Well before it even arrives at its new home, your kitten has learnt several lessons. Indeed the behaviour of any adult cat is defined by its experiences in kittenhood.
The single most important lesson that your pet cat needs is how to love human beings. If it doesn’t learn this as a kitten, it may never learn it properly for the rest of its life. It will always be wary around human beings even if it grows to love one particular human. This sort of cat is a tamed cat rather than a domestic cat.
Most feral cats have had kittenhoods, brought up without human contact. They can’t be handled. They will avoid humans, except for cautious approaches if food is left down regularly. They can be tamed, but it usually takes two to three years.
There is a window of opportunity in kittenhood when a cat can learn that humans are friends. Tiny kittens do not know fear. You can handle them and cuddle them much more easily than older cats. For the first few weeks they are little care-eliciting babies. They have very little, if any, fear. Their demeanour, their little cries, their chubby shape, are nature’s way of getting their mothers, or their humans, to care for them. Kittens are irresistible. This fear-free window is called the sensitive period and it falls between the second and seventh week of kitten life. The process of accepting a different species as a friend is often called “socialisation”. Socialisation has to happen before kittens get the fear instinct. This fear instinct kicks in around the eighth week.
So during the five week period before it knows fear a your kitten needs to be gently handled by at least four different humans, preferably including men, women and also children. The more gentle handling your kitten has had, the friendlier it will be in later life to humans. It also needs to get used to the smell of humans, since smell is important for the feline identification of friend or foe.
If it is to be adopted into a home with a dog, your kitten also needs to meet a friendly dog during this period. And if it is going to be happy in a home with lots of other cats, it needs to meet other adult cats, not just its mother, during its kittenhood.
An only kitten, brought up without brothers and sisters on its own with its mother, may become a bit of a loner and will be happier as a single pet. Kittens that are hand-reared by humans, because their mother has died or disappeared, may grow up to think they are humans. These will often be happier as the only cat in the household.
Finally, during this sensitive period your kitten also should have the chance to get used to human noises, household smells and ordinary human activities. It will learn that it need not be frightened by the noises of the washing machine, the telephone, the radio and the TV. This means that the ideal home for a kitten to be born in, is a household with gentle children, friends who visit, a calm loving dog, and one or two other cats.
Growing up in this atmosphere will mean your kitten is used to, and not frightened by, most domestic activities. The worst upbringing for a household cat is to be born in the wild. Stray kittens that are rescued off the street need a lot of handling as early as possible by their rescuers to overcome their fear of humans.
Rescuers who don’t realise this, may hand out kittens for adoption that will grow up to be wild animals. Wild animals can sometimes be tamed by endless human patience but they rarely make easy pets. The other bad upbringing is that of a pedigree kitten that is reared in a cat chalet, a shed or an outbuilding.
So do not ever buy a kitten from a pet shop, a garden centre, or online.Kitten farms, where kittens are produced cheaply en masse for sale to pet shops, or via the internet, usually produce physically sick and emotionally stunted kittens. Unscrupulous breeders will show the buyer their kittens in the house, but then stick them back into the shed when the would-be buyer has left. But even some pedigree breeders who love and cherish their cats simply don’t understand the importance of exposing their kittens at an early age to human life in all its forms.
So though your kitten has a posh pedigree, the pedigree alone will do it little good. Only a good education, with lots of gentle handling, will make for a happy pet. Never buy on impulse and do lots of research to make sure that you are buying from the best kind of home.