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Kitten Behavior Essentials

By Natalia Macrynikola

Kitten Behavior Essentials

They say moving to New York City is tough, but the biggest challenge I faced during my first few weeks was unexpected: raising a kitten I rescued from the street, weaned off its mother prematurely. The veterinarian warned me that 3-week-old Andy was too young to survive away from his mother, but to me, Andy looked like a trooper.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, there are five stages of kittenhood. As I listenened to Andy's steady breath while he slept that first night, I vowed to see him through all five.

The Neonatal Period: Birth to 2 Weeks
During a kitten’s first two weeks of life, its eyes and ears slowly open. Being with its mother is critical at this time because antibodies found in mother’s milk help to build immunity. What’s more, “if a kitten is raised without the ability to be comforted by a mom, it can begin life as a dysfunctional animal,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam Books 1997). Uncertain of how much contact Andy had with his mom, I wondered whether his nestling in my hands was enough to ensure his well-being.

The Socialization Period: 2 to 7 Weeks Between the second and seventh week, kittens develop their senses fully and learn to run, stalk, pounce and avoid obstacles. To my relief, Andy began to do all these things, remaining healthy after a week of sleeping and bottle-feeding. His first feat was learning to jump from my bed into his own. Soon, the brave kitten preyed -- with boundless energy -- on the toys I made for him. It was entertaining to watch Andy blossom during this period, which Dr. Dodman calls “the starting point of their lives…where they learn everything before fear develops.”

Most Active Play Period: 7 to 14 Weeks After nearly two months, a kitten usually starts to scoop, paw and mouth. Andy seemed to turn into an acrobat overnight, often running as fast as he could before springing himself onto my bed. “Having gone through ‘acclimation,’ kittens continue using that talent [skills they learned in the socialization period],” says Dr. Dodman.

Ranking Period: 3 to 6 months “In this period, kittens are still continuing to learn…when to run away and when to fight,” says Dr. Dodman. Andy learned the hard way how “ranking,” or basic dominance and submission, works. As my two older felines ate side-by-side one night, he slowly crept up behind them. His small nose suddenly sniffing in their food bowls surprised them and caused Freddy, the oldest, to strike Andy on the head. Andy slumped back with his belly up and lay still on the floor, meaning no harm, while Freddy retreated into her favorite room. From then on, Andy stayed by himself more often.

Adolescence Period: 6 to 18 months
During adolescence, kitten play and exploration continues, but the onset of sexual maturity is the biggest change. It was right before this time that I handed my kitten over to new owners. There were many reasons that I couldn’t keep Andy, but his new human family was ecstatic. For an unneutered, orphaned cat, Andy was surprisingly well-adjusted.

The Secret to Good Behavior
Andy’s adjustment to his new life was not a surprise, as I had nurtured him well in the socialization stage of his life. “If you introduce almost anything during this period, whether it’s kind and gentle handling or even your dog or bird, kittens will soak in the information like a sponge,” affirms Dr. Dodman. To ensure that your own kitten grows up to be intelligent and social, follow these five critical steps, especially during the tender socialization period:

  1. Handle your kitten often Wrap one hand around your kitten’s body under its front legs and scoop the back legs with the other hand. Studies show that kittens frequently handled by people are more likely to develop larger brains.

  2. Teach your kitten to love toys, not hands Drag or throw a toy and let your kitten chase and pounce on it. A small stuffed animal will allow your kitten to wrestle the way it would with littermates instead of grappling with your feet or hands. Conduct at least two 15-minute play sessions a day.
  3. Introduce your kitten to strangers Teach your kitten not to avoid people by exposing it to others early on. Let your friends play with your kitten, and bring its favorite toys into the session.

  4. Actively encourage/discourage behaviors Bribe your kitten with treats when it does well. When it nips you, squirt it, away from the eyes, with water mixed with a bit of vinegar. If the play session gets too rough, abruptly end it by walking into the other room and closing the door until your cat relaxes.

  5. Avoid physical punishment Flicking or hitting your kitten to reprimand it will only teach your pet to become afraid of your hands.

With proper care and socialization, a cat’s less-than-promising fate doesn’t have to be written in stone. Raising Andy, for me, was proof of that: I was able to overturn the veterinarian’s prediction and help Andy breeze through his fifth stage of kittenhood.

Natalia Macrynikola is a Group Editor at Studio One Networks, which publishes The Daily Cat.

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Posted on January 3, 2011

derika saunders says: that goood im have a cat..

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: simple, remove her from the situation and replace it with a better toy. its just a baby kitten, it knows no better than to explore it's world and play with everything in site.

Posted on October 25, 2010

autumn says: Does anybody else have a lapcat? Elmo (greytabby) follows me everywhere and has to be touching a part of me most of the time. I love him to death, but sometimes I think he's a bit clingy.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Association. You are going to have to clean that spot. I reccommend using an enzyme cleaner, and backing it up with pet odor removing spray. See your local pet store. Also.. close the closet off until Smokey is using the box on a regular basis.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: If Gidget continues to do things you have scolded her for, then perhaps she is doing it to be scolded. Many pet owners do not realize that attention seeking cats will settle for negative attention. Redirect her aggression with play time every day. And for unwanted biting, withdraw all attention. Just say "owwww" and leave her alone for a while. Athena will probably come around eventually Patches might need more time, or wants to be an only cat. Sorry I can't caterer special advise for your situation, I hope things worked out for you.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Redirect, buy toys and play with her. Help her simulate the hunt with toys, and she will stop stalking you or using you as a tool to learn how to fight.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: See my post above regarding cats need to perch. You cat needs something that is ok to perch on. In the meanwhile all you have to do is pick your cat up and put it on the ground gently, without punishment. It will be repetitive, but eventually your cat will get tired of jumping on the furniture, and discover that you do not interfere if it perches on the approprite furniture you provide.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Once it is done this cannot be corrected, the pot is ruined. Remove the plant from the house, because you will never ever get the smell out of it.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: I cant tell you specifically why your cat is doing this, but trust me it is natural. The most likely reason is because you are entertaining visually.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: You failed to use a safe room to introduce them. The older one is establishing pecking order in a natural way. Let them go at it but supervise. The older should be letting up if the younger cries out in pain. If he doesnt then you need to seperate them without punishment, and use a safe room/barrier method.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Its called Catterwauling. Females do it most often when they are in heat. Males do it from time to mark their territory audibly.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: never make sudden changes to the litter pan. see my above post on acclimating a new cat to house. for now run 2 litter pans one in each place. Slowly move one toward another till they merge. This process should take days. If you cat continutes to miss the box, move it back for a while before moving it again.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: I've never had a problem with any of my boys spraying, but they were all "fixed" at the vet at an appropriate age. For scratching, make sure you groom your pets claws, as well as provide them a scratching post. Reward them for using the post.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Introduce the new cat into your house using safe room method. Dedicate a bathroom or bedroom for it to acclimate to your new house. Safe room needs to have food, water, and litter box. Fix the door so it can only be open by two inches. Allow the two cats to smell each other, but do not interfere if hissing and pawing happens. Your older cat will be grumpy, and needs to teach the new cat some manners. After a couple of days of limited exposure, allow the new cat to explore outwardly from the safe room for limited amounts of time. When you feel confident the new cat is litter trained, is not too afraid, and has learned its manners around the senior cat then you can let it blend in naturally. Do not suddenly remove the litter pan from the safe room. Move it a few feet a day closer to the normal litter pans.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Say "Owww" and withdraw your hand. Don't try to frighten the kitten, just let it know you got hurt, even if it doesn't really hurt. By withdrawing from the situation you are teaching it that biting behavior brings an end to the affection you are offering it. If you continue to play with a kitten, or scold it, after it bites you then you are offering positive reinforcement. Also.. a developing kitten needs to learn how to hunt, it is in their instinct to try to play fight your hands as if it were another sibling. Redirect this behavior by interacting with your kitten with toys. I recommend feather on string, and faux mice. Lasers can be fun, but might eventually cause distress because they get no closure or reward out of the hunt.

Posted on September 15, 2010

cat whisperer says: Cats have to participate in hunting activities to feel mentally well balanced. The very first part of hunt, is a behavior I call perching. This is the time your cats climbs or jumps up on something high to survey its surroundings for potential prey. You can suppliment this need by giving your cat a safe place to perch. Your local pet store should have plenty of carpet covered cat furniture options to choose from. My favorite is a floor to ceiling cat scratching post, with platforms.

Posted on January 7, 2010

bewildered says: I have 2 Maine Coons, attempting to breed them. Last several days the male has not let the female alone but did not quite get the job done (at least not during the times I was aware of the goings on). Those days before, she was in heat and submissive to his attempts. Now, for the last 24hours she has been in FULL heat and approaching him but he is ignoring her. WHAT is going on????? I'm very perplexed.... Thanks for any insights.

Posted on August 18, 2010

stephanie says: My baby kitten drags out her poo and plays with it how do I make it stop

Posted on September 9, 2010

sk says: Thank you - thank you. Am a new "cat mom" and you have helped me much with understanding my pretty Snowshoe princess.

Posted on September 15, 2010

the cat whisperer says: I just discovered this site on a google search for "feline politics" Pretty good articles here, but wow you folks in the comments have some real basic questions that every cat owner should know. I'll try to answer them as best I can. Please note I am not a cat psychologist, my only qualifications is that I'm a long time cat owner and my "pride" consists of 6 cats of different ages, mostly rescued feral kittens.

Posted on October 7, 2009

alyssa says: how can i stop her from biting me

Posted on October 11, 2009

janet says: separation the mother from her kittens?

Posted on October 12, 2009

Renee says: Runs to you to bite legs or pet her and she will bite sometimes.four month old female.

Posted on October 28, 2009

john says: well i have a kittyy named smokey and he poops in the corner of my bath room closet and his litter box was cleaned yesterday,i dont know why he does it , how do i brake him of doing this?

Posted on December 22, 2009

Bethany says: Hello. After reading some interesting things, It's time for me to ask a question. I have 3 cats and one[Patches Calico 1 yr] lives at the apartment and my other two[Gidget Egyptian Mau 4 months, Athena Egyuptian Mau 1 yr] live with me. We have done nothing but train Gidget and she continues to attack us and do bad things we scold her for. Athena just sleeps and eats and poops, with the occasional playtime. Patches, hates all other cats and she is the size of a mountain lion cub[not joking]. She bites, but like Gidget, it's a playful thing. Can you help with Gidget's problem? And is Athena sick[she is negative for lukemia, she has roundworms wich were fixing and she has a cold but she acts strange even for that...]? And how can we help Patches get along with other cats? Thank you for your time, The Cat Lover, Bethany

Posted on October 6, 2009

Rose says: My cat seems to have springs on his feet and I am having a terrible time keeping him off my entertainment center and eating my plants. I removed the plants but he is still up there. Any help will be appreciated.

Posted on October 6, 2009

Falanda says: About a week ago brought home two cats from the same liter, male and female. During the night one of them (i don't know which one) likes to use the bathroom in my plants. Now they have access to a clean liter box. At first, I thought that it was them marking their territory, since they have a new home, but this is the second time it's happened in less than a week. Any suggestions on how to stop them from using the bathroom in my home garden?

Posted on September 27, 2009

dan says: all this cat talk makes me want to go play with my cat!

Posted on October 1, 2009

amanda says: I had sort of the same problem with my 2 cats whenever I moved. They would only go on either the bath mat or the rug at the front door. All i did was add another litter box and it magically stopped haha. maybe try putting a litter box in each spot? obviously it's kind of a pain to have to clean 2 boxes but its worth a try! its never easy to get cat smell out of things once they use it for their bathroom business

Posted on September 22, 2009

stephanie says: how do you keep a kitten/cat in the house?

Posted on September 26, 2009

Lee Brooks says: Why does my cat sit for hours staring at me?

Posted on September 17, 2009

Jasmine says: i am thinking about taking in a second cat. he is 4 weeks old right now. i have a cat who is almost 2 years old. what will this do to him? how should i introduce them? and how can i help my baby through this and not give too much attention to the new one??

Posted on August 30, 2009

John says: We got a cat I think when she was a few months. There was always someone around and she got lots of positive attention. We treated her like a princess but we gave her limits too. As a result we had the most well adjusted kitty I have ever known. She never clawed or bit. She loved being scratched. She especially loved her stomach being rubbed.

Posted on August 3, 2009

Bonnie says: she has a very gutteral howl and carries around her toy dolls?

Posted on August 9, 2009

Becky says: Well, she probly doesn't even know she did something wrong.. Maybe you should get a new litterbox and put it in the place where your boyfriend put it, and keep the other one in place and see if that helps?

Posted on August 16, 2009

ginny says: I have a 3 y/o cat and just got a 7 week old kitten - the older one hunts down the baby to hiss at and slap her. How do I handle it ???

Posted on July 14, 2009

Sandra M says: I adopted an one year old persian female kitty 5 years ago. She always seems happy and very content when everybody is around. She is a very friendly girl. 3 summers ago my boyfriend decided to move her litter box to a cooler room from the hotter laundery rroom for the Summer and after Summer the litter box moved back to the original laundery room . And now we have a problem with her wanting to do her business outside the litter box when ever she has something she doesn't like. And she will look at you with her inocent angel eyes like she did absolutely nothing and knows that she did something very bad at the same time. She does use her litter box and I had her checked with her vet and she is perfectly healthy. Does anybody have any suggestion or idea, anything to help her with the problem she has. I really want to keep this sweet little girl around

Posted on June 17, 2009

Jeanine Helfer says: I like information on how to stop cats going on counters, scraching walls/furniture/carpets,and spraying

Posted on June 18, 2009

Marlene Berkowitz says: It is 7 and a half painful months since we had to allow one of our two furters cross over the Rainbow Bridge at the AMC in my arms. Yes, they swere littermates and loved each other. today I received a tc from our vet|s office th at there was a 6 week old tittle gray male kittten and they thought of me.Let alone I do not know if I am ready, but my first concern is for the soon-to-be 17 yo(who just last week got a clean bill of health)-how do you know when it is time for all and what is best?

Posted on June 11, 2009

Frank says: I am concerned. I have long distance charges on my phone bill, but only Mr Wiskers is home during the day. Is my cat dialing Georgia? I have asked numerous times, but he seems distant and does not respond.

Posted on June 3, 2009

Ken says: Hi I have a 8 week old Male kitten, he loves to play with a towel, but when he gets roudy then he likes to bite hands, and feet. any ideas how to get him to leave feet and hands alone?

Posted on June 2, 2009

trace says: thank u 4 such an informative article!!! i have 2 cats now..the 1st one is 10mos old [egyptian mau]and the 2nd [bombay]is a rescue so i am not sure of her age but they have taught me more about love 7 patience then i thought i already knew from raising my son...pets make a house a home

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