Rule Out Other Forms of Aggression
A cat can exhibit aggressive behavior for other reasons. Before you decide that the behavior is play aggression, it’s important to rule out other potential causes such as fear, pain, illness, redirected, petting-induced and so on. Pay attention to the circumstances leading up to the aggression to help determine the type. Make sure you have your cat checked by the veterinarian in order to determine if the aggression is the result of pain, injury or illness. With play aggression, you typically won’t hear any hissing or growling and although the bites or scratches hurt, the cat’s face won’t look as if he’s fighting for his life. As mentioned before, play aggression tends to occur more often with singleton kittens, young cats or ones played with too roughly by humans.
Let’s Start With What Not to Do
- Never use your hands as toys. Wiggling fingers may seem like a very innocent and convenient way to entice a kitten to play but it’s a dangerous precedent to set. This method teaches the cat that biting flesh is acceptable. Even if the bites and scratches don’t hurt you now, they may as the kitten grows. You also don’t want your cat engaging in that type of play behavior with your young child or elderly relative where injury could almost certainly occur. Training messages should always be consistent throughout the cat’s life so never use your hands, feet or any other body part to serve as a cat toy. If you don’t want your cat to bite you when he’s upset, then don’t teach him that biting a human during playtime is an ok thing to do. Be consistent in your messaging.
- Don’t pull away. If your cat has grasped your hand with his teeth and won’t let go, don’t pull away from him because that’s what prey does. Pulling away will trigger the cat to bite down even more. Instead, gently push toward the cat to momentarily confuse him and this will cause him to loosen his hold. When he does let go, either stop all play motion and ignore the cat for a few moments or move away from him completely. The lesson you want to get across is that biting or scratching you will result in an immediate end to the game.
- Don’t punish. Don’t physically punish, hit, scruff, push or toss your cat away from you for displaying play aggression. Physical punishment often just raises a cat’s reactivity and it’s possible that the play aggression will cross over into more serious aggression. Physical punishment can also cause a cat to become afraid of you and teach him to be more defensive.
- Don’t wrestle with your cat. You’re much bigger than him and can easily end up being viewed as an opponent. Wrestling with your cat will often turn his behavior defensive. Hands are for loving touch, not for pinning a cat on the floor.
- Keep the gloves off. And speaking of hands, don’t get fooled into buying those goofy gloves that have toys tangling from the fingers. A hand is still a hand, even if it’s surrounded by a glove.