You’ve brought home a new kitten, and you want it to grow into a loving, happy member of your family. But how do you ensure that happens? We asked Rolan Tripp, an affiliate professor of applied animal behavior at Colorado State University Veterinary School and the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Schools. Tripp and his wife, Susan Tripp, co-author a syndicated weekly column on pet behavior and maintain animalbehavior.net, a web site that provides pet behavior education and services.
Q: How old should a kitten be before it is handled regularly?
A: My rule of thumb is handling should be minimum during the first three days of life to allow the kitten to survive. After that, then handling the kitten on a daily basis is a good idea. Having the kittens bonding to human scent and human handling is very important, especially during weeks 3 through 7.
You’ve got this window for socialization. Up until 7 weeks is prime time. The secondary period is until 12 weeks and the tertiary period is until 6 months. During the first, second, or third choices, we should be doing everything we’re going to do with this cat in its lifetime. So if the cat will be going on trips, get it used to car rides from the time it’s a tiny kitten. If there will be lots of people coming and going, then expose the kitten to that during these periods. The same with anything you want your cat to be comfortable with later in life. This is your window of opportunity.
Q: Even though kittens need to be handled, can they be handled too much, especially by children? How can I tell if that has happened?
A: Yes, they can be dropped; they can be injured. Gentleness is the key. It’s not the duration of handling, it’s how they are handled. If children are not supervised, they may tend to be rougher than necessary.
So when looking at kittens, if one is huddled in the corner, you know that’s a problem. What we want is a cat that is not showing fear and is not hyperactive. We want a kitten that is seeking human companionship. An indicator of a well-socialized kitten is, pick it up and see how long it takes before the kitten starts purring, and how long it will purr before it wants to get down again and play. Any kitten that will take a break and purr for a while is a winner.