When you own a cat, there is much to consider in order to give them the best chance of a full and active life. The kitten’s first experiences of life have a major impact on shaping their character, how they will behave later on and how they cope with new situations.
This is especially the case during the so-called socialisation period, where the Kitten’s social behaviour is being shaped by their experiences.
For the kitten’s development, it is therefore important that this period includes as many positive memories as possible, even though the kitten’s relationship with humans continues to develop until it is four months old.
VARIOUS STAGES OF KITTEN DEVELOPMENT
A kitten’s behavioural development can be divided into three periods; the neonatal period, the socialisation period and the juvenile period.
THE NEONATAL PERIOD
A kitten is born blind and deaf, so during the neonatal period – from birth to about two weeks of age – it relies on its senses, warmth and sense of smell. During this period of kitten development, it is completely dependent on the female for its survival.
At around two weeks of age, the kitten opens its eyes and that is when the socialisation period begins.
Between two and seven weeks of age is a sensitive time in the kitten’s development.
Hearing and balance develop, it plays with its litter mates, learns what it means to interact with other individuals and, slowly but surely, begins to eat solid food. During the socialisation period, the kitten is particularly open to new experiences such as social contact.
It is essential that the kitten has lots of positive contact with your family and friends so that they are successfully socialised and learns to enjoy the company of people.
The same applies to contact with other animals such as dogs.
THE JUVENILE PERIOD
The juvenile period begins when the kitten is around eight weeks old and continues until it has reached sexual maturity (this usually occurs around 5-6 months of age, although it can vary slightly between different breeds). It’s during this time that the kitten develops into an independent individual who manages without its mother (this is when weaning has taken place and the kitten stops suckling and switches to solid food).
A kitten can be separated from its mother at 12 weeks old in Sweden. At this age being separated from its mother doesn’t cause any separation related problems, the kitten is later able to function in different social settings.
HOW KITTENS DEVELOP IN A NEW HOME
When the kitten arrives in their new home, it is important that their social skills continue to develop seamlessly. Although the socialisation period is the time when the kitten is most receptive to social contacts, its relationship with humans continues to develop until it is around 4 months.
To build a good relationship between you and your kitten, it’s important to create positive associations (connections) with you and the kitten’s new family.
You can do this by playing with your kitten, feeding it, giving it treats and interacting with it in a positive way.
- Minimise the risk of injury by using safe toys that the kitten can’t hurt themselves on. Don’t encourage the kitten to play with your hands or feet and keep toys away from your body.
- Giving your kitten treats is a good way to create a positive relationship, but make sure it doesn’t have too much food.