Hello! Nigel, here. Isn’t it cute when you get a new kitten home and they crouch down on all fours, focus strongly on your wiggling fingers, and then spring into action…pouncing on your defenseless hand and sinking their cute baby teeth into your skin? It’s adorable, right? Well, it may not hurt when that kitten is 7 or 8 weeks old (well okay, may not hurt THAT MUCH…it DOES hurt!), but it will. And when that kitten grows into a cat with adult teeth and still thinks it’s fun to hunt your hands and feet, and they don’t hold back in regard to how hard they bite down…you will wish you had never started this game.
The first thing to recognize, is that the normal play behaviors of kittens very closely mimic predatory behavior. Cats are born hunters and many have a strong prey drive. This can lead to them engaging in more vigorous play, and later on this innocent play can become a problem called prey-related aggression. At For Cats Only, the doctors have seen many young adult cats presented for this problem, with very upset humans who just can’t fathom how things got this far.
Luckily, there are ways to teach your cat not to engage in this type of play with their human servants:
- STOP using your hands to entice your cat to play.
- Learn what body language signals mean that an attack is about to occur. Tail lashing, ear flicking, tensing muscles, dilated pupils, and hissing are all warnings that your cat is feeling aggressive. When you see your cat doing these behaviors, it is best just to move out of range.
- Always have plenty of cat toys around so they can be quickly grabbed in cases where your cat wants to play. Surprise attacks can often be quickly redirected by tossing his favorite toy across the floor or dragging a fishing-pole style toy for him to chase.
- Use up all his crazy kitten energy on other activities. Food puzzles, cat trees, cardboard boxes, parachute-style tunnels, etc…are all great fun for most cats. Give him items that are ok for him to tear into like paper bags or boxes that you are no longer using. By having items that are ok to destroy, he is less likely to destroy your more valued possessions!
- NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER physically punish your cat. Did you get that? DO NOT physically punish your cat. It may feel right to you at the time…but this does not work. In fact it makes things worse. If your cat attacks you or engages in aggressive play, simply stop interacting with him and just walk away. Even yelling is a total waste of time, as it will just heighten his level of aggression.
- Get your cat a kitty friend. Kittens have a lot of energy and love to play “hunt”. You know who also enjoys this? Another kitten. Check out this picture of me teaching Cecil all about the joys of chewing on another cat’s head.
If the advice I have given you doesn’t work, then consider a consultation with a veterinarian who specializes in cats or a veterinary behaviorist. You can always give Dr. S and Dr. J a call at For Cats Only!!
That’s all for now, my good people. This is Nigel, signing off! Meow.