Kittens At Play – How Cats Learn

kittens learn through play


Play is the cornerstone of the kitten’s learning process in the first few weeks and months of its life. It is by playing together that kittens will develop both physical and mental abilities, enabling them to hunt, to fight and to defend themselves. But play is more than that: it is also good, rollicking fun, which in turn increases a kitten’s social skills and sociability. The kitten that is denied this pleasure risks becoming an insular, antisocial and unbalanced cat.

kittens learn through playPlay serves a number of important purposes for the young kitten: it is part of the early learning process, it provides an opportunity for developing social skills and it is, quite simply, a lot of fun.

A kitten’s instinctive, inbuilt knowledge is soon consolidated and widened, largely through play. A kitten usually starts to play – both with other sibling kittens and with tempting objects around the house – from the age of about three weeks. Play is therefore an essential part of a kitten’s learning processes in the first few weeks and months of life.


The sight of kittens at play is particularly appealing, but it is actually a very serious business, providing them with an excellent opportunity to practise feline hunting techniques. These may not prove invaluable in later life for the domesticated cat whose food comes mostly out of a tin, but they hark back to former times, when cats had to fend for themselves in the wild.


The first games that kittens play consist mainly of jumping on each other or on their mother. Then, as the kittens grow and become increasingly mobile, their games become more complex and more sophisticated, and they start to chase, to side-step and to waylay each other.

Kittens do not actually bite each other at this stage, and although their games may seem to be quite rough, the infliction of real injuries is rare. Their play is not a display of real aggression, merely a way of practising the skills they would need for hunting in the wild: stalking, pouncing and capturing their prey.

  • A kitten’s eyes open at about ten days old.
  • A healthy kitten should be vaccinated at the age of about eight to nine weeks, with a further vaccine being required a month later. The kitten should therefore be kept indoors until that time.
  • According to research, the female kittens in a litter made up of both male and female kittens are more playful than those in a female-only litter.
  • It is advisable to leave a kitten with its mother until it is fully weaned at the age of about eight weeks.

At what age does a kitten become totally independent of its mother?

Kittens are weaned and able to make their own way in life by the age of 24 weeks.

At what age do kittens generally grow out of playing?

The answer to this is probably never, because most cats will continue to play long after they have left kittenhood and have become fully grown.

Is the urge to kill mice and birds purely instinctive?

Yes, largely, though under natural conditions a queen will teach her kittens quite formally to recognise prey from the age of about six weeks, and to hunt and kill. They will watch her kill, and will be brought injured prey in order to practise killing it themselves.