Thursday, June 2, 2016

3 quick kitten socialization tips for cat foster parents

Siamese kitten in his bed
It's hard to overstate the importance of the kitten foster parent role. When you agree to take little kitties like Patrick into your home for a few weeks, you provide them with the around-the-clock care they need to grow into healthy and strong cats. And, your home is a much safer environment for a wee kitten with a fragile immune system. In the shelter, little ones can come down with all sorts of nasty things, including colds. In your home, they might be protected from all that.

But, just because your home is safe doesn't mean it's the only place your foster kitten should ever see. In fact, little kittens rely on their human moms and dads to introduce them to all sorts of new people, places and things. The more introductions you can provide for your little ones, the more ready those little ones will be to accept a new family.

When I first brought home little Patrick here and his equally adorable siblings, I was worried about the whole socialization piece of the puzzle. But in the month they've been living with me, I've come up with some tips that might help. Here they are, in no particular order.

Introduce your kitten to people that are different than you are

It might sound obvious, but kittens do become accustomed to the humans they live with, and adoptive families might have completely different characteristics. For example, my husband and I are pretty quiet people. We don't yell or throw things or bellow with laughter. We tend to speak quietly and chuckle often. I knew I had to do something different when all my kittens started leaping in the air when they heard some of my more boisterous neighbors talking. They just didn't know people could be that loud. 

So, I walked my kittens out to my neighbors and held my kittens while my neighbors cooed over them and laughed at their sweetness. In a few minutes, all of that fear was gone. Now, they can handle noisier people just fine. 

Consider using the same technique with older people, younger people and people of a different ethnicity. The more our kittens can learn, the more accepting of others they might be. 

Let your kitten lead the way 

It's easy enough to helicopter parent your little kittens and leap in at the first sign of something that might go wrong. But it's better for the kittens to develop some self-reliance and confidence. And sometimes, after a few moments of discomfort, little kittens can handle things that foster parents were just sure would lead to disaster. 

Take Patrick, here. I had brought him to a very welcoming picnic over the weekend, and he spent about 2 hours being handled by people large and small. I thought we were reaching an over-stimulation moment, due to a few kitty cries he was making. My instinct was to swoop him up and plop him in his bed for a time out. But then this happened. 

Patrick the kitten asleep

He's fast asleep in the lap of someone he met just moments before. And he's in such a trusting position, with his belly all exposed. He wasn't overstimulated as much as tired. If I'd stepped in to "save" him, I would have robbed him of the opportunity to connect in a profound way with a new person. 

Foster parents should be alert and aware for signs of serious danger, of course. I think we all know that. But by trusting our kittens and letting them push their comfort boundaries just a little bit, we could help them to grow into truly epic cats. 

Keep kitten experiences positive

There's a lot out there for little kittens to know about, and a lot of it is unpleasant. I know some foster parents try to "bomb proof" their kittens by exposing them to things like lawn equipment and people screaming and rough handling. Personally, I think that's a mistake. 

The goal of socialization is to help kittens learn to trust people. That means we simply must do all we can to preserve the bond we have with our kittens, so they can transfer that bond to someone else. When my kittens are afraid of something, they run to me. If I was the one making scary things happen, I'm sure they wouldn't do that. It's not my job to make them ready for the whole world. It's my job to make them ready to live with people. Refusing to scare them can make that happen. 

These are just three tips, and I know there are many more. If you have any, go ahead and share them in the comments. I'd love to hear how you helped your kits to get ready. And if you did foster, thank you! The more of us that do foster, the better off the cat world will be.


  1. Those are terrific tips, Jean! I especially love the one about letting the kitten lead the way. We've found that can really make the difference with these babies!

    1. Thanks for the visit! I'll admit that this is one tip I'm still working on, as I tend to helicopter parent. But your comment reminds me that I do need to take this seriously.

  2. Great tips! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great advice and Patrick is so cute!!

    1. Isn't he, though? It's no wonder he's been pre-adopted. People just love him.

  4. Very good tips all! We all came at different times in Dads learning about kitties and what can help us at the different stages of life.
    One thing we would add is the cats temperament. I do not like people while Rumpy and Toby are all over who ever visits.
    Timmy and Family

    1. That's a super-smart tip. Thanks for the comment!