What to Know About Kitten Behaviors

Adding a kitten to your life or thinking about it? Every kitten parent should educate themselves on these common kitten behaviors and how to respond to them.

A calico kitten with a rainbow toy.
A calico kitten with a rainbow toy. Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.

There’s no end to the plethora of internet videos of adorable kittens doing all the things adorable kittens do. But now that you’ve brought home the too-cute, tiny feline companion of your dreams, you’re about to find out that those short clips don’t come close to revealing the whole truth of life with a tiny ball of fur, energy, teeth and claws. To help you keep calm and companioning on amid the whirlwind and the wonder, read on to discover the kitten behaviors you can really expect when you’re expecting to share your life with a kitten.

5 common kitten play behaviors

Many common behaviors like climbing vertically, biting and clawing and pouncing are hunting behaviors.
Many common behaviors like climbing vertically, biting and clawing and pouncing are hunting behaviors. Photography ©rudolfoelias | Getty Images.
  1. Pouncing on toys, toes and “prey”
  2. Nibbling at hands, fingers, wool
  3. Batting toys
  4. Jumping side to side
  5. Climbing vertically, perching high

When do kittens begin playing?

Cat or kitten making a funny face.
Kittens begin showing their personalities around the time that they’re weaned. Photography ©pshenina_m | Getty Images.

“As kittens approach weaning age, their playful personalities begin to shine through,” says Hannah Shaw, aka Kitten Lady, kitten rescuer, humane educator and animal advocate. “It’s always funny to watch kittens discover what their bodies can do through play.”

Playing behaviors typically start to emerge once kittens start eating meat, according to Hannah. At about 5 weeks of age, when their premolars emerge, is when she first introduces wet food, and that’s when “it’s like a light turns on in their head letting them know that they are, in fact, a tiny predator!” she says.

What kitten behaviors are actually hunting behaviors?

“Many of the common behaviors you see, like pouncing, biting and clawing, are actually hunting behaviors — the kittens are practicing their predatory prowess,” Hannah continues. “Hopping side-to-side, or crab walking, is something I see when kittens are introduced to an unfamiliar stimulus. This movement allows the kittens to get away while also keeping an eye on the potential threat. While it doesn’t feel the best, it’s pretty common for kittens to also practice climbing by clawing their way up pant legs in an attempt to get a bird’s-eye view.”

Don’t classify kitten behaviors as ‘good’ or ‘bad’

A kitten biting or nibbling on a finger.
Never use your hands to play with your kitten. Photography ©BubblegirlPhoto | Getty Images.

Avoid the temptation to classify kitten behaviors as black or white, “good” or “bad.” Instead, view them for the animal behaviors they are and understand that it’s your responsibility to show them what’s appropriate or not in the household. “There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ kitten — kittens are learning and practicing normal, healthy behaviors of a predator species,” Hannah says. “Encourage them to explore their skills through these hunting behaviors, but do it in a way that doesn’t leave your hands or pants in tatters.”

Make sure you have the appropriate toys

First and foremost, never play using your hands as a target, as this teaches a kitten that it’s OK to bite and claw at human skin, Hannah says. “Instead, use kitten-appropriate toys to give them a desirable outlet for their aggression.” Also, provide access to scratching posts or other smaller cat trees to allow climbing skills practice time. “Cats want to be high up so they can observe the world beneath them, so giving them vertical space will help them feel confident and happy without them having to climb your body,” Hannah says. “The greatest thing a kitten caregiver can do is to give her plenty of enrichment and, most importantly, plenty of patience.”

Tell us: What are the silliest kitten behaviors that you’ve observed? What about the most baffling kitten behaviors?

Thumbnail: Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.

Ellyce Rothrock spent half her life with Flea, a Maine Coon who lived to be 21 and is missed every single day. She’s currently seeking a feline friend to manage Fritz and Mina, her German Shepherd Dog rescues. She’s lucky enough to live her passion for pets as a 25-year member of the pet media industry.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Kittens, a special issue from Catster magazine. Look for Kittens on a newsstand near you! 

Read more about kittens on Catster.com:

7 thoughts on “What to Know About Kitten Behaviors”

  1. Pingback: When Do Kittens Open Their Eyes? – Petcobestfood.com

  2. We brought 2 brother kittens into our home. We had 3 cats for about 20 years. We had a space of 6 months of no cats before getting our new babies. We have seen some pretty funny things done by our kittens. After eating, they wash each other’s faces. While sleeping on the couch together, I observed them both dreaming at the same time. Both of them were running in their dreams. They fight a lot. We said we should have given them Pro Wrestlers names. But if 1 brother is in another room & cries! The other goes directly to the crying kitten. They are soooo much fun.

  3. Sharon Gordanier

    I, Sharon has recently received a letter for my landlady to get permission to have a small animal for emotional support.

    I have a neurological disorder called “Cerebella Spinal Degeneration I inherited from my mother. Some symptoms such as Non-Verbal Learning Disorder we are born with, but with this illness we are prone to trigger other symptoms through life experiences. I triggered Vertigo caused by a feedback loop between my eyes and brain. In 1987 I was on a roller coaster that never seemed to end. Over the years I have had difficulty with hills and stairs, having to walk backwards to go down steep hills and stairs. Now the vertigo has increased in intensity. I am now housebound during winter months and living in Whitecourt Alberta, Canada winter is from September to April. A long time to be isolated, needless to say living alone sucks. I was my mother’s caregiver for about 30 years. I lost my mother 4 years ago. Needless to say I miss her very much.

    I am about to meet a new friend tomorrow. I named her Tora. She was born in Whitecourt WHARF animal rescue center. I received her picture via text message. She is a 9 week brown tabby. I spent the last few days preparing for her arrival.

    I chose to go against my doctor’s advice to get a dog, taking into consideration the fact that I have poor balance at the best of times. I feel like I am walking into the surf and can go into what I call a tailspin without warning. Although a dog would encourage me to go out for regular walks during the summer, I really need to consider the needs of the animal I choose to share my life with year round. I do not care how small a dog is it needs to go for daily walks even in winter.

    To prepare for my introduction to Tora I watched “My Cat From Hell” and read what I can find on the internet about the needs of a kitten. I realize having a cat is going to be very different than living with a dog. I am still mourning over the lost of Heidi, my long-haired chihuahua. I lost Heidi about 30 years ago. Apartment living most managers frown on tenants having a pet. I really did not expect to get permission to get one now, but so looking forward to my introduction to Tora.

    1. Best of luck! Please keep our site on hand and let us know in the comments if you have specific questions.

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