Kitten Adolescence is a Real Thing

Kittens are adorable.

Big eyes, upright ears, a tail that sticks straight up, a fuzzy coat, and over-sized paws all combine together to make us say, “Awww.” The popularity of kitten videos online is proof of their appeal (should any proof be necessary). Kittens do grow up, however, and that adorable kitten will turn into a teenager. Teenage kittens are not babies anymore and yet aren’t adult cats either. If your kitten is ever going to get into trouble, this is when it’s going to happen.

From Ten to Fourteen Months is the Worst

Most kittens edge into adolescence at about ten months of age. This can vary, though, depending on the kitten. My orange tabby, Kirk, was actually closer to a year when I saw the adolescent changes in his behavior. However, ten months is the most common age.

As a general rule, this worst of this teenage stage lasts about four to six months, with individual variances here, too, of course. Kirk is about fourteen months old now and I’m seeing a lessening of his adolescent behaviors even though he’s only been in this stage a couple of months. Your kitten won’t be fully mature, mentally and physically, until she’s about two years old and you’ll see some silly behaviors throughout this time.

Behaviors Signal a Change

Most owners see behavior changes as a sign that their kitten is becoming a teenager, as I did. The first thing that caught my attention was zooming from one end of the house to another. Kirk, as a kitten, often made mad dashes here and there. Those dashes are normal and I look upon them as good exercise for the growing kitten. But almost to the day that Kirk turned a year old, he would make mad full speed dashes from the front of the house, down the hall, to the back bedroom and then back again. A strong, healthy teenage kitten is incredibly fast! Thankfully he never caused any damage to himself, the house, or anyone else so I just stayed out of his way—as did my dogs.

Some teenage kittens become destructive during this time of their life. If scratching poles or cat trees are not easily available, this is when many cats begin clawing up furniture or shredding drapes. Having more than one cat tree and spacing them throughout the house is a great idea. If your teenager likes catnip, use it on the cat trees to make them more appealing and refresh it often.

Don’t be surprised if your feline teenager decides to chew on other things. Shoes are often a target as are papers. Many cat owners have said that there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the destructiveness; and although that’s true, I do think items the owner touches frequently seem to be targeted most often. Thankfully, cats don’t have the large teeth and strong jaw strength that most puppies have, so the destruction is nowhere as bad as it can be with dogs.

At this time, play becomes serious for kitten adolescents and you might find that claws are used more in play. Your kitten might have played with you with sheathed claws earlier, but your teenager may use her claws more. You might find her using her teeth, too. In these instances, simply stop the play as soon as the claws or teeth are used. Or, if you can recognize the signs, stop the play before your cat gets to that point of over-stimulation.

©istockphoto/Azaliya

©istockphoto/Azaliya

Listen to that Meow!

I knew adolescence had hit for sure when Kirk woke me up meowing loudly, as loud as his little body could call, in the middle of the night. I woke up with a start, turned on the light and looked for him, sure that he was badly hurt. No, he wasn’t hurt. He was sitting on the headboard of my bed trying to get my attention and was very happy I was awake; greeting me with an arched back and purrs. Unfortunately, since his first night of meows was so effective he tried it again for several more nights but I refused to fall for it again. Eventually, when his loud meows no longer worked, he stopped the midnight summons.

During the day he will still meow every once in a while to get my attention and I’ll usually answer him. I don’t go looking for him unless he sounds like he’s in trouble (behind a closed door, for example) but I will talk to him. I think that’s fair.

Many owners of teenage kittens mention a period of night time unease coupled with meowing. However, if not rewarded with attention, it tends to abate fairly quickly.

Pet Me! No, Never Mind.

We know with teenage humans that the brain is changing significantly during this time, and although research hasn’t shown us that the same thing happens with felines, their behavior certainly shows it. Many adolescent kittens who were once affectionate and liked to cuddle don’t during this time. They will only cuddle when they want to cuddle and not when you want to pet them. Worse yet, sometimes when you reach out to pet your kitten, you might be met with teeth and claws.

Don’t take this personally; it’s not meant to push you away or harm you. Instead, this is a part of the kitten changing from a kitten to a cat. Your pet’s brain and body are changing from day to day and most likely even from minute to minute.

Give your kitten time and space to grow up. If she wants attention, give it to her but don’t force it on her. If she wants attention but then reaches a level of over-stimulation and uses her claws and teeth, stop the petting immediately and move away. Do not get angry, yell or scream at your kitten, or hit her. Punishment doesn’t work to change behavior and will make her afraid of you instead.

Eventually, with patience and some time to grow up, the feline you loved will be back.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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