Socializing Orphan Kittens

Raising an orphan kitten is rewarding and also a huge responsibility.  Between late night feedings, stimulating the little ones to void and keeping them warm, it’s a full time commitment.  While most surrogate parents learn to handle the kitten’s physical needs, some may unintentionally ignore their emotional needs.  Out of love, people spoil them.  The indulged little tyke grows into a naughty adult who never learns how to inhibit their bite.  They go off without warning, leaving deep wounds on the people around them.  The once treasured family member becomes a nightmare.  

Fortunately, this scenario can be prevented with proper socialization.  Here are the steps I followed with my own orphan, Genevieve.  Actually, I should have listed her as Genevieve the Magnificent, Queen of all the world . . . (you get the idea).      
1)  Whenever possible, raise orphans together.  The kittens provide companionship and comfort to one another.  They will also teach each other when a bite is too hard and hurts too much.  
2)  The critical window for socialization is between 2 and 9 weeks of age.  If possible, leave kittens with their mother and litter mates during this period.  The queen will teach them a lot about proper behavior those last three weeks. 
3)  Do not let orphans bite your fingers.  While it is cute when they are young, it becomes painful as they age.  Whenever they bite, blow in their face, rattle coins in a can or give them a quick squirt of water to startle them and then remove your finger.  Give them a toy for a substitute.  
4)  When the kitten get a little older, 12 to 20 weeks, this might not be enough to deter them.  With teenagers I hold them by the scruff of the neck and pin them to the ground, like a queen would do with a misbehaving kitten.  Although they are mad at first, they quickly learn to give up.  This technique worked well with my orphan, Genny.
5)  Be very careful not to over stimulate orphans into biting.  When their tails start twitching, break off the interaction.  Give them alone time to calm down.  
6)  Expose them to a variety of humans, cats and other animals.  Do so slowly, in short sessions.  If the kitten appears anxious, stop immediately and return them to their safe spot.  If they are still nursing, give them a bottle.  The act of nursing calms them down right away.

Watching an orphan kitten grow into a healthy adult is a wonderful experience.  The rewards are definitely worth the lack of sleep.  My little orphan will celebrate her 17th birthday next month.  She grew into a wonderful cat who still calls me with a baby mew!        


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.