When you adopt a puppy or a kitten you want to do everything you can to prevent your new pet from getting ill.
After the initial visits to your vet, you follow all of his or her recommendations regarding vaccinations, deworming, flea control and nutrition. This all comes at a cost, but is essential in order to ensure your pet gets off to a good start in life.
Something else you CANNOT ignore, and which costs nothing, is socialisation.
Socialisation involves introducing pets to various stimuli in the first few weeks of their lives. This includes different places, all sorts of noises and sounds, and as many people and other species of animals as possible. It is vitally important that puppies and kittens are quickly introduced to a wide range of activities so that their brains “train” themselves to recognise them. Why? The answer is simple: the more your pet is exposed to different things and is confronted with all these stimuli, the less likely it is to be afraid of them later on.
At birth, puppies’ and kittens’ brains are still in a formative state. These experiences help them develop their minds and adapt to their environment. You can compare it to babies going to a crèche, where they learn to live with other children and adults. They come into contact with different places, smells, noises and colours. Every new piece of information intercepted by the brain stimulates a neural connection and is filed away as “known”.
If we take the extreme example, fortunately very rare, of animals that are born and spend the first few weeks of their lives in what are known as “commercial” or “high-volume” breeding facilities, they receive very little stimulation. They are not exposed to different noises, unusual objects, or people or other animals they are not accustomed to seeing. This is a really bad way to start their lives because they become scared at the slightest stimulus.
It is precisely for this reason that we prefer puppies and kittens to be raised by family breeders, where they are exposed to as many as possible of the stimuli they will encounter in almost all future adoptive families. They become used to the noise of the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, radio, video games, TV, cars and more… They consider other species of animals they are introduced to – whether horses or ferrets – as their friends. Children do not frighten them and they know that there are both men and women in life.
So you have two things to take care of: your pet’s physical health as well as its mental health. Socialisation does not come naturally to pets. They learn it from the second or third week of their lives and perfect it over the coming weeks until they are about four months old. It must then be maintained, as otherwise it can be forgotten. So it’s important you continue to offer dogs or cats all types of stimulation and activities for the rest of their lives.
For dogs, introduce them to other dogs, cats or any other animals they are likely to meet in their daily lives, people of different genders, ages and origins, and a variety of places, such as public transport or the market.
Cats generally don’t go out with their owners, so they have fewer encounters. However, they do occasionally go to the vet’s, and people and other animals may come into your home, so it’s just as important that you socialise your kitten. From an early age, it should be handled (always gently), stroked, brushed and carried, and become accustomed to the pet carrier and car.
Adopting a new four-legged friend requires a significant investment of time and patience.
Remember this before you fall in love with a little ball of fluff that will quickly become unhappy and unmanageable if not properly socialised and trained.
Dr Eric Witvrouw
DMV | Animal Behaviourist
Veterinary Center ÉducaVet’s