How to select a friendly, confident cat or kitten
Deciding to add a new cat to your home is a very exciting process and by following the advice below, you will have the highest chance of selecting a friendly, confident cat who fits in well into your home.
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Factors to consider when choosing a cat or kitten:
Temperament of the father and mother
One of the biggest influences on a kitten’s socialisation is the temperament of their father. For the best success of bringing up a friendly, confident cat it is important to select a kitten with a father who has a bold or friendly temperament. Although appropriate socialisation of a kitten born from a timid father will help, they will not be as confident as kittens fathered by a friendly male.
The temperament of the mother is also an important part in socialisation. It is thought that a well socialised mother being present, will help to build a positive relationship between kittens and people.
Has the cat or kitten been well socialised with a variety of people?
For a cat to be introduced to a family home containing adults and children, it’s important to ensure the cat was well socialised to people during its sensitive period. The sensitive period for cats is the period where they learn what is safe and what is not, and anything they encounter during this period will have lasting effects on how they react in adulthood. The sensitive period for cats is between 2 and 7 weeks of age. Gently handling kittens from two weeks of age, from 40 mins to two hours per day (split up into small sessions throughout the day) is optimum for their behavioural health. Handling by a number of different people helps them to become more confident with strangers in later life as well.
When looking for an adult cat to live with children, it is extremely important that the cat was socialised with children of differing ages during the sensitive period. A cat who never met children during its sensitive period may be an otherwise well socialised cat, but may become fearful when introduced to children.
Has the cat or kitten been socialised with other cats and animals?
When looking for a cat to join a home with other animals, any cat being considered should have been well socialised to other cats and dogs during and beyond its sensitive period. The most influential cat to a kitten is its mother through observation, therefore looking for a cat whose mother is friendly towards other cats is ideal. It is more likely that a cat who was deprived of maternal contact as a kitten would become fearful and/or aggressive towards other cats when they are adults. Those who weren’t appropriately socialised towards other cats during their sensitive period are more likely to show inappropriate social behaviour.
The few studies on socialisation with other species show that kittens do form positive associations with other species during the sensitive period. Therefore it is much more likely that a cat will cope with living with a dog if it has previously formed positive associations with a dog.
Is the cat or kitten well habituated?
Habituation is where an animal learns which stimuli it should ignore and which it should respond to. A well habituated cat will learn to ignore non-threatening stimuli in its environment as these will have no consequence (such as a fan or a radio). A cat who has not been well habituated will find living in a family home stressful as it won’t have learned which stimuli to ignore.
The habituation process should be followed gradually, with new stimuli introduced slowly, quietly and repeatedly built up over time. This tends to be done in the breeder/caregivers home, therefore the family should attempt to find out what habituation process the caregiver followed and when this was carried out. Again, the presence of the mother will help kittens learn this process.
The current temperament of the cat or kitten
Temperament can be defined as how the animal is likely to behave over a range of situations over time and it also affects what emotions the cat feels. Cats with bold and friendly temperaments will likely have a more reactive area in the brain which controls the emotional responses and feelings when associating with people.
A busy family home may benefit from selecting a cat or kitten who shows a confident behavioural style in different contexts and situations over a long period of time, whereas those in quieter homes may be able to select a slightly more timid cat. This can usually be documented in a charity setting where the cats are observed in different situations over a specific length of time.
It is advised to visit the cat or kitten on several occasions before adopting him or her to ensure the right home environment is selected for the temperament of the cat or kitten.
Need more advice?
Book an appointment with one of our qualified behaviourists for more guidance.
This article was written by Tanith Lee RVN. Tan qualified as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) in 2014. Since then she has worked in a variety of first opinion and referral clinics throughout the UK. She completed the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing with Distinction in 2016, and has completed the ISFM Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour. Tan is our Veterinary Practice Manager for FirstVet in the UK.