How to Stop Bad Behavior in Kittens

A fluffy cat behind the scratching post
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Kittens, like children, must be taught how to live in your home, and it's up to you to set the rules with which you're comfortable. Once you've set the rules, you'll need to provide your kitten with the means to follow them. For example, if you want your kitten to sleep in its own bed, you'll have to purchase or make an appropriate sleeping place for it.

You'll need to actively teach your kitten to follow the rules. As with any pet (or person), teaching involves a combination of rewards for good behavior and consequences for undesirable behavior. Patience is key when training a kitten.

Why Do Kittens Misbehave?

Kittens are like babies, feeling the world around them and learning what behavior is acceptable and what isn't through positive and negative reinforcement. Usually, when your kitten misbehaves, it's not trying to be "bad"; it's still in the process of learning how to behave.

Most kittens are happy to use a litter box and scratching post, thus eliminating most of the problems they might otherwise cause. Sometimes, however, kittens seem unwilling or unable to do one or the other. Occasionally, they start using the litter box and scratching post properly and then suddenly stop doing so.

At least 75 percent of kitten or cat discipline involves troubleshooting to discover the reason for the undesirable behavior and then correcting the situations that caused it.

Scratching and Clawing

Healthy kittens and cats should keep their claws, and they do need to scratch. The trick is to keep them away from furniture and other objects. The key is teaching the kitten to avoid destructive scratching.

Young cat on scratching post
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Litter Box Training

Most kittens readily adapt to a litter box, especially if they were raised with a mother cat. Otherwise, it's usually easy to train a kitten to the box. Make sure it's easily accessible, filled with good-quality litter, and cleaned at least once a day. Immediately after a meal, place your kitten in the box. You may have to demonstrate by guiding its paw for a few scratches in the litter, but the kitty will quickly get the idea. Chances are, if you set things up properly, your kitten will not make mistakes, but in the rare event that it does so repeatedly, poor litter box maintenance may be the cause. 

Chewing and Biting

Like human babies, kittens examine everything with their mouths, especially when they're teething. As with toddlers, it's important to keep harmful items out of kittens' reach. Kittens love to "play fight," and if other cats aren't around to accommodate them, they'll settle for the nearest human hand or ankle, especially if you've encouraged this form of play early on. They also might chew on houseplants if they are in reach and very tempting.

A cat biting a hand
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Kittens love heights, and many are expert jumpers. They can hurl themselves upward with little notice. Problems may occur if they frequently jump on a tabletop or a countertop.

Nighttime Behavior

Cats and especially kittens can sometimes exhibit overactive behavior at night. Most cats may still wake at night, but the key is teaching them to leave you alone and how to go back to sleep.

Attention Seeking Disobedience

Some kittens are especially rambunctious. It is expected that they should be curious and a bit of a handful, but some may be displaying bad behavior. They are likely doing to seek attention from their owners or because they are bored and understimulated (or both).

How to Stop Bad Behavior

There are numerous effective, humane techniques for expressing your displeasure with a cat. It's always wise to check with your vet to make sure there isn't a health issue that is causing the bad behavior. One simple option is to keep a spray bottle filled with water handy. This can help when you see bad behavior in action. Give your kitten a little squirt to stop the behavior

Provide Scratching Posts

To stop your cat scratching furniture or other places it doesn't belong, provide desirable scratching surfaces. Scratching posts vary in price and style and provide a selection of scratching surfaces for your kitten. One popular and inexpensive option is a corrugated cardboard model. For a variety of healthy scratching options, offer as many scratchers as you can afford and/or have room for.

Manage Your Kitten's Claws

While it's actually harmful to your kitten's health to have it declawed, it's a good idea to trim those needle-sharp claws. Not only will this make destructive scratching less of an issue, but it will also lessen the chance that you'll be scratched by an energetic feline playmate. Another option is to use plastic nail caps. They are easy to apply and do not interfere with the normal extension and retraction of your cat's claws.

Keep the Litter Box Clean

Because litter box avoidance is a major cause of surrenders of cats to shelters, it's important that they're given a fighting chance with immaculately clean litter boxes. Another option is to spray your kitten's litter box with an attractive scent, such as Cat Attract, sold at pet stores. Be sure there are no underlying health issues, such as a urinary tract infection, that may be causing your kitten to miss the litter box. Your veterinarian should be able to easily rule out this and other illnesses with a simple urinalysis.

Avoid Play Fighting

While play fighting with your kitten can be fun, it can get out of hand. Depending on the rules you choose to set, consider wearing gloves, using toys instead of hands, or simply walking away if your kitten gets too rough. This will help the cat learn to avoid biting or scratching, even in play. Remove tempting plants or put them in an area that is off limits to your kitten.

Set Boundaries for Jumping

Ideally, you'll have rules in mind for your kitten before it starts leaping. Which counters, couches, and shelves are fair game? Which are off-limits? A simple training method involves praising and petting your kitten when it leaps onto acceptable surfaces while scolding and removing it from unacceptable surfaces.

Daytime Activity

Plan on some interactive play sessions with your kitten in the evening. Keep playing until your kitten seems to tire. Feed them a bigger meal before bedtime; most cats sleep after eating. Keep your cat busy during the day with playful and challenging toys or puzzles.

Stopping Attention Seeking Disobedience

Always play with your kitten every day. Some extra quality time may be helpful in stopping the bad behavior. Disobedient cats can also be bored, so provide stimulation and exercise. Finally, praise the cat when it is being good. Use kind words and treats to reinforce good behavior.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.