Decoding Kitten Behavior
Why do kittens do what they do? No doubt your first response might have something to do with being irresistibly cute. And while no respectable cat lover would disagree, the behaviors kittens engage in actually have another purpose. That is, to help them develop into healthy, well-adjusted cats.
We think of kittens as tiny, purring puffs of fur. But even when they appear to be full-grown they're not yet adults - at least not for the first two years. To start this developmental period off right, it's helpful for kittens to be gently handled by people for at least 15-40 minutes each day. Kittens handled like this during their first seven weeks are more likely to develop larger brains, become better learners and more exploratory, playful companions.
During their first seven weeks, kittens are already becoming social. By their third week, they can see well enough to find their mothers. By week 4 they are seeking out their littermates. And by week 5, kittens actually start to groom themselves and other cats - quite an accomplishment, considering that some human children grow into adulthood long before they master this.
Around this time they start running, stalking and pouncing, all with a fierceness that is frankly adorable. This gives them the opportunity to learn appropriate social behaviors, like the difference between a play bite and a real bite, and how to keep play wrestling playful (and not painful).
Once week 7 arrives, the play behaviors really ramp up. Before, your kitten was limited to her mom and littermates… but now the world is her toy box. Literally. If she can stalk it, chase it, pounce on it, bat it around or catch it in her mouth and claim victory, she's ready to try it (something to keep in mind as you kitten-proof your house).
Weeks 7-14 are usually the most active play period for kittens. But while it might look like your kitten is all play and no work, remember that all of these kitten behaviors are actually helping her learn about her world, and sharpen her instinctual hunting skills. They also help her develop that signature feline balance and agility.
To encourage her eventual awesomeness (and give yourself some inspired cat entertainment), this is a great time to introduce toys that entice hunting and play activity. Once you do, get ready to enjoy a show.
During these three months you'll see your playful kitten start to recognize the hierarchy in your household. Yes, she'll actually be ranking the members of her family, both feline and human… and you'll know your place in her organizational chart by the way she acts around you.
Now your kitten is a teenager. Which means you'll see more exploration, and even some experimenting with dominance… including challenging members of her human family. So be prepared to set some boundaries, and to parent with love.
BRINGING UP BABY
As your kitten grows into and through the different phases of her childhood, remember that random and quirky though they may seem, every behavior really does have a purpose. And that eventually, all of them will combine to make your kitten the uniquely entertaining, intelligent, charismatic (and occasionally exasperating) cat she was born to be.
- The Humane Society of the United States. "Kitten Behavior Basics." http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/kitten_behavior_basics.html
- Houston SPCA. "Developmental Stages of Kitten Behavior." <http://www.houstonspca.org/site/DocServer/Developmental_Stages_of_Kitten_Behavior.pdf?docID=3224>
- VCA Animal Hospitals. "Kitten Behavior and Training - Play and Investigative Behaviors." <http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/kitten-behavior-and-training-play-and-investigative-behaviors/220>