With little button noses, tiny whiskers and itty-bitty teeth, it’s nearly impossible not to love a kitten. However, as new cat parents can attest, these adorable balls of fluff can wreak havoc by sprinting around houses, tackling feet under the covers and climbing up curtains on a regular basis. Learn more about why your kitten behaves the way it does (there’s a reason!) and how to calm him down when he’s particularly revved up.
Kitten Behavior: What to Expect
Your kitten’s level of energy will likely depend on the age at which it comes home with you. At 8 weeks, minimum age that kittens from the ASPCA get sent home, your kitten will be active but may not be coordinated enough to start scaling the furniture. As they age, their coordination and energy level will increase and you’ll notice them jumping, leaping, chasing after things and playfully attacking their owners, said Adi Hovav, a feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center.
“Sometimes they’ll seem like they’re cuddling, but can all of a sudden start nibbling owners hands and switch back and forth between relaxing and playing,” Hovav said. “They can be aroused to play by just being pet.”
As with all young mammals, this seemingly crazy behavior is just your kitten’s way of practicing to become an adult. Because of their predatory nature, kittens will explore new places and get used to their environment by following their instincts, which include biting, jumping and chasing after things.
“A predator by nature, kittens need to learn and be taught how to hunt and will try to learn that by exploring,” said Katie Watts, a senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA adoption center. “They want to get used to things and explore every instinct that they have, including predatory instincts.”
The best way to harness these instincts into something productive? Providing your kitten with plenty of consistent, regular playtime.
How to Play With, and Calm Down, Your Kitten
Though it may seem impossible to entertain your kitten without amassing battle wounds in the form of scratches, bites and ruined furniture, there are many ways to provide productive playtime for your kitten and calm them down when it’s time to relax. If you’re planning to adopt a kitten, or already have a particularly feisty one at home, consider these playtime tips:
Don’t use your body. Pet owners should be prepared to play with their kitten in a way that doesn’t encourage them to think of the human body as a toy, Hovav said. Encourage them to bat at and nibble on cat toys instead of hands and fingers, which can lead to inappropriate play as they get older.
Mimic the hunt. Tap into your kitten’s natural instincts by replicating the hunt-catch-kill cycle that a cat is hardwired to perform. Direct their energy in this way by using a toy they can chase, like one that mimics a bug or bird, Hovav said.
Redirect their energy. If you’re done with playtime but your kitten is not, toss a bouncy ball toy their way to direct their energy on something other than you and allow your kitten to tire itself out. Hovav recommends not restraining or touching your kitten, which will increase their arousal and excite them even more.
Provide a cool down. Think about playtime the same way you would human exercise, and incorporate time for a warm up and cool down. As you’re winding down play, slow your movements and let them chase after a toy more leisurely, signaling that it’s about time to relax. If you suddenly stop play without a cool down, Hovav says your kitten may go after you because you’re the only object still moving. If your kitten doesn’t get the hint and continues to go after your hands or legs, it’s best to freeze immediately and make a loud noise, like “eeek,” to startle them into pausing their movement. Ending attention when your kitten becomes too aggressive will hopefully teach them not to play too rough, Hovav said.
Before bringing home your kitten, Hovav and Watts recommend cat-proofing your home to make sure areas where they could get stuck during play (like under the bed or behind the fridge) are blocked off and small objects and valuables are removed from the area. Additionally, you may want to confine your kitten to a smaller space, like a bedroom, while you’re away to prevent them from getting into anything that could cause injury.
If you’re up for it, Watts also recommends adopting kittens in pairs to let them tire each other out and teach each other the rules of play.
“Kittens are the best at teaching each other how to play appropriately because they speak the same language,” she said. “Some kittens like to have another playmate, so it is something to consider.”
Jessica is a pet editor and spends her days trying not to helicopter parent her beloved shelter pup, Darwin.