Understanding kitten behavior
To understand kitten behavior and kitten body language, you should know that not only does your kitten use her mouth to talk to you, she also speaks through her eyes, ears, tail, body posture, and even her scent. Felinese is like any other foreign language:
- If you talk to a person from a foreign culture and listen to the words only, you may be confused.
- But if you look at how someone stands, whether he’s smiling or frowning, and whether his hands are loose or clinched, you start to understand more of what he’s saying.
Understanding kitten body language
Your kitten uses different parts of her body in combination to get her message across. If you’re going to be a good kitten communicator, you can’t just listen to what the kitten says. You have to think feline and look at her big picture, at the whole kitten. Like a line of kitty greeting cards, kittens have facial expressions and body positions to handle all situations.
The first thing to understand kitten body language and kitten behavior is observing the cat’s tail. Your kitten’s tail is one of his most effective communications tools. How he holds his tail can clue you in to how your kitten feels at any particular moment:
- When the tail is held up high like a flagpole, he’s confident and contented.
- A kitten wiggles his tail at either the base or the tip as a friendly greeting.
- With a tail safely curled under his body, he feels threat- ened. This is a submissive posture that says, “Curses! Caught red-pawed.”
- The tail can fluff to more than twice its normal size when he’s terrified. Be careful, he can switch from retreat to charge in the blink of an eye.
- A flick of the tail tells you that your cat’s disappointed in some way.
- A wagging tail means you’re bothering her (the exact opposite of a wagging dog tail).
- If you see your kitten staring at something and slowly twitching her tail tip while crouched, she’s curious or excited. My kittens will assume this position when they sit on the window perch and spy a bird.
The 2nd thing to understand kitten body language and kitten behavior is observing the cat’s ears. Your kitten’s ears not only hear, they speak volumes: The position of his ears reflects his mood. Because 30 muscles control each ear, your kitten can move his ears 180 degrees and change their shape. Although it may vary from kitten to kitten
- When he’s feeling friendly, content, or relaxed, your kitten’s ears face forward and are slightly tilted back.
- Erect ears mean he’s alert even if he’s lounging.
- Ears pointed forward indicate he’s curious about something.
- A fearful or defensive kitten will usually have his ears back and down — lying flat against his head. He does this to protect his ears from being scratched or bitten in case the ruckus escalates into a full contact brawl. He also avoids eye contact. A submissive kitten holds his ears like airplane wings
- The aggressive cat on the offensive rotates his ears so the inside of his ears are folded up, but facing behind him. Beware! You don’t want to bother a kitten with flattened or rotated ears.
The 3rd thing to understand kitten body language and kitten behavior is observing the cat’s eyes. Your kitten’s eyes provide a window into what’s going on inside her mind. Take a close look at her eyes. Every part of her eye sends its own message. Especially pay attention to her pupils (the black dot at the center of her iris). Not only do the pupils contract and dilate to control the light, they react to emotional responses:
Contracted pupils: A relaxed or contented kitten will hold her eyes half-open with her pupils contracted.
Dilated pupils: When your kitten’s bug-eyed with fully dilated pupils, look out; she’s either fearful, defensive, surprised, aggressive, or maybe even preparing to attack.
Staring: An unblinking stare from her means she’s challenging you. I use dominance staring as a discipline tool on occasions when the kittens play with me too roughly or attack bare skin. Silly as it sounds, I get down on the kitten’s level, make direct eye contact, and hiss. Most of the time they stop what they’re doing and start to groom their paws or butt as if to change the subject.
Blinking: The opposite of the stare is when your kitten deliberately blinks at you. He’s telling you he likes you and feels safe and comfortable with you. You can return the favor by blinking slowly back. Some people call it a kitty kiss. You will know that your kitten has developed real affection for you and feels comfortable with you if he slowly closes his eyes.
A kitten’s eye view
Kittens can see almost as well as humans with 20/20 vision can. In some ways, kittens can see even better. Kitty vision is designed to aid in hunting. Consider these interesting tidbits:
1-Kittens are slightly nearsighted so that they can focus in on a nearby mouse or lizard rather than distant prey.
2-Kittens’ retinas have more rods than cones. (Rods are the cells used for nighttime vision; cones are the cells used for daytime sight and seeing colors.) Having more rods helps a cat see at night, enabling him to pinpoint sudden motion with his peripheral vision. (Of course, having fewer cones means that your kitten can’t see colors as vividly as you do.)
3-Your kitten has large, elliptical pupils that contract and dilate much faster than your round pupil can. Because of its size, the kitten’s pupil lets more light in. His eyes have a tapetum membrane that reflects light through a second time in the opposite direction creating a visual double exposure of light (this is why your kitten can hunt in near darkness). The yellow glow seen when light shines onto your kitten’s eyes is the light reflecting off of the tapetum membrane.
4-If you don’t mean to discipline your kitten, but he catches you looking at him, try slowly blinking at him to break up the stare. That should put him more at ease. Also try this during stressful times to calm your kitten down.
The 4th thing to understand kitten body language and kitten behavior is observing the cat’s whiskers. Although your kitten uses his whiskers like a probe to determine whether a hole is big enough for him to go through, he also uses them to communicate.
- When your kitten feels relaxed, he holds his whiskers to the side, allowing them to droop down.
- A curious kitten perks his whiskers up and forward slightly.
- A hunting kitten moves his whiskers forward — a great help for locating prey in the dark.
Making sense of scents
Your kitten marks his territory using pheromones from glands located in his chin, temples, the corner of his lips, and at the base of his tail. If a male kitten is un-neutered and becomes sexually mature (between 6 and 9 months of age), he may start marking territory with pee pee graffiti.
If he becomes the dominant tomcat, he’ll mark his territory by leaving his poop uncovered for all the other cats to find, as if to say, “I’m the king of my world.” The other cats and kittens cover their poop, leaving themselves in protective anonymity. Early spaying and neutering helps prevent the need to do this kind of marking. However, older neutered kittens sometimes spray to express anxiety about changes in life.
Some of the ways your kitten’s going to communicate to you
Kittens not only speak to you through vocalizations and posture, but their physical contact with you also speaks volumes. Following are some of the ways your kitten’s going to communicate to you:
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about head butt. The head butt is a friendly cat-to-cat greeting that your kitten may extend to the favorite people in her life — the equivalent of a kitty hug. She’s greeting you like you would greet another cat at a family reunion. She’s also marking you with scent from the glands around her mouth and ears.
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about kneading. Whether you call it kneading, milk treading, or making biscuits, kneading is a sign that your kitten is a very happy camper.
When she’s resting on your lap and massages your legs with her paws, she may feel as if she’s gone back to her mother’s nest. After all, you feed and protect her like her mother did.
When she was a baby kitten, she massaged her mother while she suckled to make the milk flow faster. An older kitten kneads because she feels safe and content.
This kind of affection can be a bit rough on your legs when those needle-sharp claws dig into your thighs. Like several other kitten responses, this one is a compliment, so don’t get mad or brush your kitten away; you’ll confuse him. A real queen would never push her kittens away like that.
Instead, trim his claws regularly. Another way to protect your legs is to lay a thick towel or blanket across your knees as you sit down, before your kitten climbs into your lap.
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about drooling. You may notice as you pet or stroke you kitten that he’s not only purring, but he’s also drooling, too. The petting has sent your kitten into such a state of euphoria that he’s actually forgotten to swallow.
Take this as a wonderful compliment. Still, if you object to a little kitten spit landing on your clothes, occasionally press your finger against your kitten’s nose or the side of his mouth. He’ll swallow instinctively without shattering his mood.
This kind of drooling isn’t a problem, providing it only happens when you’re petting your kitten. If he dribbles all the time, he may have a problem with his gums or teeth, which would justify a trip to the vet’s office.
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about licking. When your kitten licks you, it doesn’t mean that she’s kissing you. She’s probably grooming you. But don’t be insulted. Kitties only groom other kitties they feel are in their own family. When she licks you, she’s telling you that you’re one of the clan.
5.Wanna smell my butt?
Your kitten may approach you, turn around, and present his bottom to you as if to say, “Ya wanna sniff me?” This is something he only invites his friends to do, whether the friend is human, feline, or even canine. Some experts say the kitten is offering an invitation to take a sniff of his anal glands so you’ll know who he is — sort of a kitty handshake.
Others say you remind him of his mother, and he’s asking you to groom his bottom. I don’t recommend you go to that extreme to bond with your kitten, but thanking him and scratching the base of his tail when he presents his butt is an acceptable response. Regardless of whether he’s asking for grooming or greeting, take the presentation of his bottom as a compliment — an intimate and meaningful moment, at least for a kitten.
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about leg weaving. As with most of your kitten’s affectionate actions, leg weaving originated with mom. A kitten greets his mom with his tail upright, and then wraps his tail around her rear end to get her to lie down so he can eat.
As he gets older, he continues to rub against friendly cats to place his scent on them. His tail has scent from his anal gland on it. As he rubs his tail against another cat or you, he’s marking you — another display of affection and a good way for him to get attention or food. It works on me.
7.The classic Halloween cat posture
To understand kitten body language and kitten behavior, you should know more about the halloween cat posture. When something frightens your kitten, she may assume the classic Halloween cat posture. (Sometimes playing kittens assume this position out of excitement rather than fear.)
She fluffs up her tail as big as it can look, puffs up her fur by making it stand up on end, and arches her back. She assumes this posture when she wants to look bigger and meaner in the hopes of bluffing a potential attacker into believing she’s invincible.
This terrified kitten won’t approach you head on. She stands with her profile to you and, instead of turning and running away, hops off to the side so that her opponent (you in this case) continues to see a big scary cat even as she’s madly retreating. When you see this posture, back off. Even though she’s a cute, adorable kitten, she may bite you. If you do get bitten, speak to her in a gentle voice and leave her alone until she calms down.
8.See my tummy
If you’ve ever watched littermates play, you may have seen one roll over with all four paws in the air. With her claws sheathed, she’s inviting contact. The other kitten jumps right in, and the growling and tumbling mock battle begins. Your kitten may also greet you with this position.
When she shows you her belly, it could mean that she’s so relaxed and so totally trusts you that she’s showing you her most vulnerable position. She’s not saying, “Scratch my belly,” like a dog would. It’s a show of trust, not an invitation.
Read more about cat and kitten behavior:
- Cat vocalizations
- My Kitten is crazy – Crazy kitten behavior
- Using Comfort Zone Feliway
- Cat Marking Territory
- Cat Spraying
- Cat Body Language
- Understand your cat body language and cat behavior
- Cat Separation Anxiety
- Cat Scratching
- Aggression in cats towards others
- Aggressive cat behavior toward other cats and solutions
- Common Cat Behavior Problems and Solutions