British Shorthair kitten in black and white on a white background

Understanding your kitten's behaviour

Kittens can't speak, but they will communicate with you in a number of ways. Reading body language and listening to the sounds they make can tell you a lot about what they need from you.
Maine Coon kittens jumping in a living room

Your kitten's body language

Your kitten will give you a number of behavioural cues using their body language to indicate their mood. By understanding each change in behaviour, you can learn to provide your kitten with what they need, whether it's space, playtime or food.


A calm posture is your kitten's neutral state from which all other body language develops. It's important to know how your kitten behaves when they are friendly so that you can recognise even the subtle changes.


If your kitten is interested in something, they will show it through their body language. This isn't exclusively a reaction to something negative, and merely shows your kitten's focus on specific items/situations. If your kitten is showing interest in toys, it's a good idea to engage them in games or play. This will offer both mental and physical stimulation, but also provides an excellent opportunity for bonding.


Relaxed behaviour from your kitten is a great indication that they are feeling comfortable, settled or secure in any given situation.


It's important to recognise the signs of worry or distress in your kitten. If they appear to be worried, you should try to remove the trigger and give your kitten space. Make sure that your kitten is always able to remove themselves from a situation and access higher spaces to calm down.


There are several body language cues your kitten might display if they are fearful. One posture which indicates a fearful cat is the arched back and puffed up tail. The purpose of this behaviour is often to make themselves as large or as imposing as possible to dissuade potentially hostile encounters. As with worried cats, it's important to remove any potential triggers to allow your kitten to calm down.

Guiding behaviours

A kitten's behaviour is highly influenced by others. In their early weeks and months, your kitten will have adopted a number of behaviours from their litter-mates and mother. When they arrive at your home, it's up to you to reinforce the positive behaviours they exhibit and minimise any negative actions. 


How to encourage good behaviour

When it comes to enforcing positive behaviours, the key is consistency. If your kitten receives mixed signals from others in the home, this will cause confusion and may lead to them adopting the unwanted behaviour more frequently. 

Bengal kitten sitting on a grey blanket being stroked by owner

Reinforcing behaviours

Another important note is to focus on positive behaviour. Your kitten learns mainly by making a link between certain actions (from themselves or others) and the result. If your kitten flees from loud noises or newcomers in the home, for example, avoid reinforcing their worries by picking them up or coddling them. Instead, calmly and casually engage them with a toy to encourage them out of hiding. This way, your kitten will start to realise that there's no cause for upset and become more comfortable with these situations in the future.

Kitten sitting indoors on a wooden floor playing with a red ball
Maine Coon kitten waking along the back of a sofa

What causes unwanted behaviour in kittens?

Cats are creatures of habit, and particularly appreciate an established routine. Behaviours such as scratching furniture, biting or refusal to use the litter box can often be signs that your kitten is unsettled or disrupted. As well as continued positive reinforcement, if you notice an increase in destructive behaviour, think about whether there could be a hidden cause. 

Your kitten's grooming habits

Cats are well known for their cleanliness and kittens are no different. Self-grooming isn't just about removing loose hairs and dirt, however. This action also serves an emotional function for your pet. 


How and why kittens groom themselves

As well as supporting their personal hygiene, self-grooming is recognised as a way to de-stress for kittens and cats. You may notice that your kitten grooms themselves more frequently when looking out of the window, for example. Often this is a way for them to diffuse excess energy if they're unable to go outside.

Kitten lying down on a grey blanket licking its paw

When does grooming become too much?

If self-grooming is taken to the extreme, your kitten could create bald spots or skin irritations. In severe situations your kitten may even begin to chew themselves. These actions may be an indication of anxiety caused by a stressful event or unfamiliar environment, or could point to an underlying health concern such as hyperthyroidism. If you notice over-grooming in your kitten it's important to consult a vet. 

Ragdoll kitten lying on a white blanket licking its paw
Bengal kitten walking indoors

The evolution of a cat's behaviour

The domestic cat is one of the most recently evolved feline species. In contrast with some other domestic species, such as dogs or bovines, cats have maintained a high degree of independence in relation to humans. The relationship between cats and their owners is therefore mostly based on mutual benefits.

Despite domestication and selection to produce unique characteristics in different breeds, most of our feline companions have retained some attributes, both physical and behavioural, of their wild ancestors. They remain almost identical in many respects to the African Wildcat, and also to the other wild cats, large or small.

Kitten behaviour explained

Your kitten's behaviour may seem unusual, but there's often a reason for it. Discover some of the explanations for your kitten's behaviour below.

British Shorthair kitten grooming itself in black and white

Kitten grooming

Find out how you can support your kitten's grooming and hygiene needs, from brushing their coat and giving them a bath, to caring for their nails and teeth. 

Norwegian Forest Cat kittens sitting together in black and white

Your kitten's health

Paying close attention to your kitten's behaviour and identifying any abnormalities can be a great indication of changes in their health. Find out more about how to keep your kitten healthy, and when they might need to visit the vet.