By Dr Sophia Yin

How did this foster kitten learn to be so tolerant? She doesn’t mind being held in this awkward manner.

She went through kitty socialization class.

Every year, thousands of stray kittens are fostered and adopted out. The foster caretakers do their best to address the kittens’ medical health, but did you know that perhaps the most important action a caretaker can take that will help kittens find a permanent home is to actually socialize them. That is, give the kittens positive experiences around many different people, animals, unfamiliar kittens, environments, and for many handling procedures too. The resulting kitten is more likely to be outgoing and social like the average dog, and be better able to deal with the regular stresses of life—such as your changes in schedule, addition of new members to the household or visitors, or the sight of cats moving in to the neighborhood.

Better coping skills means they’re much less likely to do what cats do when they get stressed—spray or potty outside the litter box. They are also better able to integrate into a family and interact in a more loving, social way.

 

The Best Part of Socializing Kittens is That it’s Easy and Fun.  Way easier than socializing puppies. Here’s an example.

 

These kittens are at my house for the first time. The playroom is filled with fun toys, so even the shy ones eventually come out and play.

Scratching post
Feather toys are a favorite
This structure was a pain to put together, but once together, watching the kittens play on it makes it well worth the work.
This kitten isn’t sure what to make of this tripod. But because he’s in his sensitive period for socialization, he’s pretty curious and goes to investigate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This kitten is rewarded for sitting with a treat.

 

Now this kitten is learning to walk over and then sit in order to earn a treat.

 

This kitten is learning to target—touch his nose to the ball. Targeting can be used to teach many tricks, such as spin, sit pretty, go into your litter box, come play with me

 

 

 

 

We also give the kitten good experiences when they are restrained. This kitten is eating canned cat food in a syringe.

 

 

 

Here we’re pairing rough handling, such as tugging the tail, with food. It’s important to make sure that the kitten is happily eating and that you tug below the level that will cause the kitten to lose interest in the food.

 

Once you’ve handled the kitten for a few seconds, remove both the food and the touching hand so that it’s clear to the kitten that the two go together.
 

 

This kitten is learning that lying on his side and being held by the scruff is fun. This is how he may be restrained at some veterinary hospitals.

 

 

 

Don’t forget to have a litter box present during kitty socialization sessions!

 

 

The kids—3 and 6 years of age—practice holding the kitten and giving it food.

 

 

 

 

They also reward the kittens for sitting politely to get treats. They are using canned cat food on a spoon.

 

 

 

And of course they play with the kittens!

 

 

The kittens don’t mind being held even when there’s not food involved. In fact they are very relaxed and seek attention from the kids.

The kids also practice targeting with the kittens. When the kitten touches the target with her nose, the child removes the target and rewards with food.

 

This is the kitten they have chosen to adopt. 

 

Note that this 3 year old was too shy to play with the kittens at first, especially in the presence of 5 unfamiliar adults (Me, Melissa the foster raiser and three assistants). But like the kittens, when she was allowed to just watch and see how much fun was going on, she relaxed and suddenly decided to participate on her own. Both she and the kittens had a positive experience and will continue to do well in this type of environment.

 

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