Question: I'm no expert but I've tamed a few litters of kittens and find that past 8 weeks the females are progressively harder to tame than the males. What do you think? Rosina
Answer: Yes, I agree. I think Mother Nature gets the credit for this phenomenon. Up until 8 weeks, kittens are pretty much defenseless and it is mom's responsibility to make sure they are warm, eat and don't fall prey to predators. Kittens under 8 weeks are programmed by Mother Nature to be fixated on mom, stay near her and do whatever she says. Once they hit 8 weeks, kittens are on a super fast-track to independence. That means, hunting and feeding themselves and getting ready to reproduce. Male kittens seem to get more of a limbo period from Mother Nature since their role in reproduction is pretty minimal, and their child-care role is non-existent. Taming a male kitten even up to 6 months can sometimes be done without much fanfare with consistent hard work.
Here's the info that for me makes ALL the difference between socializing female kittens between 2 months and 4 months: Female kittens can become pregnant as early as 4 months old. Think about it. In the time between two months of age and four months, the female kitten must learn a mind-bending number things. She must become self sufficient hunting and feeding herself. She must be prepared to have a family in the street as a single-parent and all that entails. Finding a safe spot to deliver her kittens where she can protect them and defend them from predators is a very advance level of development. With kittens, she must make a hundred decisions every day how to keep them alive and feed herself plus produce milk for them.
Male kittens are on a much slower track of development and have pretty much of a free ride during this same period of time as long as they learn to hunt for themselves and stay out of the way of the dominant males in the colony.
The key to understanding the challenges of socializing older female kittens comes back to something I've discussed frequently in this blog, the FIGHT or FLIGHT instinct. The "Fight or Flight" instinct goes from pretty much zero at 8 weeks to warp drive in a matter of a few weeks in female kittens. Imagine how much mental development it takes to go from complete dependence on mom to being ready to be a mom yourself in 2 months time.
Female kittens this age really need the "option" to stay away from the socializer and approach of their own choice. Give them space and use their hunger to get them to muster up the courage to come up to you to eat. Cornering them or forcing them in any way to be held or handled will have diminishing returns. You may be able to get away with it with young kittens and older male kittens but the older females are programmed to panic in that situation.
A mom cat who has kittens back in the nest is not going to take any unnecessary chances while out getting a meal. Her priority is making sure those kittens survive. Even though the kitten is only 3-4 months old, Mother Nature has already infused her with the instinct to not take ANY unnecessary chances. Why let those humans touch and pet you when it isn't a matter of life or death. Hunger is pretty much the only thing you have to work with at this age with female kittens. The thing in your favor is that female kittens of this age are very intelligent and once they realize you only mean them well, it's almost instant that they hold strong with the progress you make and move steadily forward. This is all the more reason not to give them any reason to think they can't trust you by forced handling. Of course there are exceptions and individual scenarios but you are right as far as I have observed. Older female kittens are a much bigger challenge than their mushy brothers.
Stella d'Oro, the mom cat in the picture was pregnant at 4 months and gave birth 2 months later in 10F degree weather in a underground drain pipe. Her 3 kittens survived thanks to her resourcefulness until Urban Cat League could help her out. Stella d'Oro is a lovely cat needing an adoption. She loves to be petted and brushed but doesn't like to be picked up. See her on the adoption page of urbancatleague.org