Rachel Lees RVT, KPA CTP, VTS (Behavior)
As veterinary professionals, wouldn’t we all love ways to keep our clients and feline patients happy, healthy, and even make our jobs safer? Let’s scratch the surface of the basics of kitten socialization, the benefits of kitten socialization classes, and how we can start these courses in our own practices.
Who doesn’t love a sweet, fluffy, and cuddly kitten? But they don’t become that way on their own. Veterinary team members and owners have long recognized the importance of puppy socialization and training classes, and these same tactics can be used for kittens as well. That’s right! Socialization is just as important for kittens as it is for puppies. It’s important for humans, too. Here’s why.
Educating Owners and Staff
As veterinary professionals, we have only a certain amount of time to discuss these things with new kitten owners during appointments. An educated veterinary team is key to starting kittens off on the right track to enjoy handling, being placed in their carriers, and be more comfortable with husbandry care at home.
These things are beneficial for the veterinary team as well. Revenue increases because cats are more compliant about being brought to the veterinary hospital, and everyone is safer because fewer patients display fear, anxiety, or stress. Implementing and recommending these classes in a practice can also increase revenue as a new service and be a way to bond kittens and owners to the practice.
Knowing and acknowledging the kitten socialization period is critical in setting up new owners and kittens for success. For kittens, the socialization period starts at 2 weeks and ends at 7 to 10 weeks. This is the time when kittens begin to become less reliant on the queen for survival and have increased interaction with social and environmental stimuli. It’s the most important sensitive period in feline development and can help to prime felines to live safely and comfortably in human households. Positive social experiences in kittenhood with other species and stimuli are hugely beneficial in creating behaviorally healthy adult cats.
You may be thinking that kittens do not come into the practice until after this developmental period has passed and you are correct! Kittens may not come into our practices until they are 8 to 10 weeks old. Kitten classes can still be beneficial because the socialization window does not slam shut. It closes slowly, so these classes can be beneficial for kittens up to 14 weeks of age.
Kitten Kindergarten or Kitten Kindy was brought to the forefront by veterinary behaviorist Kersti Seksel, VBSc (Hons), MRCVS, MA (Hons), FACVSc, DACVB, DECAWBM of Australia. The classes have the following goals:
- Socialize kittens
- Educate owners about normal feline behavior
- Teach owners how to interact and play with their kittens
- Train kittens to accept handling procedures
- Identify any problem behaviors and provide up-to-date, humane, and scientific advice
- Educate owners on all aspects of kitten development, pet care, and living with a cat in the family
I structure and run kitten classes as follows:
- Interaction with other pet owners and felines of the same age range (with appropriate health and vaccination requirements)
- Provide different surfaces, textures, objects, and sounds for the kittens to experience during exploratory time
- Discuss and demonstrate carrier training using marker training
- Review the following focus points to set the new kitten owners up for success:
- Litter Box Basics
- Socialization Period
- Fear Free has a fantastic Kitten Socialization Bingo Worksheet in the Toolbox. I have used something similar in the past and given prizes for owners who get the “Bingo” or successfully socialize their kittens to many positive things from week to week.
- Scratching and playing
- Handling and administering medications
Courses can be offered weekly in a rotational style to get as many kittens into the class as possible, monthly as a kitten party, or in a weekly 3-week course. The possibilities are endless!
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Rachel Lees, a Level 3 Fear Free Certified Professional, is a veterinary technician specialist in behavior, a KPA certified training partner, and lead veterinary behavior technician at The Behavior Clinic in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. She loves helping people create and maintain a strong human-animal bond and has a special interest in kitten and puppy socialization and development.