The most important time in a kitten’s development for learning to interact in a social context with other cats, people and other domestic animals, including the dog, is called the socialization period. This occurs when the kitten is still very young—around 2—7 weeks of age.
At Oz Catz, we have done much of this socialization work for you.
We have handled the young kitten regularly—lifting, touching, playing, chatting and gently restraining him each day. But you need to continue the process once the kitten comes into your home.
Remember, kittens are just babies and need their rest and sleep to grow strong and healthy. Make sure the younger members of your family understand this please.
Your Kitten's First Experience
The kitten’s first experience with you will be related to transport. Make this first experience as stress-free as possible– for both your kitten and for you. Sometimes, gentle chatting to your kitten may calm him if he is distressed.
But sometimes, when you speak to your kitten in the car, it only encourages him to grizzle a bit louder.
So, unfortunately, you may have to ‘ play it by ear’ - so to speak!
Introductions to You
Some kittens bound out of their carry case like they’ve never been anywhere else. Other kittens can be a bit traumatised by the trip home and the loss of their friends. If you kitten seems a bit over-whelmed by his sudden change of scenery, you may need to take things slowly with his introductions. The first step is to let him get to know and trust you.
Take your kitten into a small quiet room with a calm atmosphere—your bedroom would be good—not a cold noisy bathroom or laundry, nor a large open area. Shut the door so it’s nice and safe, secure and quiet.
Put a new litter box on the floor - also a bowl of fresh water and a plate of yummy tucker.
All this time, talk to your kitten quietly so he gets used to the sound of your voice. I chatter all the time to my kittens so you need to imprint the sound of your voice over mine in your kitten’s head.
Sit on the floor beside the carry box and open the door of the box. Don’t reach in and drag the kitten out—just chat and encourage him to explore. Normally this only takes a short time because the kitten has been in the carry box for so long it will be wonderful to finally be out!
Keep talking to the kitten in a quiet, calm voice whilst he looks around without any noises or threats.
Encourage the kitten to investigate you and perhaps have a cuddle on the bed or on a chair or just on the floor. Help the kitten settle down with smooth strokes down his back but DON’T HOLD THE KITTEN especially if it wants to explore some more.
If the kitten makes a dart for the nearest hiding place—retrieve him. Don’t let him stay hiding and frightened. Hold him against your chest under your chin and try to calm him but if all else fails, return him to his carry box for another 10 minutes or so, then try again.
Depending on how stressful his trip to your home was for the little baby, this initial settling in period may take from 2 seconds to several days. Be patient—you will be well rewarded.
Remember—learn to think like a cat—it’s a mighty scary world away from your mummy and friends and all you’ve ever known for your entire life!
Introductions to His New Home
Soon your kitten will be ready to explore beyond the bedroom—the timing is different for each kitten.
Don’t rush it! Learn to read your kitten’s body language to know when he is ready. If his ears are up, his tail is up, he is standing normally, is happy to smooch, is rolling on the floor to stretch and relax his muscles—then he is probably ready.
If his ears are side-ways or back, if he is crouching with tail between his legs and his eyes are wide—then he is not ready—be patient! Give him a little more time.
Once he is ready, open the door and invite him to explore outside the room—talking to him as you go.
Follow behind your kitten as he explores, talking quietly, explaining things if need be.
Establish a ‘kitten language’- that is, use the same words to your kitten so he learns what you mean when you talk to him. Usually a kitten language may consist of 30—40 words. Say them clearly so he can learn them and repeat them when you are teaching him.
Start with the most important words like - Good Kitten! Dinner! Cuddle? These are all words that I use in his socialisation.
If the adventure into the world outside the bedroom is too much for him to handle, he will try to hide under and behind furniture or draw himself into a small ball, put his tail down, his ears down and widen his eyes.
Watch for these signs of fear, in which case, gently retrieve your kitten, comfort him—keep talking—and return him to the bedroom until he is ready for another foray into the wider scary world of the house.
Sometimes when he is exploring he will suddenly find himself around a corner and apparently all alone in the world. He will meow quite loudly—find him so he can see you, chat to him to reassure him and he should be ready to continue on with his explorations.
After a while, he will be satisfied just to hear your voice and know you are close by. You might find he does this pathetic meowing for several days whenever he feels suddenly lost—but then he will start to feel really at home and confident of his new surroundings and he will stop.
This behaviour is quite normal and happens because, having gone happily exploring, he suddenly looks around, remembers he’s in a strange place and finds none of his friends in sight—he just needs to be reassured by the sight of you appearing and later on just the sound of your voice will do the trick.
Introductions to His New Name
Repeat his new name to him all the time.
I don’t name my kittens whilst they are with me so your new name is something special between your kitten and you.
Also learn to modulate your voice to better convey your meaning—soft = loving; low and growling = displeasure; higher and bright = pleasure, encouragement, etc.
Introduction to Family
Your Ocicat kitten will usually adopt every member of the family – not just one favourite person! Let him take his time to get to know each person.
It is especially important when your kitten is meeting small children that the children know how to respect the kitten’s rights – so no rough handling or teasing.
Please supervise young children when interacting with young kittens.
It is also important not to let your kitten leap from high places like your shoulder or arms onto a hard floor.
Kittens can easily break or damage delicate bones.
Introductions to Children in the Family
Once the kitten has been properly introduced to you and your home, introductions to the rest of the family will be a breeze.
Make sure the children in the family are taught to respect the kitten’s rights and understand that a normal reaction to rough brutish behaviour will result in the kitten trying to defend itself.
Ocicats are not aggressive by nature, but if push comes to shove, they will scratch to save themselves if they feel they are in danger of being hurt.
Many of my Ocicat babies have gone to homes where there are small children and it seems the Ocicats have a natural attraction to the young child in the home, often bonding with them first.
Also, make sure the kitten gets enough quiet time to itself to complete its normal grooming, toileting and sleeping. Kittens need to sleep to grow!
Introductions to Other Pets
Your Ocicat kitten has had some exposure to a dog whilst at Oz Catz, however, he may react with some fear when meeting your other pets for the first time. This is quite normal.
Wait until your kitten is thoroughly relaxed and ‘at home’ in his new environment and with his new family people. Again, this may take 5 minutes or 24 hours.
Bring the kitten into an area of the home with which he is already comfortable and relaxed. Then introduce the family resident pet—best to do this one at a time if you have several.
Stay close and vigilant to intercede if there are physical threats to the kitten.
Stroke the kitten with one hand whilst at the same time stroke the resident pet with the other hand, repeating the kitten’s name and the resident pet’s name—one after the other. Swap hands now and then to transfer smells from one to the other.
Don’t be too concerned if there is any hissing, growling or spitting—this is just the cats’ way of saying ‘I’m tough!! Just watch yourself, Buster!’
Step in only if the growling, etc. develops into swatting and/or claws out hitting.
Introduce a toy to distract attention, but be careful of rough aggressive play if the resident pet sees the toy as his property.
Remember, the kitten does not come with pre-conceived ideas of who’s boss - he only wants to play and have fun and be friends. So work on this and use it to your advantage.
Never leave the kitten alone with the resident pet until you are absolutely sure of its safety.
If all else fails, try the ‘dinner plate trick’. Place two servings of the yummiest food on opposite sides of a large dinner plate. Place the resident cat and kitten on opposite sides of the plate, head to head. This won’t work with dogs. Encourage them to eat their portion. Stay close and keep speaking to them.
Once they have finished, they will sit back and wash, eyeing each other off and usually deciding ‘Mmmmmmm …. They’re not so bad after all. Maybe I can be friends with them, especially if it results in yummy tucker!’
If in any doubt at all about the kitten’s safety, remove him and try again another day. Once they sleep together, they will usually be friends.
If you have any difficulty with the introductions, don’t hesitate to seek further help from Oz Catz.
When introducing the kitten to other cats in the household, always protect the kitten! There may be some hissing and spitting and other posturing by either or both the cat and kitten. Don’t worry too much about this – they are just establishing some ground rules.