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
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.
Q: What’s the best age to bring a kitten home?
A: The average age for people to get kittens is eight weeks. That age has
its pros and cons. If the breeder knows what they are doing and the kittens are
socialized correctly, that’s fine. But if the kittens don’t get that critical
socialization by seven weeks of age, the brain starts shutting down. The
kittens can still be socialized, but it will never be as good. So ask how much
the kitten was handled before you got it.