Help for Cats Biting
by Margaret Schill
Cats bite people for various reasons. Sometimes it is on purpose, perhaps due to fear, and sometimes the cat didn't intend to inflict harm, but was just playing too roughly. Or, a person doesn't stop petting or holding a cat who doesn't want any more handling.
The two most common reasons tame pet cats bite are due to:
Early Training Matters to Prevent Biting Kittens, or Why Kittens Should Stay with Their Mothers for 12 Weeks
When kittens are kept long enough with their mothers and littermates, they learn that biting and scratching for real hurts. They learn to keep their claws in and to not bite for real when playing. Mother cats discipline kittens who get too rough when they play with her. First she might hiss. Then she will finally sit on a kitten who bit her in play and won't stop from getting hissed at, gently holding him down by the neck with her mouth, so he can't wiggle out from under her, giving the cat version of "time out". A littermate who got bit will squeal out, startling the one who did the biting, helping to modify the behavior.
Kittens should be kept with their mothers and littermates for 12 weeks, so they have time to really learn to not play too roughly. They can only start learning "kitty manners" at 6 weeks of age, and it takes a few weeks for them to fully internalize the lessons to where they become the normal way to play without thinking about it.
Most of the kittens and cats reported to be biting and scratching people in overly rough play are those kittens and cats who were taken from their mothers and littermates too soon. If for some reason the mother needs to be separated from the kittens, the kittens still should remain with each other, or at least in pairs, for 12 weeks at least. A single young kitten should be paired with another young kitten to play with and learn about not being too rough while still young. Kittens should really be adopted in pairs.
If one has a cat or kitten that is biting, see the articles below for help.
After you read these articles, if you have any questions and want a personalized answer, post on the W.V. Cats forum at http://wvcatsforum.tuxedocatwebs.com
One of the most common situations people tell, complain, or ask about is with tame pet kittens or cats grabbing a hand or maybe a leg, and then biting them. In this situation, the kitten is almost always not attacking with the intent to hurt or repel the person, but is really just playing. This is called "play aggression".
Kitten and cat play is replicating hunting behaviors, which are instinctive. The kitten, or sometimes adult cat, will lay low, watch and wait for the "prey" to come by, then pounce and grab onto the "prey" with claws and the teeth to hold down and effectively "catch the prey". Or, a person may go to pet a kitten, and the kitten suddenly grabs onto the hand with claws and sinks the teeth in.; In these scenarios, people sometimes feel that the kitten or cat is "attacking" them for no reason and is an "aggressive cat". That is not really the case, though. In a way that is what the kitten did, and it was an aggressive type act, but it was not an "official" attack, or real aggression. Rather, it was just play that was too rough.
A hand moving towards the kitten seems like a bird to be caught to the playful kitten mind. A person's foot can be a mouse to be pounced on and caught. Even if the kittens never saw a bird or mouse, their instinct is to chase and catch small moving objects. Kittens use each other as pretend prey too. When there aren't things in the environment for kittens to pounce and catch, they make do with what they can find that seems fun to catch, which is often people's hands and feet. Moving things are intriguing to cats and also stir up the hunting instinct. So even if the cat has toys, something moving independent of the cat making it move is always of greater interest.
Cats Need Toys, But Not Your Hand
Never play with cats or kittens with your hands, and don't allow anyone else to either. The kitten will not be able to understand why sometimes it is ok, but not other times. If hands are used to play with kittens, they have been trained to attack hands. Also, kittens and cats will just simply get overly stirred up and react like they would when catching real prey, which involves digging in the claws and grabbing with the teeth. It might seem cute and harmless in a tiny kitten with little baby teeth and small softer claws, but it will really hurt when that kitten does it as a full grown cat.
Before any type of discipline or correction is tried (which NEVER includes hitting and certainly not biting the kitten or cat in return), the kittens or cats must first have toys to play with. Little fake mice, small soft balls they can bite into, crumpled paper, etc. are all "staples" kittens and cats should have available. But, some kittens and cats might need to be shown how to play with the toys. Demonstrate how to hit the toys to make them move. Toss them a few inches in the air then "catch" them when they hit the ground, to show the cats things they might do with the toys. A stuffed mouse just sitting still on the floor is not much fun for a cat who doesn't know much about playing with toys.
Also be sure to provide some toys that make motion easily to be more like prey moving on it's own. A great toy is the Turbo Scratcher, a ball on a track the cat can bat around. It doesn't take much effort for a cat to make the ball go whizzing around, which the cat can then chase. Older kittens and young adult cats especially love it. A cat can get quite a workout with the Turbo Scratcher!
A variation on that is the The Incredible Motor Mouse Cat Toy, which is a toy mouse on an enclosed track with cut outs for the cat to stick a paw in to catch the mouse. It comes in a small size with no battery powered option called TLC Cat-N-Mouse Cat Toy. It is best not to put the battery in the large Motor Mouse, as then the mouse goes around too quickly and only in one direction, and can never get caught, so is then not much fun for a cat. But without the battery, the Motor Mouse is a great toy used a lot by older kittens and young cats. See right side panel for images of these toys.
The kitten/cat has toys, no one uses their hands to play, but the cat still bites!
Click here to read the rest of this article and find out what to do to get the cat to stop biting from play aggression.
When you are holding a cat or kitten and he becomes squirmy, put him down! If you don't he may nip or scratch you to let you know he has had enough. Cats and kittens become over stimulated from petting after just so long. Some cats can't take more than a few seconds. Even if the cat is not being held, but is happily accepting some pets while lounging on the bed or floor and purring no less, at some point, it will be too much for the cat. Some cats go from purring bliss to swiping, biting, "Stop NOW!" messages in a second. This may seem strange, but think of it like humans being tickled. A few seconds feels pleasant; longer than that becomes almost painful and torturous.
Other times, the cat gets over stimulated into rough play fighting, where the cat will quickly roll on it's back and latch onto your hand, bunny kicking with the back legs. This is not the cat "hating" you and trying to hurt you. It's a just a cat you over stimulated into rough play fight mode, doing what kittens naturally do to each other in play.
All cats do, however, give some body signal prior to striking out. Learn to read cat body language. Ears going back and flat, even if just a little, mean "I'm irritated". Tails swishing back and forth also signals agitation or annoyance. The faster the twitching of the tail, the more agitated the cat is becoming. The body stiffening indicates the cat is no longer relaxed. Of course, a cat crying and squirming to get loose from you is obviously letting you know to stop. Respect these communications and leave the cat alone before the cat feels the need to bite or scratch.
Messy Beast, http://www.messybeast.com/cat_talk2.htm
Kitty Angels, http://www.kittyangels.org/language.html
Kittens don't like to be held much, not when they are full of energy and there is so much playing to get done in a day! So if you don't put down a struggling kitten, the kitten may nip you. A kitten who would rather spend a lot of time getting held and petted than off playing and running around may be a sick kitten. The exception would be when the cat is getting sleepy after a hard day's play.
Holding the cat longer, or forcing more physical attention on the cat is not going to make the cat like it more, but will in fact make the cat try to avoid you when ever it can. It is nothing personal against you when the cat has simply reached the limits of all the physical stimulation it can stand at one time.
It is also possible that a cat has a painful area on a part of the body and when you touch it, it hurts the cat causing the cat to react with a bite or scratching. If it seems that the cat is getting upset about a particular spot, take the cat to the vet. Cats can get hurt falling from items in the home, having missed a jump, or the cat may have pain internally from an infection or other problem in the body.