5 min read
Why Socialization is So Important for Cats
By Aurus Sy
Published: 08/09/2022, edited: 08/09/2022
Avoid expensive vet visits
Get peace of mind from the comfort of your home
Chat with a veterinary professional directly in the Wag! app
Return with more questions any time, any day
We often hear about the importance of socialization for dogs, but what about cats? Usually stereotyped as standoffish or even mean, felines are actually social critters. While your little tiger will probably never be as outgoing as a Golden Retriever, socialized cats enjoy interactions with people and other animals.
In addition to normal cat behavior, socialization teaches kittens to accept different experiences and environments so that they don’t grow up to become skittish adults. The “sensitive period” of 3 to 9 weeks of age is the best time for kitten socialization, as this is when they are most receptive to new people, places, activities, and other animals. The experiences a kitten has during this period, whether good or bad, will have long-lasting effects on them, so it’s very important to give them as many positive experiences as possible to prevent fear, timidity, and even aggression.
What if you adopted your cat as an adult and they haven’t been socialized? Does that mean it’s too late? Fortunately, mature cats can still be socialized. Socialization is essential to felines of all ages, and it’s a lifelong process that shouldn’t end once the sensitive period is over.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of socialization for cats and what you can do to set your tiny tiger up for success!
A socialized cat is able to adapt to new people, animals, activities, and environments with more ease and confidence. They don’t make a fuss during vet visits, they’re not afraid to play with toys they haven’t seen before, and they recover quickly after getting startled by a loud noise. If there are guests in the house, a socialized cat will approach and greet them instead of going into hiding.
Cats who have not been properly socialized often have an increased sensitivity to new experiences and show heightened negative responses to everyday events. They are fearful of strange people and animals, including other cats. An unsocialized cat will display anxious behavior, avoid unfamiliar situations, and may even become hostile towards strangers.
Socialization speeds a kitten’s mental and physical development and enhances their ability to learn social norms, including sleeping habits, where to find food, and how to behave around other cats. One of the ways cats learn is through observational learning, or watching how another animal behaves. Kittens learn elimination and predatory behaviors from their mother and come to understand proper social interaction by playing with their siblings.
House soiling and aggression are among the most common feline behavior problems, and these are often a behavioral expression of fear and anxiety resulting from inadequate socialization. By exposing a kitten to anything and everything they may come across as an adult, i.e., different people, animals, things, and places, they are less likely to end up as a fearful cat.
Behavioral issues can make a cat difficult to live with and is one of the most common reasons that adult cats are rehomed or surrendered to shelters. Unfortunately, grown felines are less likely to find new homes than their younger counterparts. Socialized cats are well-adjusted and more trusting of people, making them great companion animals.
A cat who has been socialized develops a calm and confident temperament that helps them adapt to new situations more easily. They don’t react with fear or anxiety when faced with unfamiliar people, things, or animals. When a cat is well-behaved, both kitty and cat parent can relax and enjoy life to the fullest.
Whether you’re a new cat parent or have had your furry friend for a while, sooner is better than later when it comes to feline socialization. Here are some tips for socializing your cat to help them become a more confident and well-rounded feline.
Introduce your cat to various people and experiences
Make sure your little tiger isn’t meeting the same people over and over. Introduce them to as many different people and experiences as possible in a non-threatening way. Let them meet humans who are not family members. Get them a window perch so they can get used to the different people walking outside. See to it that they have positive exposure to individuals of various genders, ages, ethnicities, and sizes. Take them for car rides, practice putting them in a carrier, and let them meet other friendly and vaccinated animals.
Know when to scale back
If your cat reacts with fear or withdraws, scale back the interaction to a level that’s more comfortable for them. This could mean introducing them to the situation more gradually, incorporating treats and play into the experience, moving them away from whatever they’re afraid of, or just letting them watch instead of interacting.
Never use punishment or discipline
Never punish your cat if they are anxious during an interaction, as doing so will only reinforce their anxiety and make them more fearful creating more problems in the future. Don’t combine socialization with training either, as this will distract your cat from the experience at hand. It’s okay if they don’t want to interact. They can still learn by watching.
Provide praise and treats
Reward your cat with praise and treats when they react or behave appropriately in a social situation. This not only keeps things positive but also encourages your feline friend to remain relaxed and comfortable. Positive reinforcement works better and faster than punishment as well.
Take your cat’s personality into consideration
How your cat behaves around people and animals is partly determined by their breed, health, and personality. This is true even among socialized felines; some cats are just not as outgoing and don’t like spending time with others. Each cat is different, so make sure to move at a pace that’s appropriate for your tiny tiger’s personality. Let them withdraw if they’re uncomfortable. Socialization is not about teaching them to want interactions, but how to handle themselves in various situations.
Seek professional help if needed
Socializing an unsocialized adult cat, especially a rescue or shelter cat who may have had a troubled past, can be more challenging. Be patient and have realistic expectations. In some cases, calling in a cat behaviorist may be necessary. When simple exposure to social situations isn’t helping a fearful adult cat, consulting a professional can be beneficial.
Remember that socialization is a lifelong process
Although the first 9 weeks of life is the most critical period in a cat’s social development, social interactions should be reinforced throughout their life. Ongoing socialization promotes wellbeing and supports good temperament, so continue to reward your cat for proper behavior throughout their life.
All it takes is a negative experience or fear to turn a sweet and loving cat into a terrified or aggressive animal. Socialization is our best tool to help our kitties gain confidence and learn from various experiences to reduce or even prevent those fears and anxieties about the world about them. Not only will you have a better-behaved feline pal, but you'll also be giving them the gift of a calm life where their curiosity can lead them to new adventures.
Need some help socializing your cat? Book a virtual or in-home training session with Wag! today to get tips and tricks from a pro!