How to Stop Bad Behavior in Kittens

Reasons Why Kittens Misbehave

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

Kittens, like children, must be taught how to live in your home, and it's up to you to set rules with which you're comfortable. Some families are fine with pets on furniture, for example, while other families insist that pets 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.

Finally, 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 the kitten isn't trying to be "bad," it's just still learning how to behave.

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 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.

How to Stop Bad Behavior

There are numerous effective, humane techniques for expressing your displeasure with a cat. One simple option is to keep a spray bottle filled with water handy; give your kitten a little squirt to remind it to keep off counters or avoid scratching rugs, curtains, and furniture.

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. Destructive scratching can be avoided with a three-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 style 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 a variety of healthy scratching options.
  • Trim 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.
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 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 its paw for a few scratches in the litter, but the kitty will quickly get the idea.

Chances are, if you follow the instructions, your kitten will not make mistakes, but in the rare event that it does so repeatedly, poor litter box maintenance may be the cause. Because litter box avoidance is a major cause of surrenders of cats to shelters, it's important that they be 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.

Chewing and Biting

Like human babies, kittens 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.

A cat biting a hand
Westend61 / Getty Images

Jumping

Kittens love heights, and many are expert jumpers, hurling themselves upward with little notice as they aim for a tabletop or a countertop.

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 it leaps onto acceptable surfaces, while scolding and removing it from unacceptable surfaces. If this doesn't work, a quick squirt of water on the nose will usually do the trick.