By Amy D. Shojai, CABC
What age is best to adopt your new kitten? The majority of professional cat breeders and many well-respected cat behaviorists say that cat babies should stay with siblings and Mom-cat for at least 12 to 16 weeks. Of course, that's not always possible.
Maturity has as much to do with emotional development as it does with physical growth. Physically, kittens are able to eat and thrive on commercial food as early as three weeks of age and most are weaned by six to eight weeks of age. That's the most common time kittens leave and go to new homes, primarily I believe for convenience's sake. Places that have kittens available, like shelters, often have limited space. So as soon as kittens reach that six to eight week mark, are able to eat, and have a set of preventative vaccines, they're out the door.
But by that age, kittens are just beginning to learn to be proper cats. And no matter how well intentioned, human caretakers aren't able to do as good a job as furry siblings and cat-parents. Kittens learn from other cats how to use the litter box and cover their waste; groom themselves; play nicely and inhibit claws and bites; use and understand body language and verbal cues; and to defer to dominant felines. They also take their cues from other cats about what's safe-like people and other cats - and what's scary and to be avoided. That means if Mom-cat shows kittens a positive reaction to a friendly dog, they'll be more likely to get along in a multi-pet home.
Kittens adopted too early often bite and claw more than those who have been kitty-corrected by Mom and siblings. They also may be fearful or less tolerant of other cats, because they don't understand all the proper feline etiquette of the social structure. And because cats tend to consider their human to be part of their family, it's important for the kitten to respect you and defer to your rules of the house, just as he would a cat-in-command.
Proper socialization not only includes interaction with other cats, but positive handling by people during this critical period. That ensures the baby is well adjusted, confident, and emotionally healthy.
Many times we do not have the luxury of adopting our kitten at the "ideal" age. That means that you, the human parent, will need to do your best to do Mom-cat's job and teach Junior how to be a proper cat. Each age has particular challenges, too. After all, a kitten is a kitten from birth until he reaches his first birthday - that's a lot of physical and emotional growth and development!
2002 & revision 2010 Amy D. Shojai, CABC
Amy D. Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, and author of 23 pet care books including Complete Kitten Care and Complete Care for Your Aging Cat. She's also the behavior contributor for cats.About.com and can be reached via www.shojai.com.
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.