My Kitten Bites Me. Help!

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses how to stop cats from spraying, and alternatives to euthanasia when cat behavior can't be corrected.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: June 22, 2012, 4 p.m. EST

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Q: My new little 5-month-old kitten, Ninja, is so adorable. I love rubbing her cute little tummy and roughing her up a bit. She seems to love it! What I don't understand is why my kitten has started biting me. I think she wants to play, but I'm not sure. When I'm sitting on the sofa she pounces on me and starts biting my hands and arms. It hurts! I've tried pushing her away, but she keeps coming back and attacking me. Why is my kitten biting me and how can I get her to stop?

A: Your kitten is receiving mixed messages from you. She thinks it is OK to pounce and bite you when she wants to play because you reinforce the aggression by using your hands to play with her. She does not understand why you let your kitten bite at times and other times you do not.

In order to stop kittens from biting, you need to change the way you play with her. Instead of using hands when playing, use toys. Most kittens enjoy chasing the little toys attached to the end of cat pole-type toys. Dental health chew toys, stuffed animals and soft balls are also good choices for your kitten to bat around and pounce on. Everyday household items such as paper bags with handles cut off and boxes can also double as objects for your kitten to play with. Safety is a priority. Pole type toys should only be accessible to your kitten when someone can supervise the play. Also, she should only be allowed to play with toys that cannot be swallowed or dismembered.

Change the intensity of how you play with your kitten. Do not rough house or over stimulate her. Be observant. If you see her becoming over-stimulated, decrease the intensity of your play by slowing the toy down.  

In addition to changing how you play with your kitten, use behavior modification to change her play habits. Give her time outs whenever your kitten starts to bite or pounce. Time outs for play aggression are short — 10 to 15seconds are usually long enough. Moreover, they are easy to do. When Ninja acts out, do not interact with her in any way. Do not touch her, pick her up or talk to her. Instead, exit the room and leave her alone. After the short time out, go back to your kitten and if she is calm, gently interact with her. It will not take long for your kitten to understand that when she bites, her favorite playmate disappears.
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Reader Comments

Marilyn Krieger, Cat Behaviorist    San Francisco Bay Area, CA

6/28/2012 7:43:10 AM

Darla: I do not recommend tapping the kitten on the nose. Kitten/cat noses are very sensitive. Instead, do a time out as described above in my column.

Darla    Ford City, PA

6/27/2012 1:08:12 PM

I've used your method with my foster kittens. I will gently tap their nose with my finger and say 'no bite', then I put a toy in their paws to play with. I don't use my hands as toys to play, they just want to nip when I'm petting them. I love socializing them for the local shelter.

Barbara    Tucson, AZ

6/26/2012 10:10:24 AM

The same applies with puppies. Everyone thinks it's really cute to play that stupid slap-fighting game to make the puppy growl and bite, but then when the puppy gets bigger and the bites hurt, it's not so funny anymore. Be gentle with your baby animal, correct improper biting by moving away and saying a stern "no!" and then play appropriately when the biting stops. The rough belly-rubbing with kittens is especially bad, since when cats fight, they try to injure the other cat by scratching its belly with the rear claws. If you don't want to get bitten, don't rile your kitty or puppy up.

Terri    Bonners Ferry, ID

6/25/2012 2:35:17 PM

I have never understood how people can actually be confused when they ALLOW their kitten to bite when they "play", and yet claim they don't understand why their kitten will also pounce and bite when they are NOT playing. It's really a major case of "Duh"

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