Understanding and Training your Kitten

When adopting and taking home a new kitten there are some important steps to take to ensure that it is happy and well. Before you can start training a kitten to do something or not do something you need to understand their behaviour and why they do what they do. We all know that cats are independent creatures, which is one of the reasons that we love them. But there are times when they will benefit from some human guidance.

Socialising a cat

Preparing a kitten to cope with the challenges he/she will face throughout their life has a huge impact on their lifelong welfare. The first ‘training’ that a kitten needs is to prepare them for the wider world, so it’s important to socialise cats as soon as possible. This will build their confidence around humans, and allow us to enjoy their company.

The experiences kittens have within their first two months of life are important in influencing their behaviour right into and through adulthood. It is an ideal time to expose them to new situations and environments.

Kittens are generally ready to be homed when they are 12 weeks old. If you adopt a kitten, you can continue to help it socialise by continuing to give it positive new experiences when it arrives in your home. A few things you can do are:

  • Invite people into your home to meet them. It is important that kittens get used to being around new people so that they can learn that humans will not harm them. Make sure that your kitten meets both men and women. It is surprising how many cats we care for that have been looked after by one person all their lives and are wary of either men or women.
  • You can prepare your cat for future trips to the vets by taking them for a car ride (in a secure cat carrier). Driving with a cat loose in the car is very dangerous and puts both yourself and the cat in danger.
  • If you own a cat friendly dog, you will need to introduce them slowly until they are comfortable in each other’s company. If you are not a dog owner, but know someone who does own a friendly dog, invite them over. Provided the dog is obedient and will not harm a cat, a meeting will help your kitten get used to strange smells and gain confidence with other animals.

  • It’s important to make learning fun, and a great way to do this is through play. Play is important for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills and learning limits. It is an activity they enjoy and will help them to develop a strong bond with you. Playing with toys can also prevent biting tendencies. Don’t encourage your kitten to bite by using your hand as part of the game and if your kitten does bite you stop the play or encourage them to bite a toy instead.

  • Grooming your kitten is also an essential part of their day to day routine and it’s important to get your kitten used to being brushed from a young age. Make sure it’s an enjoyable experience that also builds on the bond you have with your kitten.

Using a Litter Tray

Although many cats are happy to go outside when they need to do their business, kittens must learn to use a litter tray. Most kittens learn this behaviour from watching and copying their mums at a very early age. It is important to always provide a litter tray in the home and not assume your cat will always be happy going outside. During times of bad weather your cat may not feel safe going outside and if a tray is not provided in the home they may poo where they shouldn’t. There are a few steps that you can take to help your kitten get used to its litter tray.

  • Put down a clean litter tray and show your kitten where it is. Let it scratch around and sniff the tray.
  • Ensure the tray is emptied and cleaned every day. If a kitten is left with a dirty tray it may be reluctant to use it. Clean the tray with safe to use disinfectant that you can purchase from pets shops or use basic washing up liquid and rinse and dry after.
  • Find a private and if possible, a quiet spot in the house to put the litter tray, so that your kitten is not disturbed or watched while they use it. Some cats do prefer a covered litter tray to provide them with more privacy.
  • It is advisable to carry on using the same type of cat litter that your kitten has been used to. If your kitten has always used a tray filled with wood based cat litter and you would like to change to a clay based litter, do this gradually by slowing mixing in a small amount of the new litter at a time. Many cats don’t like the sudden change of texture and smell to their litter tray.
  • NEVER punish your kitten if they accidently pee or poo outside of their tray. Rubbing their noses in it or smacking them will not work. This is an old myth that needs to be busted. If your kitten ‘misses’ the tray, remember that it hasn’t yet developed the awareness to understand where it’s bum is in relation to the tray.       Simply put them into their tray and they will soon associate this with doing their ‘business’.


Cats often get bad press for climbing curtains and destroying furniture. But it is their nature to scratch. Kittens will scratch because they are curious, or playing, but also because it helps them to mark their territory and also stretches their muscles. The simple answer? Buy a scratch post. But make sure that it is a sufficient height to allow your kitten to stretch its full body length.

Rough surfaces are particularly appealing so you might want to choose a scratch post covered with something like rope. Some cats also enjoy using the cardboard scratch posts that are laid on the floor. Play with your kitten near the scratching post and reward it with praise when it uses it, maybe with a treat.

If your kitten does scratch an item of furniture, it will mark its scent and cleaning it with an anti-odour product may discourage it from going back there. Putting polythene on the item of furniture may be helpful as kittens generally aren’t so keen to scratch slippery surfaces.

The Sheffield Cats Shelter is uniquely placed because we use communal rooms to socialise as many cats as we can before we match them to a forever home. Please help us continue this work by visiting our Donations page.