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Overcoming Common Behavior Problems in Kittens

Overcoming Common Behavior Problems in Kittens

By Mark Hale, DVM

Bolivar, MO


            You're probably not na├»ve enough to think that when you welcome a new kitten into your home, all will be bliss with the adorable ball of fur. A kitten can develop habits even more destructive than you think if you don't curb the bad behavior. Here are some common challenges and the steps you can take to address them

Inappropriate Perches

            Within a short time your small kitten can become very acrobatic and may be found perching on your counters, dining table, and other undesirable locations. If you want your kitten to stay off these undesirable perches, you must provide alternative vertical perches. Try placing scratching posts or shelves in the room, and encourage their use by playing with and feeding treats to your kitten on the perches. Next, make the unacceptable surfaces undesirable. Using a squirt bottle with water may work when you are able to supervise, but some may learn to not use these surfaces only when you are present. Try placing double-stick tape, a motion-detector-type alarm, or aluminum foil on the area to deter their presence. In addition, do not tempt your kitten onto counters or tables by leaving attractive items on them, such as food, flowers, or plants.

The Nighttime Circus

            Does your new kitten exhibit a burst of nighttime activity, leaving you with little sleep? This is a common complaint. Many kittens don't get enough exercise or activity during the day. While you are at work, they spend the day sleeping. And in the evening, you may enjoy curling up on the couch with your new companion. Thus, all that kitten energy explodes in the wee hours of the morning. To manage this problem, you need to channel your kitten's energy into activities when you are awake A kitten that is kept awake all evening with games or chasing toys is much less likely to get into mischief in the middle of the night. Make sure you don't scream at your kitten or chase when it exhibits this behavior. If you can't ignore the problem, you can deliver a remote punishment (e.g. a squirt of water). Also do not get up to feed your kitten when it is acting this way. It will quickly learn that awakening you reaps great rewards. Constant disregard (e.g. shut the bedroom door, put in ear plugs) will eventually extinguish this behavior.


            Even though they may be small, kittens can inflict substantial property damage in a short time. Their main weapons are their claws, but some also chew. Scratching is normal and provides many benefits to cats. It stretches their muscles, leaves a scent and a visual mark for territorial signs, and it cleans their nail beds. Cats are going to scratch. We need to target the scratching to acceptable items in prominent locations. These scratching structures should be sturdy, either horizontal or vertical and made from materials that your kitten prefers. Use trial and error to find the right combination for your furry friend. You must also make unacceptable targets aversive (double-stick tape or aluminum foil). Trim your kitten's nails weekly to keep its nails blunt. Keep plants and cords up so they are not available for chewing. You can also try coating a cord with a commercial bittering agent. Playing with fishing-pole-type toys will tire the kitten and provide an appropriate outlet for oral activity.

Litter-box Basics

            Most kittens are naturally attracted to a litter box for elimination. Problems tend to arise when the box isn't accessible, clean, or attractive. Most cats prefer finely particulate material, and clumping type litters provide this type of surface. They generally prefer unscented litters. A litter box can't be too clean- daily scooping and routine washing are mandatory. In a multicat household, there should be one more box than there are cats. Social relationships with other home inhabitants, including dogs, other cats, or humans may cause litter box access problems. Identifying these social problems can be difficult, so watch your pets' interactions with others for clues. In addition, make sure you place the litter box near your kitten's core living area so it is easy to access. Expecting your kitten to crawl down two flights of stairs to reach the litter box may be setting the kitten up for failure. Some kittens need to be restricted to a smaller area with a litter box until usage patterns are successfully established.

            Your new pet will hopefully be a good friend and companion for many years to come. Try to start it out right and be patient in its training. Visit with your veterinarian for proper examinations, vaccinations, parasite control, and nutrition. Owning a pet is a long-term commitment, so commit to being a good pet parent from the start.