Cats are hunters, and as such, they will stalk, and attempt to capture prey, but before they can graduate to that level of activity, they hone their skills by playing and exploring while they are just little kittens.
The instinctive prey drive is very strong in cats, and, of course, kittens, and just because today’s household cats have been domesticated, it does not mean that they have lost their hunter’s instinct.
As with any species, the offspring learns from the parent (and older siblings); it is no different when it comes to cats. Along with many other skills, kittens will learn how to inhibit their bite while playing with their parents and siblings; however, if they are removed from their mother too early, they may not have had the chance to develop this skill. So how can one stop a kitten from playing too roughly and biting? There are several things you can do to help reduce and eventually eliminate any undesirable biting habits.
- When playing with your kitten, do not let her play with your hands and feet (or any part of the body for that matter) directly. They will just assume that your body parts are their playthings.
- As an alternative to playing with your hands, utilize a homemade or store-bought toy which can keep your hands safely away from the kitten’s mouth and claws. A toy with a string which can be wiggled about while keeping your hands away from the main play area is ideal. This type of toy will keep your kitten interested, and she’ll get to practice pouncing and stalking.
- Provide a plush toy that is about the same size as your kitten. This will allow her to mimic the wrestling games she would normally have with siblings, and will try to have with your hands and feet if alternatives are not present.
- As with all behavior modification and training, it is important to not punish your kitten if she does something unwanted like catch your hand with a claw while playing. So no hitting or yelling if something does go wrong. This type of response will not produce positive results, and may even make your cat fearful of you, and create a whole new set of problems.
Despite taking these steps, accidental (or willful) scratching, biting, or gnawing will happen. In such an event, remove yourself from the interaction, and provide a toy with which the kitten can play. Do not go back to play until she has calmed down sufficiently, to the point where she is not driven by her stalking and hunting instincts (i.e. when she is tired).
Even if you are not actively at play with your kitten, she will try to pounce, attack, or just play with anything and everything you may be holding (e.g. pen, broom, shopping bag). When this happens, say a firmly toned ‘no’, and remove the object from her reach. Once she is sufficiently calm, you can give her one of her toys with which she can resume her jostling. It is important to not give her toy right away, as she might think she is being rewarded for her unwanted play.
The Hunter Lies Waiting
As mentioned above, the hunting instinct is very strong with domesticated cats, so aside form play biting, scratching, and gnawing, a cat owner will be hunted in his own home. You will find your angle or feet under attack as you go about your business, as your kitten stalks and pounces at your legs and feet. When this does happen, as before, interrupt her with a firm ‘no’, and once she is calm reward her with one of her toys. Be careful not to hand her a toy right away so that she doesn’t think she is being rewarded for her hunting exercises.
Kittens will eventually grasp the idea about what type of behavior is acceptable, but it may take some time. While the training is happening, if her undesirable behavior persists it is important to remove yourself from her presence and not give her any attention by putting a door between you and the kitten until she has calmed down. Don’t pick up your kitten to put her in another room, as the physical connection is a reward signal to her.
Consistency, and perseverance are the key to successfully stopping your kitting from biting.