Kitten Training and Discipline

Tips for Common Behavioral Issues

A fluffy cat behind the scratching post
Karen Richards / FOAP / Getty Images

Kittens, like children, must be taught how to live in your home. It's up to you to teach them right from wrong and to help them find acceptable ways to do the things they need to do (run, jump, eat, claw, and poop). To do this you must first set rules with which you're comfortable; some families are fine with animals on furniture, for example, while other families insist that animals sleep in their own little beds.

Once you've set the rules, you'll need to provide your kitten with the means to follow the rules. 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. If you don't want your cat to scratch up your rugs, you'll have to provide a scratching post.

Finally, you'll need to actively teach your kitten to follow the rules. As with any animal, teaching involves a combination of rewards for good behavior and consequences for poor behavior. While (of course!) you would never injure a kitten for misbehavior, there are less dire and equally effective techniques for expressing your displeasure. One simple option is to keep a spray bottle filled with water handy; give your kitten a little squirt to remind her to keep off counters or avoid scratching rugs and curtains.

Types of Kitten Misbehavior

Most kittens are willing and able 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 will 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 trouble-shooting to discover the reason for the undesirable behavior and then correcting the situations that caused it.

Sometimes a bit of re-training is called for, such as when a cat stops using the litter box.

Managing Issues With Scratching and Clawing

Healthy kittens and cats should keep their claws, and they do need to scratch. They do not, however, need to scratch up your oriental rugs or good furniture! Destructive scratching can be avoided with a 3-pronged plan: providing desirable scratching surfaces, setting the limits, and trimming claws or using plastic nail caps.

Provide Sturdy Scratching Posts

Scratching posts vary in price and styles and will provide a selection of scratching surfaces for your kitten. One popular and inexpensive option is a corrugated cardboard model. Offer as many scratchers as you can afford and/or have room for, for healthy scratching variety.

Trim Your Kitten's Claws

While it's actually harmful to your kitten's health to have him 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.

Litter Box Training

Most kittens will 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 a 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 his paw for a few scratches in the litter, but he'll quickly get the idea.

Chances are, if you followed the previous instructions, your kitten will not make mistakes, but in the rare event that he does so repeatedly, poor litter box maintenance may be the cause. Since litter box avoidance is a major cause of surrenders of cats to shelters, it is important that cats be given a fighting chance, by making sure their litter boxes are kept immaculately clean. Another option is to spray your kitten's litter box with an attractive scent such as Cat Attract, sold at pet stores.

Chewing and Biting

Kittens, like human babies, examine everything with their mouths, especially when teething.

As with toddlers, it's important to keep harmful items out of kittens' reach.

Kittens love to "play fight," and if other cats are not 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. 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.

Jumping to New Heights

Kittens love heights, and the minute they see your kitchen counter they will set is as their first "Mount Everest" to conquer. This time may come sooner than you expect, as many kittens are expert jumpers, and will hurl themselves upward at seeming impossible goals.

Ideally, you'll have rules in mind for your kittens before they start leaping. Which counters, couches, and shelves are fair game? Which are off limits?  A simple training method involves praising and petting your kitten when they leap onto acceptable surfaces while scolding and removing your kitten from unacceptable surfaces. If this doesn't work, a quick squirt of water on the nose will usually do the trick.