Understanding Kitten Behavior Through Developmental Stages

Even relaxed and placid adult cats may have started out as rambunctious, energetic kittens. Kitten behavior and kitten needs change quickly during the first few months. If you own a very young kitten, taking the time to understand how kittens develop will help you prepare for raising your kitten into a healthy and happy adult cat.

Leaving Kittens with Mother for first Few Months

Removing kittens from their littermates or mother may stress a cat. Without frequent attention of the proper kind, kittens may quickly become antisocial and troublesome. Kittens that lack proper social outlets and exposure may even develop aggressive cat behavior or developmental retardation. Typically, kittens should remain with their mother and littermates for the first 4 months, although weaning takes place after about 2 months.

If you own a kitten 4 months of age or younger, take at least 30 minutes per day to hold and gently play with your kitten. Doing so will help him to develop social skills and to learn dominance cues, and it will also enhance his playfulness and level of comfort around humans for years to come.

For a general outline of kitten behaviors and development for the first year or more, reference the following list:

First 2 Weeks

Kittens in this stage are becoming accustomed to the world around them. They are developing the faculties of sight and hearing as they acclimate to other kittens and human beings. This period is a critical one for developing normal social behavior, and cats that are isolated or that receive little attention during this stage tend to develop antisocial and aggressive behavior toward cats and humans both.

From 2 Weeks to 2 Months

Although kittens in this age range are continuing to hone their senses and motor skills, they are also continuing to learn proper social behaviors. It is during this stage that you may first witness cats licking themselves and other cats. Grooming is an important social skill, and one that should not be discouraged.

From 2 Months to 4 Months

Once a kitten has developed basic coordination and motor skills, his energy level will increase dramatically. This stage of kitten development sees abundant playing, mock fighting, licking and jumping. Cats at this point of development will enjoy playing with toys, and may use them to further develop coordination skills. If your kitten has been separated from his littermates, ensure that you spend 30 minutes per day playing with him at this stage of development.

4 Months to 6 Months

This stage of development sees kittens vying for dominance within their litter. In a situation where the kitten has been separated from his litter, human owners serve as a substitute. Strict discipline is not necessary, but assert your dominance if your kitten challenges you during this stage.

6 Months and Older

Kittens 6 months and older continue to explore social ranking. This stage of development may include troublesome behaviors associated with challenges for dominance. Again, confidently assert your dominance in a gentle manner.

A kitten may be a handful during his first year, so it is important to remember that his behavior will modulate frequently over the course of this time period. For any questions regarding your kitten's development or behavior issues, please consult your veterinarian.