Monday, May 3, 2010 8:01 AM

Cute Kittens Trying to Kill Each Other

Each year, we treat ourselves to one expensive wall calendar, the subject of which is "kittens". This one becomes the main calendar, hanging in the kitchen near the phone and getting lots of views. As we go through each month, we discuss which photos we like the best. Of course, they are all great - after all, they are pictures of kittens. But, invariably, we both pick favorites that have a unifying theme: Cute Kittens Trying to Kill Each Other.

As you may have guessed, these pictures involve kittens at play. Usually, there are two of them, probably siblings. One of the kittens is either ready for action, or totally clueless; the other is springing into attack mode. The other scenario is that one kitten is actively biting and mauling the other, most often with claws visible and and an ear in his mouth. We find these photos immensely entertaining, particularly since we have had kittens and know exactly what is going on here: Play with a purpose.

For all young animals, play is how they learn to get along in the world. The essence of communication is learned early in order that the caregiver will know what the youngster needs and wants. Human babies, for instance, make many sounds long before they learn speech, all of which are geared toward inspiring the parents to care for and ensure his/her survival. Animals don't "speak" per se, but learn communication skills the same way. They also need to learn how to stalk, hunt and kill prey in order to survive. That's where their siblings come in.

Much of kitten play is geared toward the hunting process. At the same time, the issue of dominance is being determined. Note which kitten seems to be on "top" most of the time (hint: It will be a male if there is one in the group), and you will have a good idea of who is going to be Top Cat. This makes perfect sense, since the cat on top of the pile is most likely to be the best hunter and fighter, and thus more apt to be in demand with the ladies. It's all about procreation, after all!

Letting your kittens go crazy on each other is really fun to watch. Even though this activity is entertaining and necessary, however, it can get a little rough. Most of the time, no injuries are sustained during play-fighting, but sometimes, someone does get hurt. Corneal injuries are most common, since kittens flail at each other with claws extended. These usually heal with no lasting effects, but may necessitate a trip to the veterinarian.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to monitor this play to make sure it does not go too far. This will reap benefits later, as your kittens will have learned early to moderate their aggression. They will still learn what they need to know, and the dominance issue will naturally resolve itself. So don't feel guilty watching your kittens beat the crap out of each other - after all, it's only natural!
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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