Developmental Stages of Kitten Behavior

Download Resource

Well-socialized cats are more likely to have well-socialized kittens. Kittens “feed” off of their mothers’ calm or fearful attitude toward people. Although feeding time is important, it’s also vital to include petting, talking, and playing in order to build good “people-skills” in your kitten.

Kittens are usually weaned at six or seven weeks, but may continue to suckle for comfort as their mother gradually leaves them more and more. Orphaned kittens, or those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit in inappropriate suckling behaviors later in life. Ideally, kittens should stay with their littermates (or other role-model cats) for at least 12 weeks.

Kittens orphaned or separated from their mother and/or littermates too early often fail to develop appropriate “social skills,” such as learning how to send and receive signals, what an “inhibited bite” means, how far to go in play-wrestling, and so forth. Play is important for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills, and learning limits. By interacting with their mother and littermates, kittens learn “how to be a cat.”

Kittens that are handled 15 to 40 minutes a day during the first seven weeks are more likely to develop larger brains. They’re more exploratory, more playful, and are better learners. Skills not acquired during the first eight weeks may be lost forever. While these stages are important and fairly consistent, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kitten-hood. Most cats are still kittens, in mind and body, through the first two years.

The following chart provides general guidelines for the stages of development.

0 – 2 weeks

Separation from their mothers and littermates at this point can lead to poor learning skills and aggression toward people and other pets, including other cats.

2 – 7 weeks

7- 14 weeks

3 – 6 months

6 – 18 months