British Shorthair kitten in black and white on a white background

Understanding your kitten's behavior

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.

Your kitten's body language

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

Maine Coon kittens jumping in a living room

Guiding behaviors

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

Maine Coon kitten waking along the back of a sofa

What causes unwanted behavior in kittens?

Cats are creatures of habit, and particularly appreciate an established routine. Behaviors such as scratching furniture, biting, or refusal to use the litter box can often be signs that your kitten is unsettled or distressed. As well as continued positive reinforcement, if you notice an increase in destructive behavior, 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. This action also serves an emotional function for your pet.

Bengal kitten walking indoors

The evolution of a cat's behavior

The domestic cat is one of the most recently evolved feline species. In contrast with other domestic species, such as dogs, 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 behavioral, 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 behavior explained

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

In early months, your kitten could be scratching to remove the outer shell of their nails and allow growth. Scratching is also a natural way for your kitten to mark their territory. To avoid them scratching your furniture, invest in suitable alternatives such as a scratching post or mat. Because cats scratch to mark their territory, it is important to put their scratching posts or pads in areas they commonly scratch.

A common mistake pet owners make is engaging their kitten in play with their hands. Doing so can unknowingly reinforce the idea that your kitten is allowed to nip, bite, or scratch your hand. The best way to deter this behavior is to offer your kitten alternative toys when playing.

Another cause for biting could be a disruption to their established routine. Changing their sleeping or eating location, introducing new additions to the family, or moving could all contribute to anxiety in your kitten. If not handled carefully, these changes could result in biting behavior.

There could be a number of reasons that your kitten isn't using their litter box. First, consider whether the litter box is in a suitable location, far enough away from their food bowls and in an easily accessible but discrete location where they won't be disturbed. If your kitten is sharing with another cat, this could be a cause of stress or intimidation and result in your kitten not using the litter box. It's recommended to have at least one litter box per cat in the home, plus one spare.

As with biting, your kitten could be avoiding the litter box due to anxiety or disruption to their routine. Consider whether your kitten has had a change in their routine or social situation recently.

If you have eliminated all of these possible causes, it could be a sign of illness. If you are ever unsure about your kitten's health or behavior it's important to consult your veterinarian.

Vocalization from your kitten could have a number of different meanings, depending on their context, tone, or length. A meow could indicate that your kitten is hungry or would like to play, or it may act as a simple greeting. Understanding your kitten's vocalizations and body language will offer you a great foundation for an ongoing, fulfilling relationship. Find out more about recognizing your kitten's social cues above.

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.

How to groom a kitten

Your kitten's health

Paying close attention to your kitten's behavior 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.

Kitten health
Norwegian Forest Cat kittens sitting together in black and white