So you and Kevin the Kitten are joyfully playing on the couch. The toy mouse flies over the back of the seat and as you retrieve it, you decide to give your loyal kitten a surprise. You wiggle your fingers on the armrest and BAM! Kevin the Kitten quickly makes light work of your delicate skin, scratching and biting at the hand that feeds him. His wild cat ancestors would be so proud.
Why does my cat bite me? A little nip once in awhile might be ok, but your hands are starting to resemble those of a clumsy chef - band-aids from knuckles to wrists! What is it about ripping you to shreds that is so enticing to Kevin the Kitten? If you end up with a cat attached to your jugular every time you turn a corner you may be dealing with overactive play aggression. Read on to find out how to prevent and correct this cat behaviour.
What is play aggression?
Play aggression is most often the domain of high energy kittens and juvenile cats. It is nature’s way of teaching your cat how to hunt. Unfortunately, the domestication of cats means your hands have become scarred stand-ins for pussy-cat prey. An aggressive cat is not always a troubled cat, they’re usually just displaying their natural instincts.
Amongst the company of other kitty cats and siblings, a baby kitten’s aggressive behaviour will be stemmed by their mother or fur-ball elders. After being brought down a peg or two by their moggy guardians, kittens will quickly learn how to lash out with a pretend bite or bat their fur-iends without the use of claws.
Kevin the Kitten needs to learn that hands and feet (and throbbing neck veins) are not playthings. Prevention is easier than a cure in all things, so make sure that from day one you associate your hands with stroking, petting and supplying a fresh bowl of food rather than active and energetic play. Having ample, durable cat toys on hand to indulge their hunting instincts and regularly accommodating your cat’s need to stay active will also help curb any furious feline freak-outs.
Unlike Saturday Night Fever, cat scratch fever is just not something you want to have. So if Kevin the Kitten insists on chewing your fingers to gnarly stubs, it might be time to break out the big guns. And by big guns we mean sensible and humane cat behaviour correction methods.
Try these methods to get your moggy back on side:
- Break it up - When your cat takes hold, firmly make a negative command like UH-UH or OUCH (whatever you use, consistency is key). Then move your hand slowly towards him, rather than away which would engage his hunt instinct. He should let go at this point if you are calm and firm. Stop play and ignore him for a moment to show him behaviour like that is not ideal.
- What’s that over there? - Redirect that killer instinct to the tabby toy box. If your cat is getting a little bitey it usually means they have energy to burn - try a vigorous session of catch the felt fish, a rousing round of play tunnel peek-a-boo or the classic DESTROY THE BALL OF WOOL. These types of play styles will encourage the natural hunting behaviour of your cat while providing an appropriate target to annihilate.
- Wear them out - Cats (and kittens in particular) are ceaseless fur-balls of energy until catnap time. Even the most docile of cat breeds will need 30-60 minutes per day of quality playtime - either with you, a fur-sibling, or an automated cat toy. Keep kittens busy and they won’t even think about making a meal of your mitts.
- Read that body language - If you are copping a beating for showing your fur baby love you may be getting on their bad side. While we can’t help but melt at the sight of a kitteh, not all cats want to be pampered and patted ALL DAY LONG. If your cat’s eyes go wide, their tail swishes from side to side and their ears lay flat on their head, you have been warned. It’s time to stop the love-a-thon, hooman.
- Purr-pals wanted - Unless he has a stable 9-5 paw-fession, your cat probably spends a lot of time home on his own. For some cats this is heaven, but most cats would prefer a purr-pal to clown around with. Getting a second cat may help calm a frantic feline. Just make sure you introduce them slowly and see how they react to each other before signing the adoption papers.
With patience, plentiful toys and engaged playtime your cat can curb their need to play aggressively with their human. If you find that after trying as many methods as possible your cat is still struggling to control their biting urge, it’s best to consult a certified animal behaviourist or your friendly vet for advice.
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