pen, this could cause behavioural problems for example, attacking owners for no obvious reason.

Using laser pointers can often promote light chasing in cats and although this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue during play sessions, other reflections of light cannot be avoided all the time. This in turn, encourages light chasing at inappropriate times, leaving destruction in their path.

Environment

Coming into a new environment can be pretty scary for kittens. There are lots of new things for them to experience, including unusual noises and smells that they may have never seen or heard before. Make sure you provide a safe and quiet area for your cat to relax, this will help them adapt to their new surroundings much quicker.

There is no right or wrong way for a kitten to react in these situations, some will be bold and want to know what's going on, so might explore their surroundings, while others might hide and take it slow.  Either way is ok and you should allow your kitten to do what’s right for them.

Leaving the radio on quietly will help your cat get used to voices and may come in a handy as a useful distraction from everyday noises in the home.

Other pets

Rehoming more than one kitten can seem like the best idea as they’ll have companionship and a play mate. Although this is true and as much as it’s a pleasure to watch them grow up together, when they reach maturity, this relationship can change. They may become distant and wish to have more space on their own away from each other. For this reason, we suggest allowing each cat to have their own supplies such as feeding stations, sleeping areas and toileting areas. They may still choose to use the same space, but providing multiple resources enables the cats to have choice and helps to reduce any competition or threat between them.

For any pre-existing animals in the home, we advise taking the introductions very slowly. It can be a daunting experience for both pets, so rushing this could easily cause stress. For more information on introducing your cat to an existing cat or pet in the home, please read our advice here: https://woodgreen.org.uk/pet-advice/article/how-to-introduce-your-cat-to-a-new-cat.

Still have some questions?

Whether you have any questions about kitten socialising, or anything else about your pet, please don't hesitate to contact us.

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