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Caitlin UltimoTraining / Training Tips

That Bites! How To Stop Your Young Cat’s Biting Problem

We love our cats, but our bond with them can be damaged if a cat biting problem develops. Please know that your young cat doesn’t mean to hurt you. There are many reasons why cats bite, and figuring out the reason(s) goes a long way toward figuring out how to stop cat bites.

Why Do Cats Bite?

Like human babies, young cats use their mouths to explore their world. Kittens learn from their littermates and their mother to use a “soft bite” during play, but hand-raised kittens tend to become overly rambunctious and less inhibited with their teeth and claws. Cats normally use play-bites during roughhousing, but if they don’t learn to pull their punches as babies, those sharp teeth can do a lot of damage once they grow up.

Play Aggression

When you bring a single cat into your home, he won’t have a furry playmate. The most common type of cat bites happen when singleton kittens reach 5 to 9 months old and turn normal cat games into aggression that targets your ankles and hands.

Play aggression transforms a sweet purring lap snuggler into a demon attack cat that can be scary to see. Adolescent cats get kicked out of their loving homes due to play aggression more than any other reason. I think this is why my Karma-Kat got dumped at 8 months old. Our first couple of weeks together were a challenge, and I have the scars to prove it. He’s now become a snuggler with such a soft mouth—he’ll mouth my hand and never offer to bite. Good kitty!

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression happens when your cat is scared or upset—by another cat or animal, for example—but can’t do anything about it. It also happens if the cat isn’t able to respond to a physical or verbal correction. Maybe he watches through a window and sees a stray kitty trespassing on his yard, and he wants to chase away the interloper. If you happen to be nearby when he’s very upset, your cat may redirect his aggression toward you. Think of it this way: You get upset with your boss at work but can’t talk back or do anything about it, so once at home, you snap at your spouse or kids even when they’ve done nothing wrong.

Other reasons for cat bites include fear, pain, scary or uncomfortable restraint such as being taken to the vet, forced petting from a stranger or a painful injury. Of course, avoiding situations that cause fear or pain will help prevent these kinds of bites.

How To Prevent Cat Bites

Whatever the age of your cat, begin training as soon as you bring him home. A well-socialized adult cat teaches the best lessons to kittens, but you can help, with these tips.

  • Avoid letting your cat play with your fingers, hands or toes. What’s cute in a small kitten is dangerous in an adult. This encourages biting and can be very difficult to un-learn.
  • Instead of playing with your hands, provide a suitable cat toy for the cat to bite and bunny-kick.
  • Praise your cat for a soft mouth. Gentle mouthing is fine and should be rewarded. Praise and gently pet your cat when he licks you, for example.
  • If he bites and won’t let go, push your hand/arm in toward the bite. That will make the cat release you. Pulling your hands or dancing feet away from the bite stimulates him to chase and bite even more.
  • Treat your clothing as an extension of skin and make it off limits, too. Otherwise, young cats won’t learn the difference between clawing jeans and nailing your bare legs.
  • Physical punishment only makes cats more determined to fight back and protect themselves. That can also further damage the bond you’re trying to build and preserve. Cats who love you, though, often understand the emotion of hurt feelings. Tell your cat, “You hurt me,” with as much angst and tears as you can muster.
  • Very friendly cats understand a “time-out.” If your cat can’t contain his teeth and claws, send him into a room alone for five minutes to tell him he’s exceeded the proper bounds.

For Redirected Aggression

Adult male cats are most often affected, and redirected aggression has components of territorial, fear-induced, inter-male or defensive aggression. Many things can trigger this kind of biting: just the sight, sound or smell of another cat or animal, a weird noise, pain or unfamiliar people or environment. You are an “accidental” victim—the cat isn’t really upset with you. Here’s how to prevent future cases of redirected aggression:

  • When he’s on the windowsill making chittering teeth sounds with a lashing tail, leave him alone. Let him calm down before you come near.
  • Keep stray cats and strange animals away from window sight of your property.
  • Prevent access to windows or partly cover them to keep your cats from seeing the triggers. Pull the blinds, and move furniture away from windows. Double-sided tape products, such as SmartCat Sticky Paws, applied to windowsills, make the surface uncomfortable so cats avoid lounging.
  • Shoo stray animals away by clearing away clutter-like brush piles that attract prey animals and hunting critters. Set up motion-activated sprinklers that spray varmints and keep them at a distance.
  • Wash the outside walls to get rid of stray cat urine-spray that drives your indoor cat nuts.

Please be patient with your clueless delinquent. Be alert to your cat’s body language, and give him space to avoid most bites. Problems with play aggression usually goes away by 9 months to 1 year, so if you can stick it out with these tips, you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of love (minus the “love” bites).

By: Amy Shojai

Featured Image: via Sorapop/iStock/Thinkstock