A kitten biting you is mostly cute when they’re under 6 months of age. But as they get bigger and stronger, their biting can actually be painful and puncture the skin.
Some cat bites need stitches and there’s also the risk of a cat bite becoming infected. So you definitely want to nip the behaviour in the bud.
The first step is understanding why your kitten is biting (check out: Why does my kitten bite me)
The better you understand your cat, the more effective you’ll be able to be when correcting unwanted behaviour.
The following tips will help in most kitten-biting situations.
Hunting and biting moving objects is as natural to a cat as digging before going to the bathroom.
Your kitten needs playtime. They need to chase objects and be able to bite them, play with them, and even carry them in their mouth. This is exactly what they would do with their prey.
Cats have a desire to hunt.
Feed that desire by giving them lots of playtime.
When your kitten gets the urge to bite, you can’t stop that. They need to bite something. But you can teach them to bite toys, instead of your hands or feet.
A cat wand with a feather or soft object on the end is one of the best toys to use. This is the wand we use and our kittens go crazy for it. I like that you can change the attachment, as feather toys don’t tend to last long in our house.
It mimics a bird or mouse your cat would chase in the wild, and it keeps your hands far away from their mouth so they’re not tempted to bite them.
While your kitten is still in the kitten stage, seriously consider adopting another kitten. Especially if you have a busy lifestyle, aren’t home a lot, or can’t spend a lot of time playing with them.
Adopting another kitten gives your kitten a playmate. They will be much happier and healthier because of it.
The other cat will also teach your kitten that biting can hurt. If your kitten were to bite another cat too hard, the other cat would react with a hard bite back, or a yelp and walk away. This reaction teaches a kitten how hard they can bite when playing.
Your kitten is bound to bite you at some point as they explore and learn.
If they were biting another cat and the other cat didn’t want to be bitten, that cat might let out a cry and they would disengage. Or, the other cat might bite back in a less playful way.
Obviously, you don’t want to bite your cat back or hurt them in an attempt to teach them they’re hurting you. But you can make a sound that lets your kitten know their bite hurt you.
You don’t want to scare your kitten when they bite you, or you may teach them to be fearful of you and think they need to protect themselves. Which, of course, will lead to more aggression and biting.
But saying “ouch” or “oooowwww”, in a way another kitten might meow if they were bitten too hard, can tell your kitten the biting is unwanted.
You should also calmly walk away or gently take them to a toy they can bite.
Remember, no sudden movements or loud noises that could be perceived as threatening.
Even as you encourage your kitten to bite toys, you’ll have to break their habit of biting you.
If they’re used to seeing your hand or feet as a toy and biting them, it will take a week or two to change that pattern.
However, cats don’t learn through punishment.
Instead, you must reward them for the behaviour you want to see more of, which will phase out the bad behaviour.
For example, if your kitten bites you, communicate that it’s painful to you, then immediately bring them to a toy they can bite.
As soon as they start playing with and biting the toy, give them positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is a reward that follows a behaviour.
That reward may be as simple as petting your kitten, talking to them in an excited tone, or a treat.
In most cases, the best reward for your cat is having your attention.
If your kitten is craving your attention, you can understand why giving them attention (reward) after they attack you (behaviour) teaches them to engage in that behaviour more.
Your kitten bites you (behaviour) -> you react by turning your attention to them (reward) -> your attention reinforces their bad behaviour.
On the other hand, if you limit your reaction when they attack you, point them to the behaviour you want them to exhibit, and give them lots of attention when they do exhibit it, you’ll teach them to abandon the unwanted behaviour and engage more in the wanted behaviour.
Your kitten bites you (behaviour) -> very little attention given to them (no reward)
Your kitten bites a toy (behaviour) -> lots of attention from you (reward) -> they want to do more of the thing that gets the reward (biting a toy).
The next time your kitten bites you, instead of their toy, tell them no and either walk away or gently place them in front of a toy. When they play with that toy, give them lots of attention.
Any time you see them biting a toy, give your kitten plenty of attention and encouragement to strengthen their good behaviour.
If you rough house with your kitten, they’re going to learn to play rough back.
Kittens learn what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to biting from their mom and littermates. If you’ve adopted a kitten on their own, they don’t have another cat to teach them what’s too hard when it comes to biting.
You must be their teacher and always handle them with care.
If you pet them gently and speak to them calmly, they’ll learn calm behaviour from you.
Read their body language
It’s important you get to know your cat. Some cats like to be held, or have their tummy scratched, or sit on your lap and get pets. Others only like a head scratch here and there.
Pay attention to your kitten’s body language and let them show you what they want.
Some cats are more sensitive to touch than others and their biting may be an outcome of being over-stimulated.
When they lean into you or keep coming back when you pet them, they want more. If they duck when you try to pet them, or move away, they’re telling you they’re done with being touched.
When you don’t pay attention to your cat’s body language and respect what they’re telling you, you can’t expect them to respect your wishes not to be bitten.
Create a routine
The more you can accommodate a cat’s natural instincts and their natural routine, the happier your cat will be.
A cat’s instinctual routine is to:
And of course, drinking water and going to the bathroom is also in there.
You can help mold your cat’s routine to better suit your lifestyle, but also try to be accommodating when your cat is letting you know they want to play.
If you want your cat to get their chasing and biting out before bed, spend as much time as they need playing with them before you turn the lights out.
Your cat will let you know what type of play they prefer. They may love to chase a wand or they may want to run around the house. In which case, tossing a ball or moving a laser pointer may work better.
When they’ve had enough hunting time, they’ll let you know by flopping down on the ground and losing interest in chasing the toy.
At this point, you should feed them.
Eating is what would come after hunting and killing if they were out in nature.
After they’ve hunted and eaten, they’ll likely be ready to groom and sleep.
If you’ve given them ample playtime for the day, they should let you sleep through the night. Especially if you’ve created a routine and they know you’ll play with them again in the morning.
Don’t react in anger or with punishment
Never respond to your kitten biting you with anger, aggression, or punishment. Cats learn through positive reinforcement; not punishment.
If you respond with physical or verbal aggression, your cat will go into defense mode. They’ll feel they need to protect themselves if they see your actions as a threat.
You’ll end up with a cat that bites more, not less.
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