Guest Author: Annie Anderson
All healthy kittens and young cats have a need to play. This is normal behavior that not only provides them with entertainment, but a learning environment. Believe it or not, when they are playing, they are actually preparing and learning to become ferocious predators! Play also helps develop their social skills, physical coordination and problem solving skills.
All feline play consists of mock aggression, so it’s normal for kittens to engage in rough play. They swat, pounce, chase, kick, stalk and of course bite, all in good fun. It’s very easy to interpret this sort of play as aggression, especially when they use your arms and legs as a climbing post.
Two Types of Play
There are two types of play that cats engage in: social play and solitary play. Solitary play is directed at objects, such as paper balls, toys, bags, yarn and boxes and pretty much anything that moves. Social play is directed at other cats, animals and humans. Problems can arise when social play is directed toward humans. Despite their playful nature, scratches and bites can be quite painful and can become infected if not treated properly.
Sometimes, cats and kittens can show aggression because they frighten easily, or react to the sight or scent of another cat outdoors. They can also become aggressive if another animal (especially another cat) is introduced to the household. In this case, the aggression is usually temporary, until your cat gets used to this new addition. Cats can also become aggressive if they were teased or abused by their owners.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine whether or not your cat or kitten is displaying truly aggressive behavior, or is just playing. If you’re his only playmate, then chances are your cat is just playing. To make a definitive determination, it’s important to watch your cat’s behavior closely and observe his body language.
When cats are at play, they typically display certain ‘moves’ like the sideways hop or pounce, or holding their mouth half open. When they are showing true aggression, they often hiss, growl and spit. This means they are definitely not playing and you should get out of their way!
How to Ease Your Cat’s Rough Play
While it can be fun to watch kittens and young cats bite everything in sight, it’s not so fun when the object of their play is you! Kittens are notorious climbers, and they won’t hesitate to use your legs as climbing posts. If you’re wearing jeans, you may not feel the full effect of their claws, but if you’re wearing shorts, your legs can soon look like a scratching post! If your kitten is getting a bit too rambunctious, there are ways you can tone things down.
- Provide your kitten or cat with a variety of toys to keep themselves entertained. Each cat will have their own preferences; some may prefer paper balls, while others will prefer toys like mice or other small toys.
- Kittens also like to pounce, chase and stalk things that move, so toys like feathers that are attached to flexible rods can provide hours of entertainment.
- You cat or kitten may get bored playing with the same old toy after a while, so give him new things to play with, like paper balls or boxes. Change things up so these will always have a ‘fresh toy’ appeal.
- Spend at least ten minutes each day playing with your kitten or young cat. But don’t encourage him to bite or swat at your hands and feet. Direct the play toward other objects like a dangly toy or by throwing your cat’s favorite toys away from you. This is an ideal way to play if your cat likes to ambush your legs and feet as you walk by. He will chase after the toy instead of attacking your legs.
- If you’re going to let your cat outside, consider building him an enclosure with plenty of things to do, such as branches, shelves, boxes, leaves, etc. The more complex an environment you provide, the more he will be able to entertain himself.
- Give timeouts when your cat plays too rough. When he starts to scratch or bite you, leave the room immediately.
- Sometimes cats act out when they’re hungry or thirsty. Make sure you provide an automatic cat feeder so they always have access to fresh food. A water fountain or fresh water bowl is also necessary.
So, why does your cat bite you? In most cases, it’s simply because they want to play, and they see you as their personal toy (or jungle gym!) Never admonish your cat by hitting him, or he may become more aggressive as he comes to fear you. Remember that they don’t mean to hurt you; they don’t understand that their claws and teeth are sharp. They are simply learning how to become hunters and predators.
In rare cases, where there is real aggression present, you can ask your vet for advice on what to do and how to handle your cat’s behavior.
Annie is the founder of MeowKai, where she and her associates write about cat behavior, health issues, and tips and tricks on how to get your cat to behave! It concentrates on creating the best life for you and your cat so you can enjoy each other’s company and build that trust that is so important between pet and human.