New Cat's Play Scratches and Bites Are No Fun

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to teach cats gentler play tactics.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: December 31, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: Last month, we adopted a 1-year-old female cat from the shelter. She isn’t very friendly, but I would like to give her a time to adapt to our place.

She loves to play but she is aggressive. We have many marks because of her biting and scratching during play. Our cat also bites and scratches when we try to pet her as she’s sitting on the sofa. It is hard to pick her up and she does not want to sit next to us. Is there any way to change this?

A: My recommendations are fairly general because your question doesn’t mention household members and how they play and interact with your new cat. Based on your post, I assume some household members play too roughly and use their hands when playing with the cat. Cats commonly bite and scratch when played with using hands because they don’t know play boundaries. Your new cat doesn’t understand why biting and scratching is encouraged sometimes, but discouraged other times. 

Instead of using hands to play with the new cat, use toys. Fishing pole toys* are wonderful choices (note: always supervise play with fishing pole toys), as are other cat-safe balls and stuffed toys that your cat can chase. Paper wadded-up into a ball and thrown are also favorite play items. Some cats prefer playing with catnip bananas and dental health chew toys. Avoid laser pointers; they leave cats frustrated because the laser dot never can be caught.

Avoid playing rough with your cat. When it looks like your cat is over stimulated or becoming aggressive, give her a brief time-out by stopping all interaction with her and leaving the room. These time-outs should last only a minute or two.

In addition to playing correctly with your cat, don’t force her to socialize with you or try to pick her up against her wishes. Allow her the choice of interaction. Instead of reaching out to pet her, formally greet her by extending your index finger toward her. When she feels like socializing, she will come up to your finger, and greet you by touching your finger with her nose, then will turn her head until your finger is on her cheek. This is an invitation for you to gently pet her cheek, head and neck.

Your cat’s aggression should eventually stop through proper, gentle play and by not forcing her to socialize. In order to be successful, everyone in your household should treat her in this manner.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Reader Comments

Norma    Thayer, MO

1/20/2011 9:00:21 PM

My first house cat was a scratcher and biter. He had been a kitten to a small child who rolled him up in a ball & played "bowling" by throwing him down a rough rocky hill. He became friendlier as time went on but would never sit on my lap or accept cuddling. Love was strictly on his terms and he would come to me for very gentle petting around his ears and top of head. He ran away about 3 weeks ago. I love him with all my heart. We had him over a year so I don't believe he would have ever been cuddly but he was friendly if no one else was around. Small children should always be supervised with pets...that's why so many have to be put down; a child hurts them over and over and they become agressive.

PDSO    P[DS, MI

1/19/2011 12:41:17 AM

KOFD

[S    [PXA, MI

1/18/2011 3:13:41 AM

ODS

[DP    [SD, MN

1/17/2011 5:29:16 AM

KJFD

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