Aggression, Biting, and Rough Play in Cats
All kittens and young cats need to play. Play is normal behavior that provides young animals with opportunities to develop their physical coordination and problem-solving skills. It also gives them a chance to hone their social skills with members of their own species. It’s very common for kittens and young cats to engage in rough, active play because all feline play consists of mock aggression. Cats stalk, chase, pounce, swat, kick, scratch and bite each other-all in good fun. However, people often misinterpret this kind of behavior as aggression when it’s directed toward them.
Cats display two different types of play behavior: solitary play and social play. They direct solitary play toward objects, like toys, skeins of yarn, paper bags, boxes and rolled-up paper. Social play is directed toward fellow cats, people or other animals. Unfortunately, problems can sometimes arise when feline play is directed toward people. Despite the playful intentions of a cat, he can cause injury to his human playmates. Cat scratches and bites are painful and can easily become infected.
Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out
Cats occasionally display aggression toward people. True aggression is most likely to occur in cats who are easily frightened or when they react to the sight, sound or scent of another cat outdoors. If you live with a cat who’s under one year of age and you’re his only playmate, it’s likely that he’s playing roughly with you rather than actually behaving aggressively. However, it’s sometimes difficult to determine the difference between feline play and real aggression. It might help to observe your cat’s body language. Two behaviors that cats frequently display when playing are the “play face,” where a cat holds his mouth half open, and the sideways pounce or hop, which a cat often does with his back arched. Cats also tend to play quietly. During aggressive encounters, however, they often growl, hiss and spit.
How to Reduce Your Cat's Rough Play Behavior
- Provide a variety of toys for your cat so you can determine his preferences. In general, cats seem to enjoy batting at small toys, like balls and fake mice. They also like to stalk, chase and pounce on things that move like prey, such as toys with feathers attached to flexible rods that you can dangle and move about. Try getting your cat a Kitty Teaser™ or some other kind of toy that dangles. Please see our article, Cat Toys, to learn more about playing with your cat and choosing the best toys for him.
- Frequently give your cat new objects to investigate, such as paper bags or cardboard boxes.
- Twice a day, spend at least ten minutes playing with your cat. During playtime, don’t encourage him to bat at your hands or feet. Instead, direct the play away from you by using a long dangly toy or throwing your cat’s favorite toys. Schedule play sessions to coincide with times when your cat seems most active and playful.
- If your cat likes to grab your feet as you go up and down the stairs or hide under things and ambush your ankles or legs as you walk by, carry toys with you and toss them ahead of you to redirect his attention. Try to get him to focus on chasing the toys instead of attacking you.
- Consider adopting another cat as a playmate. If you do, choose a young, playful cat like your current cat.
- Build an outdoor enclosure for your cat, complete with branches, boxes, shelves and perches for him to navigate. If you can provide a more complex environment for your cat, full of opportunities to hunt insects and chase leaves, your cat will be less motivated to play with you.
- Consistently give your cat “time-outs” when he plays too roughly. The instant he starts to bite or scratch you, end the game by leaving the room. Don’t attempt to pick up your cat and put him in another room for the time-out as this could provoke more bites.