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Your guide to kitten behavior: What to expect and how to troubleshoot

October 10, 2022

Kittens love to pounce, chase and bite. These actions appear to originate from their predatory instincts. But these behaviors are important to kitten development, and they help with coordination, bite inhibition as well as social skills.

In this guide, you’ll learn what to expect during their growth and development, followed by a troubleshooting guide to some of the most problematic kitten behaviors, like biting, clawing, and peeing outside the litter box.

Quick guide to kitten development milestones

Note: For optimal social development, kittens should stay with their mother until they’re weaned at six or seven weeks, and live with their littermates until 12 weeks of age.

0 to 2 weeks: Neonatal

What to expect: Starts showing a response to sounds in the first week. In week two, they start to (adorably) paw their littermates and make wobbly attempts to walk and explore.

3-7 weeks: Socialization

What to expect: Social play kicks off at week three, as kittens start pouncing and wrestling with their littermates. The kittens demonstrate an alert and open curiosity about the world and the beings that inhabit it.

7-14 weeks: Peak play activity

What to expect: This period is peak kitten action, with lots of pawing, scooping, mouthing, bunny-kicking, chasing, pouncing, and leaping. Their targets can be littermates, other pets in the house, or your feet as you cross the room. Whew!

3-6 months: Ranking

What to expect: Ranking is the kitten’s growing awareness of their social standing — and a desire to increase it for more attention and more resources. They’ll start showing signs of submission by flattening their ears and crouching to appear smaller.

But they’ll also have bold moments by exhibiting dominant behaviors, including upright ears and posture, stealing toys, rubbing their face on “claimed items,” and chasing other cats from preferred sleeping nooks.

6-18 Months: Adolescence

What to expect: Some parents find this stage to be most challenging. As they reach physical and sexual maturity, they gain youthful swagger and confidence. You may see more bids for dominance, which can make them overbearing to you and other cats in the house. Behaviors can include: scratching, spraying (and peeing in inappropriate places), attempts to dart out the door, and meowing for food and attention at 2 a.m.

Why and how kittens get socialization

What happens if your kitten is away from its littermates? Kittens can still get socialization from other cats in the house, as well as from you.

Older cats in the house can also help your kitten socialize, especially if you ended up with a young kitten that left the litter earlier than 12 weeks. Sure, some adult cats will want nothing to do with kitty. Ideally, kitty will find an adult “mentor” willing to engage in play while also setting limits. Because at some point, the kitten must learn not to initiate play by pouncing on the other cat’s head in the middle of a snooze. The hissing and swatting may seem alarming. But that’s how cats correct each other.

If your kitten doesn’t have a willing cat mentor around, it’s important for humans to step up and be their play partner. The constant ambush of your hands and feet can get tiring. But because play is important to their mental and social development, the best thing you can do is embrace their playful nature and set aside time for it.

On the same token, you can also set boundaries and correct your kitty. In fact, as they grow, they can become a handful while they’re learning about the world around them. Lovingly redirecting all their energy during play time will aid in setting boundaries.

Attention-seeking disobedience: What it is, what to do about it

One normal but annoying adolescent kitten behavior is committing targeted acts of naughtiness known as attention-seeking disobedience. If it seems like they’re pushing your buttons, you may not be wrong. Particularly if you’ve noticed they loooove placing their paws on the TV screen when you start up a movie.

Attention-seeking behaviors can be a sign your kitten is feeling bored, lonel,y and craving a little fun and stimulation. And they figured out you’ll come running whenever they paw at your stack of vinyl records or your favorite art print!

Don’t worry. As your kitten enters adulthood, you’ll notice a drop-off in the attention-seeking behaviors, but do expect flareups along with the occasional new tactic.

Ignore the naughtiness

Ignoring your kitten is your best response when they are misbehaving to get attention. You may see their demands intensify as they work harder to provoke a reaction. As long as kitty is safe, be consistent and don’t give in.

Quiet intervention

If kitty’s attention-seeking behavior is destructive or dangerous, like clawing your loveseat or knocking items off the counter, you can intervene. Be calm and in control. Transfer kitty to a safe place, but don’t show emotion, don’t scold and don’t make an event of it.

Make time for play

Adolescent kittens need plenty of exercise and stimulation. Making yourself available as a play partner socializes growing kittens while helping them burn off excess energy. Set aside two to three 15-minute blocks a day for playtime. Also, consider investing in a cat wheel so they have a place to gallop and let the sillies out.

Know their patterns

You may notice your kitten’s attention-seeking behaviors show up at specific times or are triggered by situations. When you can, head them off. Have an extra-vigorous play session ahead of time to the point of tiring them. Then follow it up with a big dinner because cats often nap after mealtimes.

How to respond to common kitten misbehaviors

As the above indicates, it’s important to maintain a calm, cool demeanor when you need to respond to unwanted kitten behaviors like scratching, biting, and peeing in unwanted places. Kittens don’t understand if you scold, yell or punish. In fact, they could learn to be fearful of you. But natural consequences, redirecting, and treats are all good starting points for showing kitty how to be a good cat.

Scratching

Scratching and clawing are normal cat and kitten behaviors, so it’s important to provide a scratching post. Better yet, offer various textures and surfaces so your kitten can explore and discover what they love best. Whenever your kitten scratches something they shouldn’t, immediately (and calmly) redirect them to the appropriate scratching surface.

Biting

Biting can be extra exasperating in kittens. It’s important to teach early and often that your hands and feet are not objects of play, while also providing the right feedback that teaches kittens about bite inhibition — understanding how much pressure to apply without hurting or breaking the skin.

  • Say ouch! As you remove your hand or foot, go slowly or you’ll encourage your playful kitten to chase and pounce.
  • Redirect the needle-sharp teeth to a toy. Keep one handy so you’ll have a ready response to any ambush.
  • End the game. If your kitten isn’t playing nice, turn and walk away into another room.
  • Give rewards. If kitty returns without biting, “mark” it by giving kitty a tasty treat.
  • Be patient! Teaching kittens to play nice takes time and patience, and there will be times when progress feels slow.

Hyperactive nighttime activity

Kittens can be extra active at nighttime, which can interfere with your sleep.

  • Before bedtime, wear them out with play and then get some food into their belly, so they’ll settle in for a nap. This is a great time to serve wet food to tempt their appetites.
  • At bedtime, shut your bedroom door to prevent middle-of-the-night visits. If needed, wedge a washcloth or two in the frame so they can’t wake you by pawing the door to make it rattle. Of course, make sure the rest of their nighttime area is safe and kitten-proof.
  • During the night, ignore the meowing, or you’ll teach them you’re available for wake-up calls when they get bored. Of course, you would not ignore a distress call, but you’ll quickly learn to discern the difference. Otherwise, wear earplugs, use a white noise machine, and stay put until it’s time to get up.

Peeing outside the litter box

Kittens are easy to litter train, but accidents happen. Keep your favorite throw rugs rolled up.

Here are some reasons kittens pee outside the litter box and what to do about it.

  • Cats and kittens sometimes pee in inappropriate places when they’re feeling stressed. Pay attention to sources of ongoing stress so you can advocate and intervene.
  • Your kitten may be reaching sexual maturity and want to “mark” their territory with urine.
  • Kittens and cats can be picky about their litter. If it’s too dirty, they’ll look for a new place to “go.” If the litter is otherwise clean and well-maintained, try a new brand or type of litter.
  • Kittens are tiny, so like children, the need to “go” can be more frequent and urgent. Keeping a couple of extra cat boxes around for the kitten can help.

Giving kitty the right start in life

Kittens are adorable, cuddly additions to the family. When you understand their development, you’ll have what it takes to guide your kitten into becoming a happy, well-socialized adult cat. It takes determination and patience, particularly if kitty seems stuck in a naughty stage. But it will be worthwhile.

Give your kitten the right start with high-quality food. NutriSource Cat & Kitten Chicken Meal, Salmon & Liver Recipe is packed with high-quality proteins and our proprietary blend of Good 4 Life supplements. With every bite, your itty bitty kitty gets the minerals and nutrients they need to build a healthy body from the inside out.

Good for Life is just one of the ways that NutriSource is a family like no other. Find NutriSource at your local, independent pet supply retailer.