What is Play Aggression?
This is when playful bites, scratches and ambushes become more serious and can actually cause injury. It’s something cat parents tend to notice more when the aggression is directed toward them, usually in the form of ankle attacks, ambushes or biting and scratching that break the skin.
This type of aggression is usually seen in kittens and young cats. As most everyone knows, cats are hunters and that instinct kicks in at a very young age as kittens play by stalking, chasing and pouncing each other. Although rough play and miscommunication may happen as kittens play with each other, this is an important time of learning. This time spent together helps them develop healthy play skills as they take turns being the mock aggressor and learn to control the intensity of biting, scratching and wrestling. During play with littermates, kittens learn to keep their claws sheathed and not inflict injury. Kitten play also teaches necessary skills needed for survival and hunting as adult cats.
Kittens who had the benefit of being raised around littermates, learn these valuable lessons in order to keep the activity well within friendly play mode. Kittens who are orphaned or taken away from their littermates too early, miss important social lessons and may then develop play habits that include more aggressive biting and scratching.
Kittens who don’t receive adequate socialization, are played with improperly and roughly by humans, or not given appropriate objects or opportunities for play may also develop play aggression behavior. These cats may be less inclined to keep claws sheathed or control biting intensity.
Play aggression is one of the most common forms of aggression displayed toward human family members. Cats will engage in the postures associated with hunting such as stalking, ambushing, biting and scratching with the target being the human’s moving feet or hands.
Playtime Early in Life is Important
Playtime is important throughout a cat’s life, but for kittens, it’s a time they’re learning about their skills and developing balance, speed, accuracy and coordination. Playtime can involve solo play, where the cat focuses on toys such as the fake furry mice strewn across the floor or the open paper bag just waiting to be pounced on. There’s also social play, where the cat engages with another companion cat, other animal or a human. When a kitten bites a littermate too hard during playtime, that kitty’s reaction lets him know he crossed the line. This important time together for playtime lessons is just one of the many reasons kittens shouldn’t be taken away from the mother cat and littermates too early.