When kittens are with their littermates they learn how to engage in social play. This is the time when each kitten learns how to use an inhibited bite so as not to cause injury. A kitten who bites too hard is either reprimanded by the queen or gets a very negative reaction from a littermate. This social play is important and each kitten soon learns the rules. Facial expressions and body postures displayed during play also indicate that the session is friendly and not truly aggressive.
When Kittens Leave Their Littermates
When kittens reach about 12 weeks of age, social play may have a tendency to become a bit too aggressive so if you have littermates that are still together, you’ll have to pay closer attention so you can monitor their interaction.
If you are adopting a kitten and she is now leaving her littermates it will be up to you to help teach her the correct manners when she engages in playtime with you.
The first and most important rule when it comes to teaching a kitten to play gently is to not use your fingers as toys. No matter how young your kitten is and whether it hurts when she bites or not, this isn’t the message you want to send to her. Biting flesh is never to be allowed.
From the very beginning, have appropriate toys for your kitten to bite during play. For interactive playtime, use toys based on a fishing pole design. That will put a safe distance between your hands and your kitten’s teeth. This way, when your kitten is enthusiastically involved in play she doesn’t have to worry about crossing the line.
When using smaller toys such as fuzzy mice, be sure you toss them for the kitten to chase. Don’t dangle them where she could accidentally bite your fingers or reach up and scratch you with her paws. During playtime you never want to send a mixed message.
With a kitten, you may find that she loses interest if you bring out the same toy repeatedly. Have a variety of toys so she’ll never know what surprise you have in store for her at the beginning of every play session.
When Your Kitten Bites
If your kitten accidentally bites you during playtime, immediately stop all action and stay still. If she’s biting your ankles, stop moving. She wants movement so if you stay still she won’t be getting her desired result. If she bites your hand, stay still. If she’s hurting your hand, instead of pulling away, gently push toward your kitten. This will confuse her and she’ll loosen her grip.
When your kitten bites, it’s important to stop all movement and ignore her. You can restart play when your kitten goes back to being relaxed and calm. This will send the message (if you’re consistent in your training) that biting skin will mean an end to the game.
What Not to Do
If your kitten bites, don’t hit her, push her away, squirt her with water or yell at her. Although these actions may momentarily cause her to release her grip, they can have longterm negative effects. Your kitten may soon learn to become afraid of you. If you do any type of physical reprimand then you can also send her into a defensive state and this could actually cause her to bite harder the next time or become more aggressive. The last thing you want with your new kitten is for her to become afraid and eventually start avoiding any interaction with you.
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Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.