My kitten is biting me. Is it being playful or aggressive?
When cats are playing, they frequently display the “play face,” where their mouth is partially open and the sideways pounce or hop, which a cat often does with their back arched. Cats play very roughly with each other, but it tends to be quiet.
During aggressive encounters, cats often growl, hiss, and spit. Their tails often twitch or flip and they flatten their ears and rotate them back and forth. Aggression usually occurs in cats who are easily frightened or when your cat reacts to the sight, sound, or scent of another cat.
How do I prevent play aggression?
Make sure to provide a variety of toys for your cat. In general, cats enjoy batting around small toys such as mice or balls. Also hide objects inside paper bags (with the handles cut off) or cardboard boxes. Make sure toys do not have loose strings and are large enough to not be swallowed. Cats, especially kittens, can get intestinal obstructions from eating small objects or string.
Several times a day, play with your cat. Cats like to stalk and pounce on things that move, so use interactive toys such as feathers, kitty teasers, or laser pointers. Do not encourage your cat to play with your hands, feet, or any other body parts. Even toys that use your hands (e.g. gloves with balls on them) may encourage your cat to bite. It may be fun as a kitten, but dangerous as they grow up.
Change toys often as cats become bored easily. Cats only hunt for short sessions before tiring out. Playing for 10 minutes or so several times a day is more satisfying to your cat than a single, long session.
Since cats are nocturnal (awake at night), make sure to play with your cat before bedtime to try and tire him/her out. Otherwise your toes may become a toy for your cat in the middle of the night!
My cat is still biting me. What should I do?
If your cat likes to ambush your legs, try blocking off their hiding spot. If your cat insists on biting you, you can interrupt their behavior by squirting them with water from a squirt bottle or using a can of spray air. Once your cat stops biting you, throw a toy to distract them away from your body. Never run from your cat or block their movement with your feet. This may intensify their play or cause fear and aggression.
If your cat is playing too roughly, give them “time outs.” The instant they bite or scratch you, end the game by leaving the room. Leave toys in the room to try and tire your cat out. Do not pick up your cat to put it in another room for the “time out” as this could provoke more bites.
If your cat is very active, consider adopting another cat as a playmate. A kitten is often accepted easily into a household while helping release energy with play. Make sure the cat you choose is used to other cats and is not fearful or submissive. Otherwise they may not be a good source of play for your cat and instead be bullied by them.
Do not physically punish your cat. If you hit or slap your cat, they may perceive your action as play and become rougher. The cat may even become fearful of your hands and change to real aggression.
If you are still having issues, contact a certified behaviorist for help.