Bringing a New Kitten Home – Socialisation, Cat Flap Training and Microchipping
Your new kitten and socialisation
Socialisation is an important part of helping your kitten develop into a confident adult cat whilst avoiding unwanted behaviours. It is important to start socialisation as soon as possible. Ideally, the breeder will have started this before your kitten turns 8 weeks old because at this early stage their fear response hasn’t fully developed, and their sensory systems are still developing. Socialisation should continue in a kitten’s new home while they are still young and curious.
Socialisation helps a kitten to get used to their new surroundings and helps them learn how to interact with places, people, animals, sounds and situations without them feeling scared. Careful socialisation at an early age will have a big impact on the rest of their lives.
Socialisation helps a kitten to learn what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable and supports their development into an inquisitive and curious adult. Well socialised cats adapt to change better and are less likely to suffer from stress and stress-related illnesses.
Is your new kitten already socialised with people?
Cats do not have an inbuilt need for human interaction or handling, so this needs to be taught as a kitten. Kittens from a feral background can be more difficult to socialise than kittens from a pet background but, even within litters, kittens will vary in their tolerance to human contact.
If your new kitten seeks your attention and human company, and if they display confident behaviour such as rubbing against you, they already have a head start at being socialised with people. Your kitten will have learnt to be confident with people from their mother and their breeder or rescue carers. It is normal for your kitten to be shy in their first few days, but if they continue to run from you and hide, or hiss if approached, they will need gentle training starting from scratch.
Beginning socialisation training for your new kitten
Although it is vital to get your kitten socialised to human contact and handling, remember to respect your kitten’s routine and living space. When your kitten is sleeping, eating, drinking, or visiting the litter tray, this is not a good time to start interacting with them. A better time to socialise with your kitten is when they are playing with toys or exploring the environment. Allow your kitten to settle in for a few days before expecting too much of them: there is a lot of new stuff to learn!
Build a bond with your kitten through play and food. Kittens should learn both interactive and solo play. Good interactive toys include balls that you can roll for your kitten to chase, and toys on a lure to stimulate hunting and pouncing play. Cat play sessions should be short but can be repeated throughout the day.
Avoid play that encourages your kitten to stalk your hands and feet or bite at clothes. Instead, redirect them onto toys. You can even reward catching a toy with a food reward! OSCAR supply a range of toys for both solo and interactive play.
Cats can be trained using food rewards– just like any other animal! Reward behaviours that you like by offering small and tasty titbits or use some of their food ration. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your kitten’s diet. OSCAR have a range of delicious training treats for even the fussiest kitten.
Avoid grabbing your kitten to interact with you! Instead, use a toy or treat to encourage your cat to sit with you. Allow your kitten to sniff and rub you before slowly stroking their back. Always stroke the fur flat, never ruffle it! Learn the places your cat most likes to be touched and start with these. It will be important that you can touch and groom all areas but build up trust first. Watch for changes in body language such as stiffening, tail twitching, or ears going back, which indicate your cat wants to end the contact. Let your kitten leave before they feel you need to be told with bites and scratches.
Once your kitten is happy to be handled by family members, introduce them to other visitors in the same way. You may even want to get them used to being stroked on a table to replicate a visit to the vet!
Playing with your kitten
Encouraging your kitten to play will help to keep them active and mentally stimulated. Play helps them learn new skills and encourages them to explore their surroundings. Being physically active helps them to avoid obesity and promotes good health. Play will build a bond between you and your new kitten which will last throughout their lives.
Cat play looks very similar to cat hunting behaviour and is how young wild felines learn to catch prey. Cats are ambush hunters: they slowly stalk their prey before a fast and furious chase. Replicate natural cat behaviour with short sessions several times a day.
Fishing rods or lure toys are always a winner! An advantage of this type of toy is that it keeps your hands away from their claws and teeth. You can simulate a scurrying mouse or a bird that flies away!
Some cats enjoy the scent of catnip and a novel way to introduce it to a chase game is via catnip bubbles!
Many owners like to play with their cats using laser pointers or pen torches. However, laser pointers should be avoided as they carry a risk of eye damage. Chasing lights is a controversial game as it can be frustrating for the cat who never manages to catch and ‘kill’ the ‘prey’. If you use a pen torch for games, make sure you reward a ‘catch’ with an edible treat or a physical toy.
Climbing and hiding
Some cats enjoy being high up, whilst others prefer to be on the ground. Find out what sort of cat you have by offering opportunities to climb as well as to hide. Cat towers and cat tunnels as well as empty boxes will encourage your kitten to explore their environment safely.
Things to be careful with when socialising your new kitten
If you are lucky enough to be able to visit your new kitten when they are still with their mother, make sure the mother is comfortable with your presence before you handle her kittens. Before visiting a litter, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly but avoid alcohol-based hand gel as this is off-putting to cats. You may be asked to take off your outdoor shoes as these could bring infectious disease in from outdoors.
Keep your handling of each kitten short, and stop if they show any signs of being unhappy such as mewing or trying to get away. You will learn a lot about your kitten just by sitting in their play area and allowing them to climb on you and play with each other.
Cat flap training
If your cat has access to the outdoors they will need to use a cat flap. Even indoor cats can benefit from time outside in an enclosed ‘catio’. It is important to train your new kitten how to use the cat flap when you are ready for them to explore outside.
Is a cat flap right for you and your kitten?
Do you need a cat flap at all? If you are at home most of the day you may choose just to let your cat in and out when they ask. If you are worried about your cat becoming frustrated if they are shut in or out, a cat flap will give them freedom. Most cat flaps can be locked when you need to make sure your cat stays in.
Kittens should not be allowed out until they are about 6 months old and have been vaccinated, neutered, and microchipped. If you move home with your cat they should be kept indoors until they are settled into their new indoor environment. You may choose to introduce your kitten to their new garden on a harness and lead or feed them outside a few times to allow them to become accustomed to it.
Different types of cat flaps
Standard – these can be locked but any cat or even wildlife can use them when unlocked.
Magnet – these come with a magnet which attaches to your cat’s collar. Other cats with a magnet can also use the cat flap.
Infra-red – this type comes with an infra-red collar tag, but like the magnet it will let in other infra-red tagged cats.
Microchip – these flaps only open to cats whose microchip number is programmed in. Some also have timers so you can keep your cat in at specified times. They need batteries or a power supply to work and sometimes fail to read the chip if it migrates or the cat is obese.
How to train your cat to use the cat flap
Cat flap training is fun but requires patience. Never force a cat or kitten through a cat flap.
Initially prop the cat flap open and lure your kitten from one side to the other with a tasty food reward or a toy. Practise going in and out. Once your kitten is confident, make the gap a bit smaller so they learn to push the flap out of the way.
Some cats will learn to use a flap very quickly, others will need more gradual training sessions. Keep all cat training sessions very short: stop after 5 or 6 repetitions (but you can do several sessions a day).
Is microchipping your kitten a legal requirement?
Microchipping is the best way to permanently identify your cat if they go missing. Each chip carries a unique 15-digit code which is registered with a database and read with a scanner. The database holds the pet keeper’s details to help vets and rescue centres reunite pets with their families.
Collars with ID tags can be used, but these must be designed for cats and be able to break if the cat gets caught on a bush or gets their leg through the collar. The design features which make collars safe also mean they can easily be lost. Collars with bells may reduce how many birds and mice your cat catches, and reflective collars may reduce road accidents.
It is estimated that over 300,000 animals go missing in the UK every year. In late 2021 the government announced that microchipping would be compulsory for all cats over the age of 20 weeks,. And on the 13th March 2023, it was announced that this rule would come into place on the 10th June 2024.
The aim is to make it easier to reunite lost cats and their owners, but if that isn’t enough incentive, fines of £500 could be imposed for unchipped cats (99% of cat owners surveyed by Cats Protection were in favour of this new law).
Kittens can be microchipped at any age, but most implanters will wait until they are around 1kg bodyweight or 8 weeks of age. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades using a needle. Any pain from the injection is very temporary and many kittens barely notice.
Pet microchips are incredibly reliable, with no batteries or moving parts, and should work for the lifetime of your cat. Ask your vet to check that the chip is in the correct position and can be read easily at your cat’s annual health check and vaccination. If you move house or change contact details you must also change these on the microchip database.
Microchips can only be implanted by vets, veterinary nurses, or other persons who have passed an approved training course. Many OSCAR franchisees are trained microchip implanters.
Do you need further advice?
If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
©OSCAR Pet Foods Ltd