It is especially important for these kittens to receive lots of handling while they are still young so that they can be friendly, well-adjusted family pets. Socialization is best accomplished when the kitten is between the ages of two to seven weeks. Although older kittens can still be “tamed”, they often retain a shyness with strangers.
Under-socialized kittens often hiss, sometimes spit and stomp, and sometimes swat and bite. The way to correct these behaviors is to be gentle yet firm, and totally unafraid of the kitten even when s/he looks ferocious.
The first step is to separate the kittens from each other. It is best to keep them in plastic cat carriers at first. This way you will not have to chase them around even a small room. Wear thick gloves or use a small thick towel as a glove if you’re worried the kitten might strike out. It is better to approach the kitten fearlessly with gloves than fearfully with bare hands! A good way to hold a kitten you’re working with is by the scruff of the neck. Please ask a veterinary technician to demonstrate how to do this. Spend as much time as possible actually holding the kitten; retain a gentle “scruff’ until you’re sure the kitten will not run away. Talk to the kitten, and pet it gently with your free hand. Have the environment be calm and free of distractions. Repeat this exercise as often as you can, but ideally 10 times a day for 5-10 minutes each time. (Some people combine this with watching TV, reading, or other activities.)
In conjunction with the “holding exercise” you should also be hand-feeding your kitten if possible. At the least, stand by as s/he eats. They should associate you with the food! Also, try play therapy if the kitten is over 4 weeks old. Get a cat-dancer or other interactive toy, and engage the kitten’s interest. Remember, even if you’re not handling the kitten, if s/he is comfortable in your presence this will help them associate you with positive feelings! (These toys should not be left with the kitten unsupervised.)
The socialization process can take a day or two with really young kittens, but up to a week or more with older ones. As the kitten gets less frightened, which it’s sure to do, you can start holding her/him with your bare hands, and releasing your hold more and more. You can also expand their space to a small room. Allowing them opportunity to play with the other kittens in the litter is good, as long as they do not regress during or after (hissing more, etc.) Introducing them to other people is an important step of the socialization process. Friends and family should be “trained” in how to handle the kittens.
Remember the key points:
* don’t be scared of the kitten!
* lots of handling, picking up, holding, petting all over body ” lots of playtime
* hand feeding
* gradual increase of living area
* handling by strangers
Helping a young kitten overcome its fear of humans and become more outgoing is a challenging, but very rewarding, experience.