By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 12 May 2011)
Many people wonder if it’s safe to touch or hold kittens during the first couple of weeks. As a general rule, if the mother is comfortable with a person and doesn’t appear agitated when the kittens are touched, that person can handle the kittens regularly after the 1st week (during the first 7 days, handling should be kept to a minimum).
During week 2, engage in very brief sessions of gentle handling on a regular basis. Contrary to popular belief, gentle handling of kittens, particularly after the 1st week, is unlikely to cause a mother cat to reject them. When a mother rejects a kitten, it is usually because that kitten is ill or has a congenital defect that reduces its survival prospects. It’s sad, but she has to put her energies into raising the kittens that are more likely to thrive. A mother cat may also reject her kittens because she is ill or suffers from psychological problems.
Handling kittens from the second week onward is beneficial, as the critical period for socialization begins during week 2. Studies show that kittens that are handled properly from a young age are friendlier and less fearful as adults.
When handling kittens, be sure to put them back into the nest immediately if the mother shows any signs of distress, and don’t allow young children to pick them up. Clumsy handling can easily kill a small, fragile kitten. When handling kittens, keep them very near the nest – their mother should be able to see them while they are held.
See the Pregnant Cats and Kittens Page for information on caring for pregnant cats, kitten development week by week, kitten training, kitten care, and more. For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page.
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- IBOK Rescue. (n.d.). “Stages of Kitten Development.” IBOKRescue.RescueGroups.org.
- Neville, P., & Bessant, C. (1997). The Perfect Kitten: How to Raise a Problem-Free Cat. London, UK: Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd.