When you observe a litter of kittens playing around, you may be shocked by how aggressive the fluffy ones can get. However, from surprise ambush attacks to biting, clutching and chasing, "rough play" is an important part of a kitten's healthy social development.
According to UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, kittens begin playing in earnest with their littermates when they're around 1 month old, or slightly older. The play sessions begin the socializing process -- helping kittens learn vital lessons about how to properly interact with their siblings, and in the future, with other cats and even human beings. Frequent vigorous playing continues in cats until they're around 2 years old.
When kittens "rough play" together, it can often look as scary as a battle between Roman gladiators -- sans swords, of course. The energetic fighting typically consists of biting, scratching, grabbing, clutching, pouncing, ambushing and chasing -- the whole works. Kittens learn a lot about proper social behavior by rough playing. If a kitten does get too rough with another -- which is indeed possible -- the other one may stop all of the fun on a dime. These lessons always depend on the reaction of the other kitten. If the other kitten appropriately stops playing because of a painful bite or a severe scratch, for example, the "aggressor" will learn that she did something wrong.
Essentially, when kittens get too rough with each other, they learn about the art of fighting restraint.
Even if kitten play sometimes can get a little "too rough" in the eyes of spectators, the interaction still is very crucial for nurturing the growth of well-rounded and socially adjusted cats.
For example, if a kitty was weaned prematurely, or perhaps was reared solely by humans, she may not have had enough time to experience playing with fellow kittens in her age group. This sometimes can pose a big problem in that a cat simply won't understand the concept of mock fighting and biting suppression. In some instances, the absence of playing can even bring upon future behavioral issues -- both with other felines and with people.
Rough Play With Humans
Insufficient rough play with kittens may lead to rough play with humans, so be careful. If you're trying to enjoy a lighthearted and fun play session with a new kitten but notice that she's starting to get a little aggressive, firmly say "no" to her and then walk away. When you stop giving your fluff ball attention, she may just get the message -- playing too rough is simply not acceptable.