Socializing Li’l Magill and Her Kittens

It’s that time of year again! As of May 29, my husband and I are once again fostering for The Cat House. We’re fostering a mother cat and her four kittens. Originally, there had been six kittens, five of which were males. Sadly, two of the kittens died the day before we started to foster.

Mama was a stray and she and so her family had been living outside. When we took them home with us, they showed some signs of being under the weather. Li’l Magill had an upset gut, and we’ve been sprinkling probiotics on her food to treat it. The four kittens had scabs on their legs which have since healed. At just nine months old and only five and a half pounds, Li’l seems too young and too small to already be a mom. Her babies were two weeks old when we got them, with their eyes barely open.

When we first brought our foster cat family to our home, we placed them in our spare room on the main floor. The room contains a bed, desk, night table, and bureau. We added food and water dishes, a large litter box filled with litter, a scratching post, and some blankets.

Li’l Magill was scared of us for the first few days, and hid with her kittens in the carrier we’d brought her home in. The first night that her family was with us, we just let them sleep and adapt to their new home. The next day, I also started playing classical music so they could have soothing background noise. After they had a couple of days to adjust, Andy and I began hanging out in the room with them when we could. Soon Li’l was coming out of her crate, eating, and using the litter box and scratching post in our presence.

The first weekend, Andy tempted Li’l Magill with strips of roast beef. Mostly she waited for him to throw strips on the floor before she’d venture out of her carrier, but once she took a piece directly from his hand. I followed up by offering her some squeezable lickable cat paste. Li’l readily accepted the paste from within the safety of her carrier, but also allowed me to lure her out of the crate with it. After I fed her a packet of paste, she rubbed against me, encouraging me to pet her! Since then, she’s sought daily attention from us.

During the first week of our fostering, Li’l Magill’s four kittens stayed close to their mom in their carrier. All they did was eat and sleep. One of them would occasionally peek out of the carrier, but otherwise Andy and I didn’t get much opportunity to see them. Sometimes one or more would be hidden in the shadows behind mom, and it would be a challenge to check up on them.

At three weeks old, our foster kittens began to develop a sense of smell and to be aware of sounds. Their ears started to stand upright. Then almost overnight, the kittens began exploring the rest of the spare room and sleeping outside of the carrier. “They grow up so fast,” Andy joked to Li’l Magill, as she cast a watchful eye over her kittens.

At four weeks old, the kittens’ eyes were still blue, but were showing signs of turning green. A lot of other changes were taking place, the biggest being that they rapidly became more mobile. Initially, their steps were slow and unsteady, and frequently they would stumble and collapse on the floor. At the same time, they’re extremely curious about the room! They also begun to drink and eat from Li’l’s food and water bowls.

For those first few weeks, we simply allowed the kittens to acclimate to household life. After that, we began to become more deliberate in our actions, as we consider socialization to be one of our prime responsibilities as fosters.

The main socialization window for kittens is from two to seven weeks of age, but it can extend up to 14 weeks. As part of socialization, kittens should be introduced to new people, other animals, new places, and other stimuli. On May 13, when the kittens were about five weeks of age, Andy’s dad came to visit. New person! We took him into the spare room to see the kittens; later in the evening I also brought the kittens out to see him one at a time. New place! That same night, we also quickly introduced the kittens to our other cats (lots of hissing!) and to our toy poodle. Other animals!

A couple of days later, one of my co-workers came to see them. Li’l hissed and fled into her carrier and didn’t come out until I lured her out with squeezable lickable cat paste. The kittens initially held back, but then cautiously crept up to me and then to my co-worker. Soon they were climbing all over my-coworker, meowing and seeking attention.

The reactions of our foster kittens demonstrate why it’s important to socialize at a young age. While they may initially react in fear, they’ll also quickly overcome their fears as long as they’re given the opportunity. Research has proven that the more opportunities kittens are given, the greater chance that they’ll develop into well-socialized cats.

In contrast, Li’l’s reaction to us and visitors backs up the research that shows that adult cats are more difficult to socialize. That said, it’s not impossible. Li’l did ultimately come out of her carrier for treats and affection. She even rubbed up against me, although she remained hesitant of my friend.

Socialization isn’t just about meeting new people. It’s also about being exposed to all kinds of new stimuli. For that reason, when the kittens were between ages four and five weeks, I began playing recordings of nature, urban areas, and household items. In addition, I introduced them to our Dustbuster and to toys. So far, they’ve had no reaction to the recorded sounds. With regards to the dust buster, I initially placed it–powered off–on the floor for them to check out, which they enjoyed. I’m still bracing for the day when they accidentally turn it on, although they haven’t been fazed by my using it to vacuum up their litter, and so perhaps they’ll be fine. As for the toys, they initially just stared at them. After I flicked the toys around, they seem to get the idea, and now like to play with them.

Everything that Andy and I have done to date can easily be done by anyone with the space to foster. It’s also not that expensive. The Cat House provides the food and the litter. It also covers the cost of any medical expenses. If the idea of helping to save the lives of cats appeals to you, I encourage you to inquire with your local shelter or rescue about fostering opportunities.

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