Natural kitten behaviour explained

Kittens are cute and playful and they communicate with their humans in a number of delightful ways. Learn how to interpret your kitten’s behaviour and understand what each movement, meow and purr really means.

When you bring a new kitten home, it’s great fun and you’ll be delighted with your new pet. However, if you have never had a cat before, you will want to learn how to understand kitten behaviour so that you can be sure your new furry friend is both happy and healthy. Here are some typical kinds of normal kitten behaviour to look out for and what they mean.

Domestic cats are just like wildcats and will naturally stalk and kill their prey. You’ll see your kitten crouch down, legs bent, ready to pounce. They will instinctively stalk anything that moves, so turn this into fun playtime for your kitten with toys that your kitten can pounce on. This type of play helps them develop coordination and get some exercise. Just remember to put any fishing-rod style toys away when not in use and not to use fingers or toes as part of a game (however tempting it may be) as this will be very painful when your kitten develops adult teeth and claws

Scratching is a normal, instinctive behaviour for all kittens and helps them keep their claws in good condition. Kittens also use scratching as a way to relieve tension, stretch their muscles (often when they first wake up), and mark their territory. It’s common for them to scratch your furniture, so try to direct their attention away from this, by making sure you have appropriate scratching posts in strategic places at home, such as next to where they sleep or close to the furniture they may be tempted to scratch. Offer a variety of surfaces and angles so your kitten has plenty of options to choose from. Avoid kitten posts and instead buy an adult post, which is tall (at least 60cm), sturdy and ideally has vertical thread on it.

Your kitten will need some time to feel comfortable in their new home and hiding in small spaces makes them feel secure. Provide some little spaces for your kitten to hole up in, such as cat trees with hidey holes or cardboard boxes with two small, kitten-sized holes cut into adjacent sides. Make sure they also have a cosy bedding area to retreat to and don’t be surprised if they make a habit of hiding under your furniture.

When kittens are teething, they may chew and bite to reduce the discomfort. They also bite things to learn about their new world – this can include your fingers! Gently discourage biting behaviour directed towards humans and/ or other animals, and offer teething toys instead. If your kitten bites you in play, they may be over-excited.

Kittens and cats are experts at disguising pain. If you think they may be in pain, beyond normal teething issues, it is wise to get them checked by a vet to rule out medical reasons for biting. Never hit them or tell them off to discourage biting – instead gently pull away and redirect their attention towards a toy.

Kittens are licked by their mothers from birth and as well as a way of grooming, it’s an important social interaction between cats. They might want to tell you how much they love you by licking you too! It’s a lovely way to know they feel calm and secure with you and you’ll know they are settling into their new home.

Does your kitten make kneading movements on your lap, blanket or sofa? This is because kneading their mum’s belly helped encourage her milk to flow, so they associate this action with feeding and feeling safe. It releases pheromones from glands in their paws, which marks you as their own human! Some kittens suck the blanket they are on, too, although most kittens grow out of it. If your kitten chews the blanket, then consult your vet urgently as it can cause blockages in their digestive system.

You might notice that your kitten loves to rub against you. They may snake around your legs, or rub the sides of their cheek against you. This transfers pheromones from their glands onto you, which is a high compliment, and like kneading, marks you as their person.

Kittens can be chatty and the more you respond, the more talkative your cat can become! There are a many reasons your kitten will meow, including to ask for food, to say hello or to ask to be let out. They also meow when looking for a mate, so having your pet neutered could also help if you want to discourage this behaviour. Some cats such as Maine Coons, Oriental Shorthairs, Siamese, or Burmese Cats have a habit of yowling at night.

Purring means your kitten is happy and content and your little pet may also make chirping sounds too as a greeting. You may see them chatter at a bird, which is predatory behaviour.

However, if your cat starts to meow excessively, howl, hiss or screech, there may be a problem. Some cats use noises to express pain so in these cases it’s important to book your kitten in for a health check.

Pay attention to your kitten's body language, as it can tell you how they feel and you’ll soon learn what’s normal for your kitten. When your kitten is worried, they may have dilated pupils and turn their ears to the side. When scared, they arch their back, fluff out their tail, and have very dilated pupils.

Signs of kitten behaviour to look out for are anything unusual or changes in their normal behaviour, such as sitting hunched over, hiding, being more or less vocal than usual, playing less, showing changes in appetite, toilet habits or weight or obvious signs like vomiting, diarrhoea, wounds, limping or injuries. Kittens can go downhill more quickly than adult cats so don’t delay in getting your kitten checked by your vet. Don’t forget to insure your kitten for peace of mind in case of problems.

What normal kitten behaviour have you noticed in your new pet? Do they love to hide, or are they always ready for a game? Let us know on our Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you!

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