It’s cute, at first, when that tiny little kitten leaps at your ankles, swats you a few times, then runs off. But as he grows, this play biting/ scratching can injure you.
“Many of these play behaviors mimic predatory behavior, and kittens who have a strong prey drive often engage in more vigorous play, which can develop into play-related aggression,” says Pamela Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a lecturer in animal behavior at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. But there are ways to teach your cat that this type of rough play cannot be tolerated:
-Cease direct hand play. Using your hands may reinforce biting and swatting.
-Watch for signs of an impending attack. Tail lashing, ear flicking, tensing muscles, dilated pupils, and hissing are all warnings that your cat is feeling aggressive. Move away from your cat, out of reach.
-Have a favorite cat toy ready. Surprise attacks can be averted if you grab his attention by tossing a toy or dragging some yarn for him to play with.
-Redirect his energy. Use food-dispensing toys, kitty condos, cat trees—even a cardboard box—to let your cat scratch and tear into things just for fun.
-Never physically punish your cat. Punishment can trigger retaliation with stronger play or more vigorous defensive aggression. Simply stop playing.
-Get him or her a friend. Sometimes, a cat of similar age and temperament may give your cat an appropriate outlet. “This is one of the few times getting another cat may help,” Dr. Perry says. If these tips don’t work, consider a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist. Go to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacv.org) to find one in your area.