Hissing, scratching, biting, screaming, fur flying…if you have been around cats, it is likely you have witnessed at least one of their displays of aggression. While aggressive behaviors in cats can be normal, they can become problematic and there is no quick fix.
Play aggression is perhaps the most common types of aggression cat owners have seen. So what is it? During a causal play session, the cat may suddenly begin biting and scratching. The playfulness escalates to an unacceptable level of aggressiveness. The aggressiveness is most often directed toward other cats or humans but may occasionally be directed toward dogs or other animals.
Kittens that have been removed from their mothers too early, or have had inadequate or inappropriate socialization of kittens to people and other cats may be a cause. This is because kittens that are bottle-raised have not been taught what is appropriate during play by their mother or littermates. They may not realize that their behavior is unacceptable.
A mistake most all of us make, your truly included, is when people use their hands or feet as toys, we are inadvertently teach the cat that it is acceptable to bite or claw those appendages. Genetics may also play a role, because some cats seem to become more aroused than normal when they play.
So how do you know if your kitten’s play time is getting out of control? The cat may stalk, chase, and leap onto people, then bite or claw them. Prior to the attack, the cat may assume a predatory posture where they are crouched low to the ground with they their back ends a little higher, as if they are about to pounce. They may stare at the person or other animal, the pupils may dilate, and the tail may twitch. Moving targets are attacked more often than stationary ones. An episode of apparently normal play between two cats may escalate into fighting.
A vet will need a good amount of info about your cat to distinguish this form of aggression from dominance aggression between cats, redirected aggression by a highly aroused cat that cannot reach its preferred target, and intolerance of petting (some of the other common types of aggression in cats).
The good news is you can prevent your cat from developing this type of aggression with a little bit of planning. Make sure to provide them with adequate exercise and stimulation. Make sure they have a variety of different types of toys. Also, when a cat or kitten does begin to play too hard, correct them by giving them a toy to play with.
Do your best not to offer dangling fingers or toes as play options for young kittens. If they pounce on your foot, give them a toy to play with instead. If they crouch down and look like they are about to pounce towards you, stop playing with the cat and avoid any jumping, running, or shouting. Interrupt play between cats that appears to be escalating into more aggressive wrestling or fighting. A sprinkle or spritz of water is usually enough to do the trick.
For cats that become intensely involved in rowdy play, medical therapy may be useful. It is important to understand that there is no magical pill and that medication is only an aid to behavioral modification therapy.
With a proper behavior protocol in place, play aggression in cats usually can be corrected. You can ask a vet for advice and receive a tailored behavior modification plan by typing a question in the box to the right. The services we offer are never a simple Q&A and we will do our best to help you and your pet from the comfort of your own home.