When we first brought our rescue kittens home, I scoured the web looking for hints and tips for getting them socialised.
Generally speaking, the best time to socialise kittens is before they’re 10 weeks old – and much of the help you’ll find online describes this in detail. However, if you have young rescue kittens that are older than 10 weeks, it’s extremely difficult to find good advise on socialising them.
Our kittens were born under an outer suburban home, where an elderly lady fed them leftovers. They’d escaped capture several times. This meant by the time we brought them home, they were extremely wary of people and were not excited about being handled. It also meant they were past that ‘magical’ ten weeks barrier!
We played with them, kept them warm and safe and well fed. Cats are naturally inquisitive – kittens especially so – so they engaged well with us and explored the house, finding all sort of nooks and crannies and playthings. But handling and affection continued to be difficult.
It took a lot of searching before I found the perfect advice, and I’m repeating it here in the hopes someone else can find it if they need it!
Use food! Wet food in particular triggers a powerful pleasure response in cats, it’s why cats often purr when it’s feeding time.
The best thing you can do when starting to socialise kittens after ten weeks is to stroke and pet them while they’re eating wet food. This will not only acclimatise them with being handled, it will link that pleasure response with being stroked and touched.
As they get used to this you can then bring in other elements of “training” by sitting on the floor to them a small daily treat (a kitten snack), but ensure they learn that this comes with gentle, caring contact. They can climb onto your lap to get it, or take one from your hand.
All other aspect of socialising still apply, of course: regular play, handling, routines etc. But considering they were so late into the home, using food was the gateway we needed, and I hope it works for you too!