Kittens are curious about their environment. They sometimes can get themselves into trouble, or mischief. Here are some suggestions regarding kitten behavior and how to protect both your kitten and your house!
Is Your Kitten Scratching the Furniture?
All cats will scratch objects in their environment. This is normal behavior to remove the outer cuticle and to communicate with each other through visual and scent marking.
Make sure there are a variety of acceptable surfaces in the home that are okay for your kitten to exercise this normal behavior. If you do not, you can be sure your kitten will find an area that may not be acceptable to you. Bear in mind that cats have preferences; some like horizontal surfaces, and others vertical. Some like carpet where others like sissal rope or cardboard. Experiment with different textures and surfaces to determine your kitten’s preference.
If your cat has decided on an area/surface that is unacceptable (an expensive piece of furniture, for example) retraining is advised. To help break/prevent this habit you need to know why kittens or cats scratch.
Cats may scratch to mark their territory. They do this by:
- Visually marking the object (defacing the furniture)
- Leaving their scent from the glands in their paws
Now that we know why they scratch, we can use scratching posts and nail trims to modify their behavior. Scratching posts can be purchased or constructed at home. The covering material should be similar to the furniture the cat uses most and the scratching post should be placed immediately in front of the furniture they are scratching. You can sprinkle catnip on the post for an added incentive. After your kitten adjusts to the post, you can slowly move it to a discreet spot later.
Deterrents to Accelerate Scratching Post Training:
- Cover furniture with a “scat mat” or two-sided tape on cardboard. The kitten won’t like the feeling on its paws.
- Place mouse traps UPSIDE DOWN (so they won’t catch the cat’s paws) and cover them with newspapers on/around furniture. Be very careful.
- Install a motion sensor to turn on the radio, which will scare the cat away when it scratches.
- Keep a hair dryer on the furniture attached to a long cord. When you hear the cat scratching, plug in the cord. The noise will deter the cat from scratching. It won’t associate you with the noise, so it won’t become afraid of you.
Nail trimming helps by keeping the nails dull and slowing their growth. The younger the kitten is, the easier it will be. Trimming 1-2 times a week is best. Feel free to ask a technician for help anytime.
Kittens love to play, especially between the ages of 6-16 weeks. Most kittens, through play with their littermates, learn that biting and scratching hurts. If your kitten is showing signs of aggressive play, redirect its behavior to objects other than your hands and feet. Experiment with different types of toys (furry-‘mouse-like’ or feathers-‘bird-like’ or chasing a string on a stick or laser pointer). It’s also important to circulate toys as your cat will get bored. If you notice they are starting to ignore a toy put it away and try another (“absence makes the heart grow fonder”). You will be surprised how enthusiastic your cat/kitten will be when the forgotten/shunned toy is reintroduced at a later date.
You may have other cats, especially older ones, who won’t be thrilled with the new kitten’s robust play. You may want to consider adopting two kittens; more often than not the kittens will entertain each other and leave the older cat alone. If adopting two is not feasible, extended play sessions with your kitten on a daily basis will help.
The Feline Terrorist: Taming the Kitten with an Attitude
By Wayne L Hunthausen, DVM, and Gary M. Landsberg, DVM, Dipl. ACMB
Young cats and kittens can be quite serious when it comes to play. For felines, play prepares them to become great hunters and helps develop social skills with other cats. But this behavior is not fun when the pet treats us like big mice or when its playful pounces puncture our skin.
Although play bites are usually inhibited and swatting is often done with retracted claws, sharp teeth and nails can damage our clothing or inadvertently cause injury. The danger of serious injury increases when the behavior is directed toward the face, a family member with fragile skin, or toward someone with an immune deficiency disorder.
Play attack problems typically involve young cats that are alone during the day. The attacks escalate when they are reinforced by someone who thinks the behavior is cute and encourages it. Besides exploration and investigation, kitten play typically involves elements of predation such as stalking, chasing, attacking, catching and biting. Most kittens engage their peers in rough-and-tumble play. When another feline playmate is not available, a nearby family member becomes the next-best target. Although you may be an appealing target for play, you don’t have the fur, defenses, or mobility of another cat, which increases the likelihood of injuries.
Avoid training a kitty to be a terrorist. Teasing a small kitten with your fingers and toes may seem like fun, but this will quickly change as the pet grows older and the bites become harder. It you want to be more to your cat than a big toy, take an early stand. While some of these little guys can become quite bloodthirsty and relentless, their behavior can be controlled.
Controlling the Little Beast
Since play is a normal behavior, it is important that the cat has an acceptable outlet for it. Providing a feline playmate of the same age and temperament will usually draw the attack behavior away from you and toward the new buddy. Only consider this option if you are prepared to take on the extra care that a second pet warrants. If adding another pet to the home is out of the question, then you must shoulder the responsibility for providing the proper type of play and shaping your pet’s behavior.
Play interaction with the cat should involve tossing or dangling toys for it to chase and catch. This directs the attacks away from you. The more vigorous the interaction, the better. Keep your kitten so busy and worn out that it doesn’t even think about going after you. Check out your local pet store and stock up on all types of fun, tempting cat toys. Or provide inexpensive toys such as ping pong balls or unshelled walnuts for swatting. Adding catnip to the toy or stuffing or coating it with food can sometimes increase its appeal. A short fishing rod is great for casting small rubber or feather toys, and provides entertainment for you and your cat. Always maintain control at playtime. Play that is initiated by the cat should be ignored or interrupted; you should start all play.
To Swat or Not to Swat
Physical punishment, such as swatting the pet or thumping it on the nose to stop rough play, should be avoided. It may cause your cat to either fear you or encourage even rougher play. A blast of air from a compressed air can (obtained from a photography store), a squirt from a water gun, or an audible alarm are safe ways to discourage behavior. This approach is only likely to work when you can anticipate an attack and are prepared to interrupt your kitten as it begins its assault. This is not always an easy task. Attacks are most likely to occur when you’re making some interesting movement, such as dusting, making the bed, reading a newspaper, or walking down the stairs. Vigilance is a necessary ingredient for being consistent in teaching your kitten not to attack.
Up All Night
Nighttime attacks are more difficult to handle and, in most cases, the only simple solution is to keep the cat out of the bedroom when you sleep at night. Often, this behavior will decrease and finally stop as the pet grows older. If the attacks are not so bad, but the kitten has the annoying habit of waking you up by sucking on earlobes or elbows as you sleep, try applying a light coat of underarm deodorant to those areas to discourage it. Or keep a can of compressed air nearby to deter those surprise attacks.
Problems with other cats in the home can occur when the play target is another cat that is weak, fearful, or old, and cannot tolerate the young cat’s playful behavior. The pets should be kept separate unless supervised. A water gun can discourage exuberant play, and appropriate toys can keep the rambunctious cat occupied. Sometimes, the cat bearing the brunt of play attacks can become so stressed that additional help may be needed. Medication may reduce its anxiety – discuss this option with your veterinarian.
Nail Trimming – An Ounce of Prevention
Since young kittens tend to use their paws a lot in play, it’s a good idea to keep those nails trimmed to prevent them from snagging sensitive skin. It’s easy to condition your cat to accept nail trimming, but you must have patience and pick the right time. The very worst time to attempt nail trimming is when the pet is alert and active. (It may seem this is always the case, but all kittens eventually nap.) Handle the paw very gently, use a sharp pair of trimmers, and quickly take off the tip of one nail. If the pet continues to snooze, take the tip off another nail or two. If your cat stirs, pet it gently and give it a small treat. Never force the pet to hold still for a nail trim, and always cease before the pet squirms. You can see a video on how to trim nails HERE.