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Woman reading a book with a kitten on her lap

The essentials

  • Kittens need socialization — Socializing kittens can help prevent aggressiveness, anxiousness, and stress that come from being unadjusted, lonely, and unconfident.
  • Start out small — For 2-week-olds, try a few seconds a few times a day. Once they get older, pick them up and hold them for brief periods, increasing this over time and then slowly introducing other things.
  • Shy kittens will take more time — Depending on their age and personality, fearful kittens may take longer to trust people. Be patient.

While kittens can grow up to be sassy, tough cats, these soft, cuddly fur balls need a bit of work to raise. An often-overlooked aspect of having a kitten is socializing them. Just like children, if you want your kitten to grow up to be a friendly and sociable cat, you have to raise good kids.

Raising a kitten to be a friendly cat that you’ll eventually be able to handle without issue definitely takes work. But you’ll thank yourself in the future when you have a confident and well-adjusted cat. Here’s everything pet owners should know about how to socialize a kitten.

What is kitten socialization, and when do you start?

Kitten socialization introduces and exposes them to things early on in life. Socializing is necessary for their safety, happiness, and well-being and for them to develop good behavior when they’re older. It also helps to mitigate fearful, non-friendly behaviors that could pose an issue in the future.

Socialization also allows kittens to become familiar with other, surroundings, and objects they may encounter in everyday life. The best time to socialize kittens is when they are between 2 and 7 weeks old. Around this age, they form social attachments more easily, and their experiences have lasting effects on them.

However, socialization needs to be done right. This means not exposing them to scary things or toddlers pulling on their ears or tail. It also means you shouldn’t introduce them to a dog that chases and scares them. This is called “flooding” and creates panic in your kitten, making them terrified of you, which leads to trauma.

You’ll want to introduce them to people, kids, and animals who have calm demeanors and can handle them gently and appropriately.

12 ways to socialize kittens

Socializing your kitten when they’re young gives you the best chance of success. Even if you don’t get your kitten until they’re a little older, you can continue socializing them. Socializing and training older cats will just take more time and patience.

You’ll want to start small by holding them a few times each day, lengthening the time as they get older. Then you can start introducing new things like people, textures, and sounds. Here are a few ways you can socialize your kitten.

1. Play together

Playing is a great way to bond with your kitten and improve their confidence and socialization skills. You’ll want to engage and interact with them in a way that parallels their natural instincts. Try playing with toys under a towel, changing speeds, or making sounds. The key is to play with them and interact with them, not just let them play independently.

2. Use food and handling

Building trust and cooperation with your kitten can strengthen your bond with them. You want them to see that handling and touch are positive experiences.

Try to introduce touch during mealtime. While they lick some wet food off a spoon, touch their paws, ears, and tail, and look at their teeth. Your kitten will become used to handling, which can help if future health issues arise.

Kitten chewing on treat while a person holds it

3. Try adding grooming tools

Introduce your kitten to grooming tools like a brush, nail clippers, or a toothbrush. Make sure you give treats or something to lick so they know that these things aren’t scary. Use high-value rewards to create a positive association with these tools. This makes grooming your cat a much easier task.

4. Have calm, gentle visitors

Introducing your kitten to new people outside of your household can help them become more comfortable and confident in social situations. Each interaction should be positive and gentle. Treats, playtime, and introducing them to different people can help them learn that people can be friendly and safe.

A person putting their finger up to their kitten's nose

5. Go on happy vet trips

The vet can be stressful for everyone, but even more so for your kitten. You can offset the stress by going to the vet for happy visits that get them used to the office and the veterinary staff. Keep the experience positive and happy. If they associate it with this early on, it can help reduce fear and anxiety for future visits.

Taking cats on car rides and to the clinic without examinations and minimal staff interaction helps get them used to the sites, sounds, and smells so they maintain a more relaxed attitude in the future.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

6. Get them used to car rides

For some cats, getting them to go in their carrier can be a nightmare. But getting your kitten used to their carrier and going for car rides early on can help them acclimate.

Give them treats in their cat carrier and lots of praise to keep it positive. Start by getting them used to just sitting in the car, then work up to short and quick rides, and eventually longer ones.

A kitten in a clear carrier in a car

7. Try different foods

If you start getting your kitten used to different types of foods, treats, and flavors, it can help prevent pickiness down the road. While this isn’t a guarantee, it can expand their palate and get them used to different types of textures and flavors.

8. Introduce them to cat-friendly animals

Socializing your kitten in controlled and positive interactions with cat-friendly dogs can help them get used to other animals and feel more at ease around them. Make sure to keep the dog behind a gate or on a leash so they can’t chase the cat, and give them lots of treats with gentle and calm introductions.

A kitten playing with a golden retriever

9. Introduce them to different sounds

For all animals, loud, new noises are frightening. A great way to help desensitize them to these scary sounds is to use recordings of sounds like sirens, barking, and fireworks. Gradual exposure can help them become more comfortable and resilient.

You can also open windows (with screens) and take them in the car to get them used to other typical sounds they may hear.

10. Get them used to new textures

Cats are sensitive to textures and can be easily startled, especially if they’ve never felt them before. Exposing them to carpet, hardwood or tile, and grass helps them adapt to different surfaces, which promotes confidence and makes them more resilient as they grow into adult cats.

A kitten walking next to a carpet

11. Try leash training

Even if you don’t think you’ll need to put your cat on a leash, it can be beneficial in the future. Leash and harness training is helpful for potential emergencies, vet visits, going on vacation, or when you move. It can also help if you want to let them explore the outdoors.

12. Introduce children

Of course, kids will be thrilled at the sight of a kitten. But introducing them to one another needs to be done right.

Try to socialize your kitten and children early on, but make sure to watch them and emphasize gentle treatment and handling. Teach them that even when they’re playing, they are not toys and that they may scratch or nip when they play. End play time when the kitten shows signs of fatigue or disinterest.

A little girl sitting on the floor playing with a kitten

Kittens thrive on positive interactions and can be deterred and frightened by negative ones. Reinforce their good behavior with treats, cuddles, and playtime, and refrain from scolding. Remain patient and allow them time to adjust to and trust their environment. Hissing and hiding are indications of fear, not aggression.

Separation anxiety and kittens

Now that you’ve socialized your kitten, the downside is separation anxiety. Once thought to afflict only dogs, separation anxiety is now acknowledged in cats. If you notice excessive vocalization, clear signs of distress like scratching or panicking, and even soiling the house when you’re gone, these all point to separation anxiety.

Try minimizing the time you leave your kitten alone, and don’t make a dramatic exit when you leave. Remember, they’re still just babies and are still getting used to life. If your kitten does have an accident while you’re gone, don’t punish them. Punishment will only worsen it, exacerbating the behavior and stressing them out more.

You can acclimate them in the same way you would a puppy. Try shutting the room to a door and going in after a few minutes to greet them. Keep extending the time up to 30 minutes. If they become distressed, reduce the time again and keep trying. Be patient, and eventually, they’ll become more comfortable with it.

Another helpful tip to minimize separation anxiety and get comfortable is to have a pair of kittens or another older, friendly cat that’s already established. This can help them cope better and keep them occupied while you’re away.

Introducing your cat to different people, animals, environments, and sounds from a young age sets the stage for a happy, confident, and well-adjusted cat. Additionally, exposure to various situations and stimuli can help prevent behavioral issues, aggression, and fearfulness since your cat will learn how to respond appropriately to certain situations early on.

Socializing your cat isn’t only about getting them used to things. It’s about building a connection with them to make them feel secure and loved, deepening your emotional bond.

Congratulations to you as a pet parent for providing a nurturing and loving environment for your new kitten!

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for a kitten to be socialized?

It can take kittens anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to become socialized. Younger kittens may socialize quickly, but it also depends on their personality, age, and the type of socialization they experience.

How do I socialize my 3-month-old kitten?

It may take longer to socialize a 3-month-old kitten, but you can do so by offering food and treats to form trust and positive associations. You can also try gentle handling, petting, and talking to them softly. If you have another cat in your home, try giving them a treat while you do this to distract them. Keep interacting with them a little bit each day. This can help eliminate fearfulness and build confidence.

How to socialize my 2 kittens if I have no friends or family?

You can hold them in your lap (if they let you), pet them, give them hugs and kisses, and positive reinforcement. You can also let them play with one another, so they learn how to interact.

How do I socialize a stray kitten?

Stray cats are typically shy, skittish, or frightened, so you’ll want to start with something like a wand toy. These toys create distance and aren’t as scary as some other toys. You can even do this while they are in a crate acclimating. Start small and try to play and socialize for 2 hours every day.

Where are cat-friendly places I can go to socialize a cat?

You can try a few different places like home improvement stores, pet stores, pet-friendly hotels, parks, outdoor areas at breweries, cafes, restaurants, or a friend’s home.