How Much Interaction Do Kittens Need?
The first thing kittens should experience is a lot of gentle handling by people. This is known as socialization.
Proper socialization means exposing the kittens to new people, places and objects gradually. If the kitten shows signs of fear (like puffed up, stiff tail or arched back) stop the exposure immediately and start again another day.
A healthy amount of play is important for kittens’ development and socialization. This also helps them burn off energy and build a strong bond with their human companions. Play sessions should be varied and short, allowing the kitten to recharge between sessions.
Kittens have a critical window between the ages of 2 and 8 weeks to learn how to interact with humans, other animals and their surroundings. They should be handled often and exposed to different environments, people and objects during this time.
When introducing your kitten to new experiences, start from a distance and slowly move closer while praising and offering treats. If the kitten exhibits signs of fear (head down, stiff tail, ears erect, tense muscles) back off and try again at a later time. Playing rough with a kitten can cause them to become more defensive and biting can be painful for humans. If the kitten does bite, yelp and stop playing immediately.
When kittens are young, they’re primarily concerned with surviving. But as they get older, handling them more often and exposing them to new people, animals, objects, and environments is very important. These new experiences help them form opinions about what is scary and what is safe that will influence their behavior as adults.
During this socialization process, it is important to gently and positively interact with the kittens. If a kitten experiences a negative interaction, such as being yelled at or hit, it will affect the way that cat perceives humans and can make them less socialized as adults.
If a kitten nips or pounces during an interaction, it’s important to stop the session and walk away. This teaches the kitten that biting is not okay and that if they bite, they will lose your attention which isn’t in their self-interest. If a kitten continues to nip or pounce, then it’s time to use bite pressure inhibition training.
Kittens need daily handling sessions, including play time, to stimulate their muscles and circulatory systems. This is best done while the kittens are young and still clinging to their moms or littermates. Handling should be positive, avoiding any harsh or scary actions that may cause fear and distrust in the cat as an adult.
If a kitten shows signs of stress, it should be given some alone time. This is very important to its physical and emotional health. Negative interactions during this period may lead to the cat developing fears of people, a trait that will be hard to correct later in life.
When handling a kitten, it should be done only when the kitten initiates it. Overstimulation is stressful to young kittens and can be detrimental to their health. A gentle and positive approach to handling will help a kitten form a trusting relationship with its human caregivers.
Kittens need to sleep to grow and develop. They are often most active at dawn and dusk. They should be left alone to rest at other times. It is recommended that kittens have their own space (such as a cat bed) to sleep in. It may take some time for a new kitten to become comfortable with this but it is important.
If a kitten is bottle fed, it should not be woken up to feed it. Forcing a kitten to eat can cause hypoglycemia. Instead, only wake the kitten to eat when it shows signs of being hungry, such as sniffing or scratching, crouching and looking like it is ready to go. A full kitten will have a pear-shaped abdomen when held up under its front legs.
A healthy and well-socialized kitten will begin to show interest in human interaction at about four weeks. This is the age when they will be ready to explore their world and start playing with toys.