Keeping playful kittens respectful kittensPosted: Updated:
Kittens are wonderful pets, so full of life and energy. But sometimes playing with kittens isn't so fun as they seem to get a little rough in their play. This is because kittens learn through their play and their young bodies require a lot of exercise. They stalk, chase, pounce, bite and claw. This predatory play is normal and an integral part of the kitten's development. As the kitten's new human parent, it is up to you to teach your kitten how to play appropriately with people.
The first step in teaching your kitten how to "play nice" with people is to provide a variety of appropriate toys for self play, as well as for social play. These types of toys are ones that roll like ping pong balls or walnuts, toys that dangle, battery operated or spring-mounted toys, scratching posts, and toys that deliver food when scratched or batted. Cat trees, cardboard boxes or paper bags (never plastic bags) can provide kittens with hours of fun exploring. Hiding treats in a number of places about the home is an enjoyable way to keep kittens on the move and happy.
When playing with kittens, it's very tempting to use your own body parts - such as hands or feet - as toys. However, you should avoid this because this play could turn painful. Kittens don't always know their own strength, or understand that their teeth and claws are painful on human skin. If your kitten is playing rough with your hands or feet, first try to substitute appropriate toys for body parts. This may mean having a stash of cat toys handy in all rooms. Fishing rod toys or toys to throw for the kitten to chase are appropriate and will provide the exercise that your kitten requires. If this doesn't work, try walking out of the room leaving the kitten alone to calm down for a few minutes. This will teach the kitten that there will be no play when it's tearing up flesh. Once the kitten calmed down, give him a "do-over" with an appropriate toy or game.
When you are working to modify your kitten's behavior - both in play and otherwise - never use physical punishment with your kitten. First, you may cause real aggressive behaviors to occur, since one response to pain is defensive aggression. Second, hurting your kitten may cause him to fear or avoid you. Third, your attempt to correct the playful aggression may actually escalate it - your kitten may think the correction is all part of the fun and games.
If withdrawing attention from your kitten doesn't stop the rough or aggressive play, you may try interrupting the behavior with a startling noise, such as making a hissing noise, using a can of compressed air, or an air horn. If the noise makers are not effective, try a squirt bottle filled with water and set on stream. Remember that your timing with the noise or the squirt bottle is key - you must make your noise or squirt the kitten during the behavior. This means that your noise maker or squirt bottle must be handy at all times.
Once you have stopped the inappropriate play, be ready to replace it with an approved means of playing with your kitten. You should provide ample opportunities for play on your terms. As mentioned before kittens require a great deal of exercise; scheduling play sessions that include running, jumping, pouncing, grabbing with thrown toys, fishing rod or wand toys, or other appropriate toys should be done in order to avoid the rough play altogether. Another excellent way to tire out your kitten and further their development is to grab his favorite tasty treat and train him to sit, come, fetch, or wave. Much like with children, kittens need to learn how to play with people, even as they learn how not to play with people.
Following these guidelines will help you and your kitten learn to play with each other to everyone's benefit.