Recently a reader wrote in and asked how to stop a cat from biting the members of the family. They are not alone: reports indicate that cat owners report that biting is the second most common behavioral problem – second only to inappropriate urination.
Their female cat is young at 9 months old and outside of the biting is a very friendly, social and happy cat. The owners are certain that the cat is biting them in a playful manner rather than in an aggressive way.
But it has them all jumpy and their two year old is now scared of the cat.
My initial questions for them to consider
- Is there a pattern to when your cat bites? Or do you feel that it is random?
- Can you anticipate when she is going to bite? If so, pick her up & place her onto a scratching post (or the like) and praise her for scratching it. Or, hand her a cat toy to bite instead of you and praise her for biting the toy.
- How do your children interact with her? Does she get agitated when they interact with her?
- At times when she is not biting, what is her behavior like?
- At times when she is not biting, how are her interactions with each of you?
- How often do you initiate play with her? Cats often engage in playful biting because they are bored and looking for a play object.
Suggestions to modify the cat’s behavior
Cats respond best to positive reinforcement - praising and rewarding appropriate behavior, and ignoring and withdrawing from inappropriate behavior.
Given that, here are some suggestions to help modify your cat’s biting behavior:
- Trim her claws. This won’t help stop the biting, but it will help lesson the damage she inflicts when she grabs at someone to bite.
- When she bites or grabs, say “Ouch” loudly and clearly, but don’t yell. While you have her attention, pull away as gently and slowly as possible. Yelling will only make the cat fearful and if you move too quickly she may think you are playing with her.
- Follow this with a time out: disengage, and ignore her. Turn away, turn your back on her or leave the room. Don't even talk to her, just leave. Your cat will learn that when she bites, her favorite person disappears. A time out is short, about 30 seconds.
- After the time out, offer an acceptable cat toy – wands are particularly good for this. Gently play (using a toy) with her. At the first sign of biting, give her another time out.
Repeat these steps as often as necessary to modify your cat’s behavior.
Playing momma cat
You may also want to consider acting like a momma cat and gently tap her nose and/or grasp her by the scruff of her neck and firmly (but gently) push her towards the floor, while saying "No!" in a stern tone of voice. Hold her there for just 3 or 4 seconds without any yelling.
There is a good chance that she will slink away to bathe and recover her dignity, but she will get that she did something wrong. If she does stick around, then offer her a cat toy or wand to play with to re-direct her attention from biting you to playing appropriately.
Please remember that you should never hit, shout, chase or lose your temper with a cat. You will simply terrify the cat and cause the cat to become nervous and confused.
Adopt a feline companion
You may want to consider a second cat close to your cat’s age as a companion for her. This would provide a playmate, and an outlet other than you for the stalking, pouncing and biting behavior innate to cats. Two kittens or cats playing together quickly realize that biting and clawing hurts, and they will won’t play as hard with each other or with you.
Overcoming playful cat biting
With consistent acts of behavior modification, your cat will realize that playful biting is not acceptable and given alternative toys to play with, she will turn to them instead of biting you. And you will build a good, happy and healthy relationship with your cat.
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