Understanding your kitten's behavior
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.
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 recognize 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 behavior from your kitten is a great indication that they are feeling comfortable, settled, or secure in any given situation.
It's important to recognize 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 behavior 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.
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.
How to encourage good behavior
When it comes to enforcing positive behaviors, 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 behavior more frequently.
Another important note is to focus on positive behavior. 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 realize that there's no cause for upset and become more comfortable with these situations in the future.
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.
How and why kittens groom themselves
As well as supporting their personal hygiene, self-grooming is recognized 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.
When does grooming become too much?
If self-grooming is taken to the extreme, your kitten could create bald spots or skin irritation. In severe situations your kitten may even begin to chew on 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. If you notice overgrooming in your kitten, it's important to consult a vet.
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
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.
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.
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.