Teach Gentle Play to Your Kitten

 

Early Learning

When kittens are with their littermates they learn how to engage in social play. This is the time when each kitten learns how to use an inhibited bite so as not to cause injury. A kitten who bites too hard is either reprimanded by the queen or gets a very negative reaction from a littermate. This social play is important and each kitten soon learns the rules. Facial expressions and body postures displayed during play also indicate that the session is friendly and not truly aggressive.

When kittens reach about 12 weeks of age, social play may have a tendency to become a bit too aggressive so if you have littermates that are still together, you’ll have to pay closer attention so you can monitor their interaction. Make sure they have lots of opportunities for solo play and other ways to work off that kitten energy.

If you are adopting a kitten and she is now leaving her littermates it will be up to you to help teach her the correct manners when she engages in playtime with you.

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Playtime is Important

When kittens play it’s not just about having fun. Playtime is teaching them important skills they’ll need as adults. All the chasing, climbing, pouncing and seemingly endless energetic bursts help kittens learn about their emerging skills and helps them develop balance, stealth, coordination, and all the other skills they’ll need to be successful hunters.

The playtime your kitten does with you, when done correctly, will help develop the emotional bond and teach her how to play without crossing over into biting or scratching you. It’s up to you to gently guide her.

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Appropriate Toys for Kittens

The first and most important rule when it comes to teaching a kitten to play gently is to not use your fingers as toys. No matter how young your kitten is and whether it hurts when she bites or not, this isn’t the message you want to send to her. Biting flesh is never to be allowed. It’s also unfair if you use your fingers to entice your kitten to play and then get angry when she reacts by biting or scratching your hand. Don’t send mixed messages. Never poke, wiggle your fingers or wrestle your kitten. It may not hurt so much now, but if you train your kitten that hands are toys, it will hurt when she becomes an adult.

From the very beginning, have appropriate toys for your kitten to bite during play. For interactive playtime, use toys based on a fishing pole design. That will put a safe distance between your hands and your kitten’s teeth. This way, when your kitten is enthusiastically involved in play she doesn’t have to worry about crossing the line. The interactive toy, by providing a distance between the kitten’s teeth/claws and your body, lets her freely use all of her weapons. Biting is an especially important part of hunting. Playtime for cats mimics the way they hunt so your kitten needs that opportunity to use her teeth and her claws.

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