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Your Guide to Kitten Behavior

Your kitten is so cute and adorable – she could never do anything wrong. Or could she? Some kittens can be feline terrors leading you to question your decision about bringing her into your home. Before finding a new home or banishing your cat to the outdoors, consider learning about the problem and how to either stop the behavior or re-train your pet. With proper know-how, your cat can be a loving and playful member of the family, providing hours of amusement.

The best way to deal with behavior problems is to try to avoid them. Learn the best way to socialize and introduce your new kitten to your home. If you are adopting an orphan kitten, be aware that they have their own set of concerns. Here are a few problems you might encounter:

Feline inappropriate elimination. Inappropriate elimination is not one condition but rather a cluster of conditions: some medical, some physiological (pertaining to normal biological functions), some to do with elimination preferences and others related to anxiety and stress.

Feline aggression. Aggression is a natural behavior for the cat and was a survival-related behavior for the cats’ wild ancestors. Cats have five weapons with which to attack, including a widely opening mouth well-appointed with penetrating teeth and four paws bearing needle-sharp claws.

Play aggression. Kittens are adorable, but when they are around four months of age, a dark side usually emerges – a side that involves aggression. In an instant, the kitten turns aggressive, inflicting painful scratches and bites. Play aggression is part of the normal growth. In time, it diminishes and eventually disappears.

Aggression directed at other cats. Cats show several different types of aggression toward other cats including status-related (dominance) aggression, fear aggression, territorial aggression, and redirected aggression.

Predatory aggression. Predation is the way in which cats in nature obtain their food. It is debatable whether this behavior classifies as aggression in the true sense, but because it involves the destruction of a third party it is usually included. Typically cats hide behind walls stalking and pouncing on approaching feet and ankles, inflicting scratches and minor bite wounds. Mature cats will capture and kill small rodents and birds.

Medical problems. There are a variety of medical causes of aggression in cats. These include hyperthyroidism, ischemic encephalopathy, brain tumor, head trauma and thiamine deficiency.

Feline fear. As unpleasant as fear may be to experience, it keeps us and our animals safe by encouraging caution and by preparing us for fight or flight when danger threatens. Problems arise, however, if fears become so excessive and irrational that they disrupt normal functioning.

Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in any species implies a lack of confidence and an over-dependence on others. Cats with separation anxiety don’t howl and bay like dogs and they don’t chew on doors and windowsills in frantic attempts to escape. Their misery is far less obvious and it sometimes takes a sleuth of an owner to appreciate what is going on.

Thunderstorm phobia. Few species – including humans – are happy with the sounds of a rip-roaring thunderstorm, complete with darkened skies, lightning and crashing thunder. Some become extremely fearful to the point where they show a full-blown phobia. Cats are probably far from comfortable, but most don’t become phobic – although there are exceptions.

Compulsive behaviors. Compulsive behavior initially may be performed as a displacement behavior. For example, when a cat is torn between responding with aggression or running away, he may displace into a seemingly unrelated behavior, such as grooming, as a way to reduce emotional tension. The most common compulsive behaviors exhibited by cats include wool sucking or fabric eating, over-grooming/hair-barbering or hair-pulling behavior and feline hyperesthesia.

Feeding compulsion. Many cats suffer from eating compulsions. Like people, cats may use their compulsive disorders as an outlet when their natural behaviors are somehow frustrated by poor management practices and/or a restrictive environment. A genetic factor may also be involved.

Hoarding behavior. In the domestic situation, depositing dead prey animals on the front doorstep is probably one of the most well known forms of feline gathering behavior. Collecting and hoarding of shiny objects, including jewelry and small metal objects, may occur; the items are not just retrieved; they are stashed and hoarded.

Hyperesthesia. Cats affected by this syndrome show the most bizarre character changes, sometimes appearing to hallucinate, act manic, schizophrenic, or even “possessed.”

Psychogenic alopecia. The result of compulsive hair pulling is alopecia (baldness) that can be so mild as to be barely discernable or so severe as to warrant wigs for affected persons. The areas most commonly involved are the abdomen and the inside of the limbs.

Furniture scratching. Cats love to scratch. Unfortunately, the things they love to scratch are often the legs of your antique table, your upholstered sofa, or your expensive stereo speakers. And no amount of reprimanding or pulling at your hair in frustration seems to make them stop.

Jumping on counters. There are several reasons why cats find counters so appealing: because cats naturally prefer a three-dimensional environment, because they occasionally find food morsels while patrolling counter, and because they’re there. You could work hard at training them – or you could teach yourself not to worry about it so much.

Once you understand what is behind the behavior and realize what is needed to correct the problem, you are well on your way to having a long and happy life with your new kitten.