The joys of keeping a kitten are too numerous to count. These tiny bundles of soft, fuzzy, pointy, excitable joy are so inexpressibly wonderful, it almost hurts. ...Hold on... let me just take a breath here! Anyway, if you'll notice from my little rant there, in addition to being soft and joyous, those same sweet kitties are indeed pointy and excitable, so kitten training is pretty much mandatory. But how on earth do you train one? I mean... they're just as stubborn as their adult counterparts, but twice as distractible. It's definitely possible to help guide them in the right direction, and just as with human babies, kittens are incredibly malleable. Now is the perfect time to get them on the right track, so let's begin!
What You Need to Train Your Kitten to Do
Train Your Kitten to Eat
Depending upon the age of your kitten, training him to eat properly may not be an issue. However, a very young kitten will need a little help when it comes to weaning him off of milk. Hard food can be a pain for tiny mouths, and wet food will result in some rather messy episodes, so showing him how to eat politely may also be necessary.
Transitioning Onto the Adult Menu
Begin by ensuring that your kitten is the proper age. Mothers will typically start around four weeks, but if you're weaning an orphaned kitty, you can usually start around three weeks. As a rule of thumb, if your new little darling has started gnawing on his bottle or begins to reject his formula, he's probably ready for something a little more substantial.
In the early stages, between weeks 3 and 5, start with either wet food, or create a gruel out of hard food - easily accomplished by soaking dry kibble in warm water or kitten milk. You might find a mixture of the wet meat and gruel is more appetizing, so just try out a few things and see what works best. In weeks 5 and 6, start to introduce lightly moistened pieces of kibble. This will be similar to that gruel you were making earlier, just don't allow it to get nearly as soggy. After week 6, start gradually adding pieces of completely dry kibble until, after week 7, he is fully able to eat up a bowl of regular food.
Good Table Manners
When kittens begin eating dry food, messiness will become less of an issue. However, during the days of wet food and gruel, you may find that frequent baths are a necessity. To reduce this messiness and encourage good eating habits, start with smaller portions spread out over time, then gradually increase the quantity and decrease the number of times you feed throughout the day - the shift will take place over the process of weaning, from messy wet food to tidier dry. With normal serving sizes, you will generally feed your kitten three to four times a day; with these smaller portions, you will likely have to double that amount.
Food aggression is another form of poor table manners. Though this usually pops up in adults - often because your cat was weaned too quickly or abruptly - it can also show up in much younger kittens, especially if they are in a home with multiple cats. To help diminish or even eliminate food aggression in your kitten, you have a few options. Play with your cats as a group, then reward them individually with a few treats. This will help calm them, help them exercise some of their instincts, and show them that their food sources won't be drying up any time soon. If your kitten is too young for treats, the best method might be to feed him and your other cats separately or at different times of the day.
Train Your Kitten to Use the Litter Box
Without question, litter box training is absolutely essential, but considering that cats are instinctual creatures, it shouldn't be a difficult experience. Timing is key here. Kittens should be placed in their litter box immediately after eating, after a rollicking play session, and right after waking up.
Help Them Along
Mother cats lick their kitten's stomachs, and anal and genital areas to encourage digestion, urination, and defecation. If the mother isn't present, you may need to use a wet, warm washcloth to help stimulate the kitten the way his mother would. After the above mentioned eat, play, sleep events, use your washcloth, then place your kitten in his box. Gently pull his front paws through the litter, simulating the act of digging and covering.
Accidents Will Happen
Most kittens get the idea fairly quickly; however, if accidents are had, don't be discouraged, and don't start punishing him - this will have the opposite effect of what you want. Instead, when you see him outside of his box, pick him up and put him in it. Afterwards, clean up the mess with an enzymatic solution - or vinegar and seltzer water if that's more accessible.
Train Your Kitten to Play Appropriately
Kittens play rough. After all, they're little bitty wee hunters with none of the impulse control of their adult counterparts. Makes a lot of sense, right? Although that hunting instinct should never be stymied, it is important to implement a kitten training plan that re-directs his instincts away from your toes and towards his prey-like toys.
The Dos and Don'ts of Playtime
There are a few "don't" items for you to check off of your list. One, don't allow your kitten to play with any part of your person - this means fingers, toes, hands, feet, and hair! Second, don't aggressively punish your kitten if he has a lapse in judgment and pounces on you. If you do, you'll likely end up with a fearful kitty who simply won't want to be around you.
Instead, provide your new little darling with plenty of stimulating toys. Many kittens love a good pole or fishing wand toy. Drag these across the floor, bounce them from the perches of his new cat tree, and move it in a way that looks not entirely unlike prey. Some kittens like wrestling, and if you find your fluffy ball trying to do the "alligator death roll" to your leg, simply replace the limb with a kicker toy. If he doesn't quite understand its function right off, when he's feeling playful, pull out the kicker toy, rub it against his belly until he latches on, then let him wrestle away!
In addition to providing toys, you may occasionally need to reprimand your kitten. This is often the case when he attempts to hunt you, attack or steal something you're using - like a pen or computer mouse - or gnaw on anything that isn't an actual toy. In many cases a firm "No!" will get his attention, especially when he tries to bite or attack. Again, though, don't screech at him, as this will freak him out more than correct his bad habit. Your "No" should be quick and sharp, just something to get him out of his crazy kitten stupor. Be sure that once he's ceased the undesirable behavior, you reward him accordingly - either with a gentle pet, soft praises, or with his favorite treat.
Train Away Destructive Behavior
Because kittens are initially unaware of the rules of the household, they likely don't realize you'd really rather they didn't scratch your couch to little shreds, so it's up to you to educate them.
Offering the Right Stuff
To start, ensure that your home has plenty of scratching materials that appeal to your kitty. At this stage, they may or may not have a preference, but as they get older, I can assure you, they will develop a taste for certain things. That said, try to get scratching posts made up of a variety of materials, such as sisal rope, cardboard, and different piles of carpeting. Also, be sure that there are several available to your kitten, and keep them in the rooms where they tend to show their most destructive behaviors. In fact, if possible, cover up their normal scratching spots - say, the curtains - with a scratching post... at least until he learns to use the post instead of the aforementioned draperies.
In addition to providing the right materials, be sure to show your kitten what these unusual items are for. If your kitten is comfortable being held, pick him up and carry him over to his new scratching apparatus. Gently take his paws and slide them over the post for a moment or two, just so he can get a feel for the material. If that doesn't encourage the desired behavior, you can also spritz your scratchers with attractant spray. Alternatively, you can spray detractants on the areas you want your kitten to avoid, or instead, use fabric deodorizers to help eliminate your kitten's scent - thus reducing his desire to re-scratch the area.
Keeping Fangs Away from Furniture
Chewing can also be an issue with some cats. If plants, electrical cords, or other solid items are the target, it's often due to general curiosity and play. On the other hand, fabric items like blankets and clothes are usually chewed out of either boredom or a need for comfort - especially if this chewing behavior is coupled with that all-too-familiar kneading motion. As with scratching, detractant sprays may help to dissuade your kitten from even approaching the chewable item. However, with items like clothing and blankets, you probably won't want to use these substances, so instead, you may want to remove the desirable materials altogether. If general boredom is the culprit for chewing behaviors, regular and vigorous play sessions will have to commence as soon as possible! It's important to keep in mind that some houseplants can be toxic to cats, so if you can, move them out of reach or out of the room. Furthermore, because plant chewing may be a craving for vegetable matter, try incorporating healthy alternatives, like live catnip, oat grass, or cat mint.
Getting a new fluffy little friend can be an absolute joy, but it can also be a lot of work. Kitten training, though, should be part of the fun. And... you know... even if it isn't, just remember, the work you put in now will result in a marvelous companion later, so keep at it... you won't regret it!