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Early learning for kittens

How we interact with, play with and ‘train’ a new kitten will have a big influence on their behaviour around people as an adult cat, so it’s important to go about it in the right way. We’ve plenty of top tips...

Fluffy little kittens are simply adorable – and it’s fascinating to watch them as they learn to explore the world around them. However, as they start to stalk, chase, pounce and exhibit all their other hardwired feline behaviours, they’ll also learn they have a useful set of in-built weapons – namely sharp teeth and claws – which can be painful if you find yourself on the receiving end.

Cats Protection advises: “Kittens do not stay young for long and the correct care in the early weeks and months can help them behave in a way that is best suited to you and your home, leading to a lasting relationship.”


The greater the variety of positive experiences kittens have between two and eight weeks of age – such as different sights, sounds and smells – the more likely they are to be able to adapt to whatever life throws at them in the future.

Source: Cats Protection

How we interact with, play with and ‘train’ a new kitten will have a big influence on their behaviour around people as an adult cat, so it’s important to set some ground rules – from not letting your kitten play with your hands (fishing rod-type toys are better) to how to safely distract your small hunter from unexpectedly pouncing on your ankles every time you enter a room.


If you want to appeal to your new kitten, spend time on the floor at kitten level – allow family members to visit individually rather than crowding into the room all at once.

Source: iCatCare

What not to do

Cats Protection says: “In the home environment, people often make the mistake of playing with kittens with their fingers or by moving their feet around under the duvet. Although this may be fun with a young kitten, it can start to direct play or predatory behaviours towards the owner, which may be painful as the kitten becomes an adult cat. Often this type of predatory aggression appears as ‘ambushing’ where the cat lies in wait, ready to attack as soon as someone walks by. To avoid this, don’t encourage your kitten to play with your hair, fingers or toes. If they try to pounce on them, keep perfectly still, so there is nothing exciting for them to chase.”


Kittens are very playful. Give them an assortment of toys to keep them occupied and exercised – these need not be expensive – every kitten loves a cardboard box to play in. Play is also a good way for you to get to know and trust each other.

Source: iCatCare

Every cat is an individual and how ‘interactive’ they are with their teeth and claws varies. Then there is the human factor – everyone in the family must comply as your kitten can't be expected to learn that it's okay to play rough with certain people but not with others.

Make training your kitten a calm and rewarding experience and your young cat will soon learn what’s acceptable and what’s not. Cats Protection adds: “Time should be spent playing with the kitten or cat, but the games should be distant from the body – for example, using ‘fishing rod’ type toys and ping pong balls. Rotate the toys often to keep the games interesting.”


A sleeping kitten can be very endearing, but it is important not to disturb them as good-quality sleep is needed for their growth and development, both physically and behaviourally. Just like babies, kittens need lots of sleep, so make sure they get plenty of time to rest.

Source: Cats Protection

Top tips for teaching your kitten to play by the rules

  • NO HANDS Don't let your kitten play with your hands or feet. While it’s tempting when they’re tiny, as they grow, the strength of bites and claws increases – and it can become very painful and even draw blood. This also sends the message that your fingers and toes are prey for pouncing and may escalate into running at grabbing at whatever is going past. Instead, use a fishing-rod type toy or throw a toy for them to chase.
  • WRESTLE THIS Give your kitten something to wrestle with. This is one of the ways kittens play with each other, and a way they try to play with human feet and hands, so it's important to provide an alternative, such as a catnip-filled Kong Kitten Kickeroo cat toy.
  • BITING BAN If you're stroking your kitten and they start biting you, immediately say ‘no’ and carefully take your hands away. Give them a toy to play with instead and don't try to pet them again until they're tired out from playing.
  • WHAT’S YOURS IS MINE Kittens always seem to want to play with whatever you’re using – pens, the computer mouse, headphone cords etc. If your kitten starts ‘attacking’ you when you’re working, firmly say ‘no’ to disrupt their behaviour. Then give them one of their own toys. Be sure they are not attacking when you give them a toy, or they may think they’re being rewarded for biting.
  • STALKER ALERT Kittens also like to ‘hunt’ you while you're walking around. They'll jump out from behind a door or under a chair and pounce on your ankles. If they emerge but don’t pounce, praise them, but say ‘no’ if they aim for your ankles.


Never punish your kitten as this can make them anxious or fearful. Gently say ‘no’ and ignore them for a short while or distract them with a toy. Reward the behaviour you do want by offering praise or a small treat.

Source: Cats Protection

  • TIME OUT If the distraction and redirection techniques don't work and your kitten isn’t getting the message, withdraw attention. Never punish the kitten as it will cause fear and may make them even more reactive. Stay calm and gentle. The best way to withdraw your attention is to walk to another room and close the door long enough for them to calm down. If you pick them up to put them in another room, then you're rewarding them by touching them, so you should always be the one to leave the room.
  • LET’S PLAY Remember, your kitten wants to play with you, not just toys, so be sure to set aside time for regular, safe and interactive play sessions.


Remember never to leave your kitten or cat unsupervised with toys which might be shredded or eaten, or cause entanglement, and check toys regularly for signs of wear, replacing when appropriate.

Source: Cats Protection

Cats Protection advises “Remember there are certain behaviours inherent to a cat, such as hiding, climbing, hunting or predatory-style playing, toileting and scratching. Ensure you give your cat opportunities to express these which are acceptable to you both or they will find options you may find less appealing, such as shredding the curtains!”


Kittens should have access to fresh water and be given commercial kitten food

 to ensure their nutritional needs are met. Their food should be checked and replaced at least four times daily. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid giving more than the total daily recommended amount as this can lead to obesity.

Source: Cats Protection

  • Find more advice from Cats Protection on caring for your kitten here >>
  • Thinking of getting a kitten? Use this checklist compiled by the Cat Group, a collection of professional organisations – including International Cat Care, Cats Protection, RSPCA, Battersea, Blue Cross, PDSA and Wood Green – dedicated to feline welfare through the development and promotion of policies and recommendations on the care and keeping of all cats >>
  • CARE MORE Find more top tips on all aspects of cat care from the pet experts >>

Is your cat a Burgess Cat? Join the Burgess Pet Club exclusive offers and rewards.

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