Cat Socialization: Training Social Cats

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 5/17/20242-4 minutes
Cat Socialization

Some cats love to be around people and other pets. Others prefer to be left alone. No matter what your feline’s temperament, you can make cat socialization a positive experience.  

Keep reading for tips on how to safely introduce your cat to a new home or other four-legged family members. 

Reducing Stress During Socialization

Cats have unique personalities. Some are more sociable than others. Even if your cat prefers alone time, they can have a positive bond and warm interactions with you. Providing a safe environment encourages your cat to socialize more.  

Cats sense and avoid stress. Some things you can do to help your cat feel safe are to: 

  • Allow interactions to happen naturally 
  • Give your cat space to withdraw 
  • Avoid startling your cat or kitten 

Socializing Kittens

Start early. Very early. The first few weeks of your kitten’s life will set the stage for how they will interact with other cats and people in the future. Animal Behaviorist and Purina Senior Scientist, Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD explains, “the critical socialization period for kittens is two to seven weeks of age.”  

There are a number of things you can do to set your kitten up for success. Some are: 

  • Start young – weeks two through seven are crucial to your cat’s socialization 
  • Encourage touch – being gently handled helps kittens acclimate to people 
  • Initiate play – chasing a toy is a positive way to interact 
  • Provide praise – rewards can be treats or one-on-one time 

What About Adult Cats?

Not all kittens get the socializing they need at an early age. As a matter of fact, grown cats keep on learning. Cats continue to form positive (and negative) associations with people, other pets and places.  

So, whether you’ve had your kitten for their whole life, or you’ve just adopted an adult cat, it's important to help them socialize now. 

Socializing Cats With Other Cats

If you already have a feline companion, bringing a new cat home to another cat takes a little preparation and planning. “Kittens often get along with each other. But as they age, cats can become more territorial,” Dr. McGowan says.  

You can help your cat accept a new cat by: 

  • Introducing cats over a period of weeks 
  • Allowing both to smell and hear each other 
  • Trying a face-to-face 
  • Providing separate areas for retreat 

Introducing Your Kids to Cats

Study Up & Share

Doing research is important so everyone understands the commitment involved in caring for an animal. Share any information you gather with your kids and pick up some children's books about pets to help inform them about the responsibilities of owning a cat. 

Emphasize Gentle Interactions

Show children how to interact with cats. Begin by explaining kittens and cats have feelings. This should help children learn how to read a cat's emotions. Model how to gently pet your cat and highlight ways they seem to like to be petted most. 

How do you know when a cat is scared? Or happy? Or mad? Or sleepy? Teach children what to look for. Then explain how being calm and gentle can make a cat feel safe. 

Establish Clear Rules and Boundaries

Set up ground rules right away—for the kitten and the kids—so everyone knows what's expected. 

Provide Age-Appropriate Supervision

Children under six shouldn't be alone with a new kitten—both the child and the kitten can use your guidance at this age. Older kids should demonstrate they know how to be gentle before being left unsupervised. 

Take it Slow

Your kitten will experience less stress if they can get to know the new surrounding—and a new family—at an easy pace. Let your kids know the family’s new pet needs time to adjust before becoming a playmate. 

Create a Sense of Responsibility

Help your kids understand a pet is more than a playmate—it’s a living creature in need of care. Demonstrate this need by assigning each child an adult-supervised pet care duty.  

For example, one child could assist with feeding, one with providing fresh water. Other jobs could include making sure the kitten’s bedding is clean or that toys are always available. Cleaning the litterbox, however, should be left to adults. 

Ways to Continue Cat Socialization

Cats, by nature, love new experiences.  Filling their lives with new experiences will help encourage positive interactions with people and pets. As you introduce new sights, smells, sounds and tastes into their routine, they will come to expect them. Always keep an eye out for signs your cat is getting overwhelmed by a new situation, though. 

Learn more about addressing your cat’s needs from our experts. You can also visit our Pet Expertise page. 

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