Helping shy, undersocialized, or feral kittens

Socialization

Congratulations on deciding to foster and socialize kittens! Spending time with these fuzzy little guys, though a lot of work, will also be a lot of fun. We have tons of tips on how to help your mini kitties feel at ease around people, and how to help them grow up to be loving companion animals. Now let’s get down to business!

Help Kittens Feel Comfortable

Go slow the first day or two, and don’t push them too much. Don’t try to handle them too much the first day. When you first start spending time with them, begin by moving slowly and speaking softly, and try to keep loud TV or music down. For very young kittens, a soothing technique is to wrap a ticking clock in a towel–it reminds them of their momma’s heartbeat.

After they’ve been with you for a few days, try leaving a TV or radio on so they can get used to people voices and sounds. If there aren’t other pets around, you can leave them in a crate in a busy part of your home, like the living room, so they can begin to see and hear other areas of the home.

Like anyone, kittens react positively to positive experiences and negatively to negative experiences. Don’t hold back! Reward kittens when they do well, like come up for snuggles, and avoid scolding.

If a litter of kittens are slow to socialize, you might want to separate the kittens into individual crates or spaces so that they can rely on people more. Or you can make sure to spend some quality time alone with each one. When they feel more comfortable with you, they can be reunited with their brothers and sisters.

Be patient! Spitting, hissing, and hiding are all expressions of fear, not signs of aggression.

Socialize With Food

Kittens love food (who doesn’t), and giving the little ones food creates an incentive for them to interact with you and also forms positive associations. Keep dry kitten food out all day, but when you feed wet food, stay in the room so they associate you with food and start to trust you. If they’re scared at first, try to give them food on spoon. Over time, move the food plate closer to your body while you sit in the room, until the plate is in your lap and the kittens are comfortable crawling on you to get to it.

Pet the kittens for the first time while they’re eating so they stay put. Start petting their little faces, chins, and behind their ears and work up to petting all over. Also take your time building up to holding the kittens, and reward them with some canned cat food or chicken-flavored baby food on a spoon – kittens love people baby food! (Make sure it doesn’t have onion—it’s toxic to cats.)

Socializing With Play

Playing with kittens can help them build trust for people. At least two hours a day of play (all together or broken up) can do the trick – it will go by fast, don’t worry! Take time to socialize each of the kittens in a litter individually, while you’re down on their level.

Once you’ve spent enough time with them that they let you hold them, hold the kittens as much as possible. Make sure they are close to your body so they feel your body warmth and heartbeat. If a kitten is particularly feisty, put her in a front-carrying pack or papoose (lightly, but snugly wrap) her in a towel with only the head out and hold her while doing things around the house.

Introduce New Friends

The goal is to socialize the kittens so that they are comfortable around all people and pets and will be happy in their new homes, so introduce them to new some faces!

Precautions

Kittens that were outside and are still frightened can hurt you if you are not careful, so don’t hesitate to wear gloves or protective clothing if you feel it is needed.

Don’t take chances. Sometimes you have to scruff kittens by the back of their neck to gain control. To do it safely, use your entire hand and gently but firmly grasp the fur on back of neck without pinching, pull the cat up, and immediately support her hind legs.

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