Oh wow, another cat question
September 15, 2009 8:02 PM   Subscribe

[CatFilter]: My one-year-old, neutered, fully-clawed male cat is very bitey & doesn't respond to anything that one might think would deter him. Please help!

This is especially important as I'm having a baby in January & am concerned about his biting the baby.

The thing about this cat is that he is a very, very good boy. His aggression is all play aggression -- he's not biting out of anger or fear or pain. He does, however, bite me completely unprovoked -- like, maybe I've walked past him & he's decided it's time to launch an attack! Also, he bites much harder than any other cat I've ever had -- even though he's clearly playing, it doesn't feel like it. His bites don't often break the skin, but they hurt like hell. For the record, he rarely uses his claws when playing.

My guess is that he was poorly socialized -- I was told that he was orphaned, & our vet thinks he was probably four or five weeks old when we got him, which is obviously way too young. I don't think he understands that play-biting isn't supposed be so mean! We have two other cats & were hoping they could teach him how to play nicer, but he is aggressively playful with them as well (even though they don't really like it).

Things we've tried:
- squeaking as if we're in pain
- hissing
- clapping/stomping the floor/shouting "no"
- shaking a can with some coins in it
- spritzing him with water
- tapping him on the nose
- blowing in his face
- scruffing him
- ignoring him

These have all had zero effect on him. He didn't like the water, but it didn't actually stop him from biting. At all.

Our vet is stumped & has acknowledged that he's unusually "feisty." Although he's mellowed over the course of the year that we've had him (which gives me hope!), I'm really tired of having my feet & ankles bitten when I walk past him & he's in one of his moods, &, like I said, I'm worried that he could hurt the baby after it's born.

One thing of note is that he tends to bite me way more than my husband -- but he also dry nurses me in the middle of the night & curls up next to me or in my lap a fair amount. I know it's not that he just doesn't like me!

Anyway, any alternative suggestions for getting him to chill the hell out would be much appreciated!
posted by oh really to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have a male cat, also neutered young, who likes to chew sometimes. I find that I can one-up him by gently covering his entire face with my hand for a few seconds. Try it, and patiently remove your fingers from his mouth when he keeps biting, and hold his face firmly but gently until he feels he's been dominated. I don't have to do it so much anymore -- after three years he's much more mellow and cuddly.

Do you also make sure he's got lots of toys or a special something he can chew on happily?
posted by motsque at 8:12 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

What works with our little thug is growling at her. More specifically: grabbing her by the back of the neck, growling at her, telling her No! in a deep stern growly voice, and dumping her out of the room (isolating her). Don't hiss.

Note: it only trains them to behave with the person who does it. Everyone in the house has to be consistent for it to work.

On the other hand, when she is behaving nicely, we make sure to pet, scratch, praise, and provide her favorite kitty treats.

Mama cats train their kittens by growling at them, swatting them, or pinning them down and pounding them with their back paws. So we are not namby pamby about it. (But we are careful not to hurt her)

BTW, growling at her to prevent bad behaviour doesn't work. I tried it once when I thought she was about to scratch a chair. She went slinking away, but came back the minute my back was turned and peed in the same spot-not a normal action for her. My daughter, my cat-sensei, told me I had scolded even though cat hadn't done anything wrong. So of course she was mad at me.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:26 PM on September 15, 2009

Keep in mind that this particular cat may not pay ANY attention to a baby whatsoever. I have a completely psychotic cat who will be completely ornery to me but if there is a baby or toddler around she will just leave the area. She also doesn't pay attention to dogs. I've had her about seven years - best estimates place her at probably nine years old. She was sweet as pie at the shelter to me but she was a hellion when I got her home - fortunately, I find her antics mostly hilarious. She routinely attacks my ankles, jumps up on my shoulders, grabs at me from the landing, etc. She's really just playing. She plays with the other cat daily but not for very long cause he just doesn't want to be rough and tumble like she does.

It may just be that the cat has decided you're his favorite toy. Does he have plenty of cat toys or any kind of cat condo that he's allowed to be on? Have you tried playing with him with a laser pointer or a remote-controlled mouse? Anything to wear him out would be good at that age.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:31 PM on September 15, 2009

We also have a one year old neutered male bitey cat. He does use his claws when he "plays" with me- and it's mostly me but he does get my wife occasionally. We also have a 2 month old baby, and like you, we were worried that the kitty would mess with the baby. To our surprise he has shown no interest in doing so. He'll come sniff at the baby if he's crying or making a fuss, but he's never touched the child. I'm pretty sure that he was initially jealous of the attention that the baby received, as well as a little upset by the intrusion of a whole new person into the house. Once the baby gets big enough to pull on the cat's tail....we'll worry about that later.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:40 PM on September 15, 2009

This is a good last-resort for bitey cats that I've used before to great success:

Whenever he bites you, while his mouth is open (this is easiest if he is a bite-and-hold type), poke your index finger in his mouth and stick it into the back of his throat. Don't do it hard enough to hurt him, but just hard enough to set off his gag reflex. He should make sort of a yawning gag motion after you do it. Do this a couple times and he'll stop biting you. Works like a charm.
posted by internet!Hannah at 8:49 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You said that you tried ignoring his biting behavior -- but have you really tried that one well enough? In my experience as a cat owner, the only thing that has ever curbed a behavior is to ignore it. Anything else is just reinforcing the behavior. He's aggressively playing with you and everything on your list (except for ignoring) is being interpreted as aggressive play back with him.

Ignore the behavior. When he does it, don't react, just walk away.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:01 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a kitten to tire him out? Mine was terrible and would attack your head if you sat in a certain chair. He's mellowed out considerably, so it might just take time. Honestly the squirting made it worse, because unless you do it surreptitiously I think it's interpreted as aggression. Just a guess. I think ignoring is the way to go.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:19 PM on September 15, 2009

Speak his language. If you were a cat and he bit you hard enough to hurt, you'd just scream to let him know. (The operative word here is scream. Not hissing, not squeaking, but screaming loud enough to communicate "Ow! That hurts!" It has to come from the attackee's mouth, and instantly.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:34 PM on September 15, 2009

I'm surprised that the squealing didn't work. Maybe you weren't convincing enough. Try acting like you are really hurt, cry, and stop playing. I did that to my kitten and she looked really shocked and concerned and never did it again.

I've never seen or heard of a cat being anything but gentle with a baby. They seem to understand that they are helpless babies. It's prbly the smell.
posted by charlesminus at 9:38 PM on September 15, 2009

@fluffy battle kitten: We would appear to have the same cat.

@oh really: My cat is the biteyest cat in the world, and I was worried when I was pregnant with my first. I shouldn't have been. She's a responsible mammal, understands neoteny and gave both of my children eighteen months to two years before deciding they had reached the age of reason. Even now she tolerates far more from them than from any other human being on earth, and I think they've both been batted by a claw that did not break the skin, twice. Under extreme provocation.
posted by rdc at 9:55 PM on September 15, 2009

Give your cat some places that belong to him, and where you do not bother him or dominate him. In a small, one cat house, this could be his food area, his litter area, his bed, plus a play area/toy area.

The rest of the house is yours. Don't let him boss you around in your part of the house. This means not encouraging aggressive play on your bed, on the couch, in pathways where you walk, or any place that is yours.

If he threatens you with teeth or with claws, or flattens his ears, chase him to his own space. You must not spank him, tap him, squirt him or anything like that -- just chase him. When he gets to the border, let him be. After a few times, you don't need to chase the whole distance, just shoo him, and he will probably retreat on his own.

Ideally, you know him well enough to be able to identify aggressive behaviour before he gets to the biting stage, and you can draw your line in a safer place than just "no biting".

I am not a cat psychiatrist, or a cat. But my cat doesn't bite anyone any more unless someone accidentally breaks our social contract.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:23 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of our cats took a deep hatred of our young daughter. The other cats were fine with her, and this particular cat was fine with other people. She had told me how it disliked her but I didn't really get it until I saw it hunt her, climbing up a tree after her and hunting her along the branches, then sink its teeth hard into her arm in a serious bite. So far as I could tell there was no cause for the behavior, the cat hadn't been mistreated by her and she'd tried to be friends with it. Maybe it was jealousy or some kind of rivalry? It certainly wasn't play. I got rid of the animal for her safety. Just mentioning this as a warning to monitor how your cat behaves with your forthcoming baby.
posted by anadem at 2:12 AM on September 16, 2009

A little bit outside the box but cats like to be in pairs. What about adopting a slightly older (say 3-4 year old cat) and see if they will be friends?
posted by rus at 4:12 AM on September 16, 2009

Response by poster: To answer some questions:

re: toys -
He's very playful & we do have plenty of toys that he enjoys playing with (not a laser pointer, though).

re: other cats -
One of our other cats is a 4yo male -- we were hoping that he'd teach the kitten to be less of a jerk, but even though the older cat is a bruiser (18lbs!!), he's been pretty well dominated by the bitey one. (The other cat is an elderly female who wants nothing to do with him at all.)

re: cues -
I can generally tell when I'm about to be bitten but am very frustrated at being powerless to prevent it! Sometimes he just gets the crazy eyes.

re: ignoring him -
I will redouble my efforts on that one; I suspect that plus time will be the best solution. I don't generally have a problem with his biting, though it's annoying -- like I said, I'm mostly worried about his trying to "play" with the baby. I'm hoping that everyone is right that he'll just ignore it, though!
posted by oh really at 6:10 AM on September 16, 2009

OUr male kitten did this until we got another male kitten about two months ago. He was particularly fond of attacking my wife's ankles. I found it pretty humorous, but when he began to draw blood, she didn't.

Anyway, once we got another kitten for him to direct his energy to, the attacks stopped. They are both 4-5 months old, so they wear each other out. I don't know if this is an option for you.
posted by elder18 at 7:41 AM on September 16, 2009

If hissing and blowing didn't work, this probably won't either, but canned air works great in my household, so if you happen to have some around, you may as well try it.
posted by desjardins at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2009

From personal experience: the cats will (most likely) completely and totally ignore the baby, and will run like hell when the baby cries. I'd never seen my cats scared before we brought our son home 12 years ago! He terrified them! And three years later, so did our daughter. They would sniff the sleeping child with interest but the second the baby started wailing they made themselves scarce. And fast. Then they would hide most of the day when the babies/infants/toddlers were mobile. Now? They're all best friends. They'll curl up on the kids' laps, hang out in their rooms, and greet them when they come home from school.

I'm seconding SLC mom's advice. We've used the same method to get one of the cats to stop attacking the oldest girl - he just hated her from day one and he was so mean to her. Once we went corporal punishment on him, he mellowed out.
posted by cooker girl at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2009

Kitty paxil. our cat has mellowed significantly.
posted by TheBones at 9:04 AM on September 16, 2009

It isn't the cheapest option, but our cat respects the hell out of canned air where the traditional squirt bottle, hissing, rattling, and "NO" failed.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2009

I've never used canned air, but the cheap aerosol air fresheners are what I use to discourage my cats when they are mid-mischief. It's not the smell, it's the hissy sound - they run when I just pick up the can (and now I have to spray when they're not around, but oh well).
posted by lemniskate at 11:52 AM on September 17, 2009

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