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Kittens Bonding with Humans

Written by Brad Kollus

Research shows that how a cat bonds to humans is partly determined by how they interact with humans as kittens. Dr. Dennis Turner, coauthor of: The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, and his colleague, Dr. E.B. Karsh conducted research which demonstrated that the amount and quality of interactions a kitten has with people between its second and seventh week of age will play a large role in determining whether the kitten is friendly toward people. Their experiments showed that kittens between two and seven weeks old who were handled for 40 minutes a day came to a person quicker and could be held longer than kittens who were handled for just 15 minutes a day. They also found that kittens who were handled by many different people were more friendly to strangers than kittens who were handled by just one person.


Newer research by Drs. John Bradshaw and Sarah E. Lowe published in the journal Anthrozoos found that the period from eight to sixteen weeks of age also plays an important, though different, role in how kittens bond with people. An interesting result of their experiments was that kittens who received the most handling at eight weeks of age made the least amount of escape attempts while being handled by an unfamiliar person, while kittens which received the least amount of handling made the most escape attempts. These results completely reversed at sixteen weeks of age. Kittens which received the most handling made the most escape attempts and seemed very comfortable wanting to play, while kittens who received the least handling made the least escape attempts and seemed to freeze in fear. The authors theorize that between two and seven weeks, handling of kittens makes them less fearful of people while experience with humans between eight and sixteen weeks affects the way they interact with familiar and unfamiliar people.


Later experiences by juvenile kittens may also play a role in how they interact with humans. However, this will be based on the foundation experiences they had as young kittens. Dr. Dennis Turner in his book theorizes that kittens who had been socialized during the two to seven-week period would only need one or two positive interactions with an unfamiliar person to bond with that person, while but many negative interactions to override their friendly and trusting personality. A kitten who had not been socialized to humans during the same period would need many positive interactions with an unfamiliar person to override their lack of socialization and be able to bond with them. However, this kitten would only need one negative experience to react with fear towards a person.

So, cuddle those kittens if you want them to grow up and be a "person cat."

Pictures on this page are by members of's Forums.

Brad Kollus is an award winning Cat Writer specializing in the Feline-Human Bond. He lives with his wife Elizabeth, their son Dylan, and four cats, Scotty, Spanky, Lizzie, and Rosie in New Jersey.

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