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
Question: I tamed an older litter of feral kittens about 4 months old. The male kittens all tamed down with lots of steady work and application but one of the 2 females in the litter took nearly three times the amount of time and energy before she was adoptable. Even so, she still doesn't like to cuddle or be picked up much. The Tuxedo female in the litter was tough too, but nothing like what it took to tame the tortie. What's been your experience? Taming a Tough Tortie.
Answer: I avoid generalities since they are often misleading and create a preconceived prejudice by the socializer going into the project. BUT, since you mentioned that she was a TORTIE (Tortoise-shell), I must let you know that there is a widely held opinion among Vet Techs, rescuers and anyone who's met a large number of felines, that Torties (and to a lesser degree Calicos) tend to be stand-offish cats and aren't usually cuddly lap cats. Some go as far as to only adopt them out as singles for fear of a territorial instinct which often makes for fighting with other house partner cats. When the Tortie in question is feral it seems to be kicked up even a notch higher. That said, Torties are much loved by their humans and very playful and fun-loving cats who often live in perfect harmony with other cats. It would appear that genetically they are infused to a higher degree than other cats with that "fight or flight" instinct and don't like to take chances, not even with family members they know and trust. Getting picked up or falling asleep in a human's lap is a very vulnerable situation to put yourself in. Torties just don't seem to think it's a smart thing to if it can be avoided. That said, there are millions of Torties and Calicos out there that are rolling belly up right now as I write this, enjoying a full body rub-down and can cuddle with the best of them. RUBY in these pictures lives with me. She provides endless entertainment and in her way is very in tune with humans. Every couple weeks she comes for her fix of petting and attention which lasts about 3 minutes and then she's good. She will curl up and sleep on the bed every night for a week and then we don't see her for a couple months. She's her own girl and very independent. RUBY lives happily with many cats and no fights have ever occured. As you can see she even naps with her Calico pal though we took the picture because it was so unexpected and rare. RUBY was returned from an adoption because the adopters found her too independent and not bonded with them. We love her independent streak and are very attached to her. Make of this what you will but if you have doubts about an adopter, you may want to carefully select who gets the tri-color girls.
Read the following blog for more info about socializing female kittens in the 3-6 month age range.
An interesting foot-note is that Torties and Calicos are all female except for one in 100,000 cats being male. The genetic explanation is that only the female chromosome X can carry color. Male cats only have one female chromosome so they can only carry one color in addition to the color White which is by definition the "lack of color." Female cats have two female X chromosomes so they can carry both black and orange, or any combination of two cat colors along with white. Therefore, only a female cat can be Calico or Tortoise-shell colored. The rare male cat that is bi-colored probably has three chromosomes being XXY, allowing him to be both male and carry color on two different female chromosomes.
If you find this as interesting as I do, or if I've thoroughly confused you, there's lots more info here: