Kittens are the most amazing little creatures. When a new furry feline moves into your home, it can be very tempting to allow certain behaviours to occur, which wouldn’t necessarily be acceptable in an adult cat.

To prevent problems from developing later on, we’ve compiled a list of the most common mistakes kitten owners make. 

  1. Playing finger and toe games 

Every single person who interacts with a young kitten will tap their fingers on the floor to encourage the kitten to pounce on their hands. The same goes for toes – who can resist moving their toes under a blanket, newspaper or even when wearing socks!

Kittens love pouncing on fingers and toes, and if they are encouraged to do so when they’re young, they will keep doing it even when they’re grown up cats. Of course, by then it’s not nearly as much fun for the human. If punishment then follows, the cat can become aggressive because he’s confused – so best to rather avoid playing with fingers and toes from day one, and redirect attention and play on suitable objects like kitten toys

  1. Make exceptions to house rules

If you don’t like your adult cat begging for food when you’re eating, don’t give in to the kitten cuteness and sneak a tid-bit off your plate now. Similarly, if you don’t the idea like your adult cat climbing up your leg to get to the kitchen counter where you’re preparing food, don’t let your kitten do it now!  

Remember, whatever you teach your cat now will stay in place for the next fifteen to twenty odd years. 

  1. Allow your kitten on the kitchen counter 

Unless of course you do not mind your adult cats on the kitchen counter or dining room table. If you don’t mind, then I’d suggest teaching an ‘on’ and ‘off’ cue so your cat knows when it’s not convenient. If you prefer not having any cats on counters later, don’t allow your kitten to do so now. 

  1. Use your leg as a scratching post

Yes, it’s very cute when a tiny kitten uses your leg for a scratching post, but will it be equally cute if your 5kg (or bigger/ heavier cat) does the same thing?

People tend to forget that behaviours learnt during kitten hood are likely to stay with your cat for the rest of her life, and that includes all the things we don’t want them to do, like scratching our legs. 

  1. Feeding as soon as you get up

One of the most common problems I am asked to help with are cats waking their owners up in the middle of the night or at 4 am demanding to be fed or wanting a cuddle. If you react in the desired way (i.e. getting up to give food or respond by giving attention), you’re teaching your cat that this is what she needs to do to get food or attention from you at those unearthly times.

The first time your kitten demands something at an unreasonable time, turn over in your bed and pretend you don’t have a cat, until later when you are ready to face to world. By nipping this behaviour in the bud, so to speak, you are saving yourself a lot of heartache and sleep deprivation later on in your cat’s life. 

  1. Not all kittens are litter box trained

Did you know that even though litter box behaviours are usually instinctively learnt by observing the mother, not all cats know how to use trays?

Cats are very fussy about their toileting environment and if the litter isn’t appropriate, or is too rough/fine/smelly/scented, they’ll avoid using their trays and will use something else that they deem to be more appropriate, such as carpets, pot plants or even bedding. 

When you get a new kitten, be sure to reward him for eliminating in the litter box and remember to keep the box cleaned at all times!

The general rule is that you should have one litter box per cat, and one extra just in case.

Clean the tray daily and replace the litter at least every three days, depending on the amount of use it’s getting. Make sure your kitten can reach the tray and that the tray isn’t put anywhere that the family dog can disturb the kitten while she’s making use of the tray or she may develop an aversion to using it.  

In a nutshell – imagine your kitten as an adult cat and if you won’t be happy with certain habits then, don’t allow it in your kitten.

Karin Pienaar
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
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