7 min read

5 Common Behavioral Problems in Kittens

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Overview

If your feline friend has begun pottying outside of the litter box, being destructive, or biting things (or people) they shouldn't, you might be dealing with a behavioral problem. Behavioral problems can cause household stress and may worsen over time, so pet parents must address these problems when they first arise.

Pet parents encounter 5 main behavioral problems when raising a kitten: house soiling, aggression, excessive vocalizations, destructive chewing, and clawing furniture. We'll address the symptoms and potential causes of these problem behaviors and give you tips to help your cat overcome them.


black and gray tabby kitten standing in front of green and beige litter box

House soiling

Almost every cat parent experiences a period of house soiling during the first few weeks with their kitten. However, once the kitten understands the concept of using the litter box, this problem resolves. Continuing to potty outside of the litter box after successful litter box training could signal a bigger behavioral problem.

Since house soiling sometimes occurs due to medical conditions, it's a good idea to have a vet evaluate your kitten if they stop using the litter box. Most vets will perform a full workup, including blood and urine samples to rule out conditions such as diabetes and urinary tract infections, which can cause inappropriate elimination.


Common causes of house soiling

  • Stress. Psychological stress like losing a loved one, being rehomed, or experiencing a traumatic event can cause cats to seemingly "forget" their litter box training. 

  • Medical problems. Health conditions that cause lack of bladder control, increased urination, or urgency can also cause cats to refuse the litter box.

  • Environmental changes. Moving or rearranging your home can cause confusion and stress, leading to house soiling. 

  • Dirty litter boxes. Going too long between litter box cleanings can cause cats to find a new place to potty. Cats are meticulous about cleanliness, so the idea of stepping into a dirty litter pan can cause cats to want to go elsewhere. 

  • Fear. Some cats exhibit housetraining regression due to fear of the litter box, particularly if the box is new. Covered boxes or boxes with automatic scooping features are especially intimidating to young cats. 


Tips for preventing house soiling

The appropriate treatment for your kitten will depend on the cause(s) of the behavior. Below are some methods to prevent house soiling.

  • Relocate the litter box. Place the litter box where your cat has the most accidents. If your cat is obsessed with going potty in the bathroom closet, put the box there until they get the hang of using it.  

  • Use positive reinforcement when your cat uses their litter box. Place your cat in the litter pan periodically throughout the day and reward them when they use it. You may reward them with high-value treats, catnip, or fun toys they only get to play with after going potty. 

  • Scoop the litter frequently. Many pet parents are surprised that scooping the litter more often is the key to preventing accidents. Cats are notorious clean freaks and don't like to get their paws dirty. Scoop the box at least once daily, or 3 times a day if you have multiple cats.

  • Change litter pan and substrate. If your cat refuses to go near the litter box, try changing their setup. Opt for unscented litter and an open-air style pan instead of a covered one (or vice versa) until you find a combo that your cat likes.


two white kittens lying down and play fighting

Aggression

If you're wondering why your cat is suddenly biting or scratching you, you're not alone. Many kittens attempt to instigate playtime by biting or scratching their playmates. Although these behaviors might have playful intentions, they aren't fun for the person or pet on the other end.

Not all feline aggression is playful in nature, though. Resource guarding, territorial tendencies, fear, and inter-species aggression can all cause a cat to lash out against their household members. Aggression may also be due to pain or neurological conditions, so it’s a good idea to have your kitten see a vet if their aggression comes out of nowhere or suddenly worsens.


Common causes of feline aggression

There are many reasons cats bite and scratch, and most of them fit into one or more of the following aggression types: 

  • Play aggression. Play aggression, also called predatory aggression, is when a cat exhibits predatory behaviors like pouncing, biting, or clawing during playtime. 

  • Inter-cat aggression. Inter-cat aggression is when a cat becomes aggressive with other members of their species. 

  • Food aggression. Food aggression is when a cat attacks others or exhibits aggressive body language while guarding their food.

  • Overstimulation. This type of aggression is due to overhandling and excessive petting. 

  • Fear aggression. Fear aggression is aggressive behavior that arises when a cat feels afraid or intimidated. 

  • Territorial aggression. Territorial aggression is most common in males and occurs when a feline becomes violent and protective over a specific area of the home.


Tips for managing aggression in cats

Seeking early treatment for your kitten's aggressive tendencies is key to minimizing the behavior. These are the standard procedures behavioral specialists recommend for aggressive felines:

  • Behavior modification and counterconditioning techniques. These techniques can encourage appropriate responses to stimuli that would normally trigger aggression.

  • Make a loud noise. If your cat is acting aggressively, try clapping your hands to break their concentration.

  • Avoid doing things that trigger your cat's aggression. If you know something triggers your cat's aggression (like petting their stomach), avoid doing these things when possible. 

  • Do not use aversive methods of punishment. Spanking and yelling can worsen pet aggression. 

  • Seek professional help. If your cat regularly displays aggressive tendencies, seek advice from a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist.


black, gray, and white tabby kitten clawing orange furniture

Clawing furniture

Of all the personality traits you want in a fur-baby, a tendency to scratch furniture probably doesn't make your shortlist. Not only is it frustrating, but claw damage can also be costly to fix and may even make renters lose their security deposit.  


Common causes of clawing furniture

The primary reason cats scratch objects is to help them maintain sharp and healthy claws. When outdoors, cats will typically sharpen their nails on tree bark. However, indoor cats often resort to furniture or walls to achieve the same result. Scratching hard surfaces help cats shed the outer, worn layer of their claws to expose the new growth underneath. 

Cats also scratch to "claim" household objects. When cats scratch, they emit pheromones from glands in their paws, leaving behind their signature scent to tell other pets, "This is mine." 

Lastly, some cats find "sharpening their claws" to be a relaxing pastime. If you notice your cat stretching or yawning while clawing your furniture, it's a good indicator that they're just looking to relieve some stress.

 

Tips for preventing your cat from clawing furniture

Here are a few things you can try to stop your cat from clawing furniture. 

  • Repellent sprays. Repellant sprays may discourage cats from scratching certain areas of your home. These sprays have an unpleasant odor and may stain fabric surfaces, so use them with caution.

  • Nail caps. Nail caps are silicone or plastic covers that slide over a cat's nails and minimize damage caused by furniture scratching. 

  • Scratching post. Invest in a scratching post and cover it in catnip or pheromone sprays to encourage your kitten to use that instead of your couch. If that doesn't work, try one of these training methods.


black, white, and gray tabby kitten meowing against a blue background

Excessive vocalizations

A lot of kittens display excessive vocalizations when they first join a new household. Yowling or meowing is pretty normal when cats are adjusting to a new place, but persistent vocalizations may indicate behavioral or medical problems.


Common causes of excessive vocalization

Though annoying, excessive vocalizations are usually nothing to worry about. However, there are instances where excessive vocalizations can signal underlying health problems. Here are some reasons a cat may be chattier than usual:  

  • Hunger

  • Attention-seeking

  • Confusion

  • Greeting their parents or other pets

  • Being in heat

  • Pain or certain medical conditions

  • Aggression or territorial behavior (depending on the type of vocalization)

  • Genetics

Grief and separation anxiety are prevalent after kittens are taken from their littermates and brought to a new home.


Tips for preventing excessive vocalizations

While you likely won't be able to stop vocalizations entirely, you can curb excessive vocalizations by trying the following:

  • Break your cat's daily food allotment into separate smaller meals, and feed them throughout the day

  • Don't respond to excessive vocalizations since this may reinforce the behavior.

  • Take your cat to the vet to rule out contributing health conditions.

  • Take time to play with and pet your kitten throughout the day.     

  • Try these training techniques to discourage yowling.


white kitten chewing a straw hat

Destructive chewing

Chewing is a common behavioral problem in cats of all ages. Bored or stressed kittens may find relief in chewing household belongings or even their own skin. 

Both skin and destructive chewing can cause health problems in cats. Most obviously, chewing the skin can create abrasions on the skin and introduce bacteria, which can cause the skin to become painful and infected. Chewing household belongings can put cats at risk for chemical poisoning, internal blockages, choking, and electrocution (if the cat chews electrical cords).


Common causes of destructive chewing

  • Boredom

  • Stress

  • Teething

  • Pica

  • Tooth or gum pain

  • Malnutrition 

  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies


Tips for preventing destructive chewing

Chewing can be a dangerous pastime for cats, so it's essential that pet parents take steps to prevent it. Here are a few things you can do to discourage chewing and prevent chewing-related injuries. 

  • Store dangerous items like cleaning chemicals up high, and use wire covers and cable management methods to prevent wire chewing.   

  • If your cat is a boredom chewer, you may want to offer mental stimulation through one of these fun boredom-busting activities

  • Catnip toys may provide a positive outlet for predatory instincts and prevent destructive chewing.

  • Repellent sprays may help discourage your cat from chewing specific items. 

  • If your cat’s destructive chewing persists, you may want to have your vet document the behavior and refer you to a behaviorist. Vets can also offer guidance on ways to prevent chewing and chewing-related injuries. 


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