Kitty, stop biting!
March 12, 2005 4:42 PM   Subscribe

How to stop a cat from biting so much when playing?

My boyfriend got a 2 year old cat from the Humane Society last weekend, and while the kitty is very cute and curious about everything and extremely social, he's seems to be in play-fight mode all the time. He's gentle with his claws when play-fighting, but he bites a lot. I've taken to keeping my finger in his mouth when he bites me until he tries to push it out with his tongue, but it doesn't seem to stop him from attacking me 2 minutes later. We've also tried ignoring him when he gets too aggressive, but again, he's just as feisty next time you try to pet him. His teeth are sharp; how do we teach him that it's unacceptable?
posted by heatherann to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've taken to keeping my finger in his mouth...

You must not have a real biter. When ours bites, you feel great pain and jerk your hand away, and then there's blood trickling down your hand and dripping on the floor.

I'm all ears for answers to this question.
posted by pracowity at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2005

You use your hand to play with your cat? In my opinion, that's just asking to be chomped on. I would abandon the idea of teaching him not to bite, and get one of these, or these.
A Kitten Mitten would protect your hand while you play. Or just move your hand around underneath a thick comforter, and let your cat leap on it, then bite the comforter. My cat goes nuts for that trick.
posted by agropyron at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2005

Maybe I misunderstood... is he biting when you try to pet him? Maybe if you work out some of his energy with the non-hand toys he'll be calmer when you go to pet him?
posted by agropyron at 4:54 PM on March 12, 2005

I suggest a foul-tasting deterrent. Anything he dislikes and is harmless should work. He's not going to bite something non-threatening that leaves a foul taste in his mouth for very long.
posted by Saydur at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2005

When you're play-fighting with your cat, and it bites, it's because the can't help it. It's a reflex. When you're playing with the cat and it bites... FREEZE until the cat holds still, then gently disengage. You've overloaded their instinct circuits.

A lot of cat behaviour is rooted in instinct, and a lot of what we interpret as play is survival practice.
posted by reflecked at 5:06 PM on March 12, 2005

you use your hand to play with your cat? In my opinion, that's just asking to be chomped on.

you know, i agree with this. Although to me it almost seems impossible because I love using my hands to play with cats.

BUT, i think that cats like to scratch and bite when they play so an object that is not connected to your body would show that it is ok to "hurt" that rather than you.

i don't know if i'll ever learn though...ouch!
posted by freudianslipper at 5:22 PM on March 12, 2005

I had read that if you push back into the cat's mouth, that'll make him/her let go. That with a very loud "NO" has pretty much broken my biter of the habit. Also, as others have suggested, use toys rather than your hands. That doesn't mean don't touch the cat, just avoid it when s/he's in play mode.
posted by deborah at 5:40 PM on March 12, 2005

This will not be useful advice to you, but the way I know that cats learn not to use their claws/teeth while playing is to playfight with other kittens. We have a brother/sister pair, who spent upwards of half their first year playfighting with one another, and they essentially never use their teeth or claws on us. On toys, absolutely.

reflecked's advice to become a boring play partner whenever you get bitten sounds reasonable.
posted by Aknaton at 5:43 PM on March 12, 2005

When this happens, I firmly grasp the scruff of their necks and gently push their hind ends down. This seems to be cat code for I'm your mama, don't mess with me. If they keep trying to bite, I'll drape my body over theirs, pinning (not crushing) them. Eventually, they relax and accept that I'm the bigger force, and I let go.

Other rules I follow: I don't touch them unless they are clearly in the mood for it, and don't prolong the touching past the Telling Gleam that lets me know they suddenly feel the urge to eat my face. I also touch them a lot, very gently and lovingly, so that they've learned to love being touched in general and associate human hands with comfort and care.

This treatment turned one fairly feral barn cat into a cuddle monkey, but I don't know if it works for all cats; my population sample is pretty small. I used to have to do it a lot with Barn Cat, but now it's a rare occurance. It's also something that older cats are better at controllng than younger ones, so give it a bit of time.
posted by melissa may at 5:47 PM on March 12, 2005

Maybe I misunderstood... is he biting when you try to pet him?

Yes, that's the main problem. I made him this crocheted mouse to try to redirect his feistiness away from my hands, but he's usually more interested in attacking the hand that's holding the mouse, not the mouse itself. String, on the other hand, never gets uninteresting. :)

When you're play-fighting with your cat, and it bites, it's because the can't help it. It's a reflex. When you're playing with the cat and it bites... FREEZE until the cat holds still, then gently disengage. You've overloaded their instinct circuits.

Well, okay, but when I freeze, he keeps biting and curling around my hand trying to kill it, and I end up bleeding. If I kick him off the bed, he starts stalking me and jumping on my hand to bite it.
posted by heatherann at 6:20 PM on March 12, 2005

I agree wholeheartedly about the timing/mood issue. When I get back to my place, there is a 5-10 minute window where he just wants to sit in my lap and purr, but if he's roaming around, and I decide to pick him up, he may not like it. And transitioning from fast paced playing to actually holding him is imposible.

A couple key things in getting my cat to not be so bitey: Moving slowly. Keeping contact with his body, like a strange puzzle, moving only one hand at a time. He still sometimes swats my nose with his claws at night, but that provides for interesting conversation the next few days.

I might get various kinds of crap for this, but seeing your follow-up post... He still attacks my wrist sometimes, and the only way I found to stop him is to put his ear or the scruff of his neck in my teeth, and gently pul him away. This caused him to glare at me a few times, but he stopped. if he even starts, all I have to do is blow on his neck, and he settles down.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2005

Well, you may just want to play with him with distance toys like balls and laser pointers while he learns to control himself. Play him hard, until he's completely worn out and peaceful. Pet him very softly and briefly when he's in that mode. Eventually, you shouldn't have to wear his little frenzied self down so much, and he should tolerate your affection for more prolonged periods better.

Jack, for what it's worth, every so often I've instinctively done the same thing -- my feeling is as long as I don't hurt the little guys, whatever works, works. My cats are sweet and loving and unscared of me, so I feel okay about what I do to keep the bloodshed at bay.
posted by melissa may at 6:59 PM on March 12, 2005

My 6-year-old shelter cat is also a biter - the first biter I have owned. I find that a large toy like a dog toy (in my case, a stuffed sock monkey) or this 12-inch long, 2-inch wide stuffed "catnip body pillow" is helpful to get my hand far enough away from my cat when he gets feisty that I can let him get bitey with it when he starts on the bites during petting.
posted by matildaben at 7:05 PM on March 12, 2005

When kitties bite and kick you with their back legs they're just doing what they'd do to prey, so I don't know if you can get them to stop biting when they wrestle. In the same vein of Matildaben's dog toy suggestion you could also try putting on thick socks over your hand when you want to play (soccer socks work great).

My cats have gotten more affectionate with their biting (biting softly, then licking) after time, perhaps getting to know you better will cure him of it?
posted by schroedinger at 11:26 PM on March 12, 2005

When my cat would bite when he was a kitten, I'd whack him somewhat hard on the nose and yell "no!" in a stern voice. It taught him to associate discomfort with biting, and it generally worked. He sometimes nips still when I play rough with him, but that's about it. Cats normally learn to associate biting with pain anyhow, because in social feline situations they'd get swatted or nipped after biting.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:14 AM on March 13, 2005

I speak cat language. When my cat pisses me off I hiss in a manner that is unmistakable to any cat. If my cat starts clawing the chair across the room, I don't have to get up; I just give a loud FSSSSSSS! He immediately ceases the clawing and runs to the kitchen. The neighborhood cats around the back yard the same way. Cats don't know what "no" means, but they know what a hiss means.

There was a time when my cat occasionally would sink his teeth in my hand when we were playing, but, like croutonsupafreak, a little flick on the nose (WITH the hiss) has made a difference. Now, sometimes he will put his fangs on my hand like he is about to bite me, but he knows that as soon as he does he is going to get a small dose of negative reinforcement. Usually the hiss is enough. Try it.
posted by wsg at 12:48 AM on March 13, 2005

Yes, speak cat. Teach him that you are very very ANGRY when you say FSSSSS! and also come up with a soothing sound that means you love him and want to be around him (I use light tongue clicking). It will do wonders for your communication with your pet. People who speak human to their cats make me laugh.
posted by sic at 3:08 AM on March 13, 2005

It's not "speaking human" or "speaking cat" -- it's very simply the tone, in my experience. With the various horses, dogs, and cats that I've had, using the "stern voice" for correction and the "loving voice" for affection is the key. I just have to say our cats' names in a certain tone, and they stop whatever they are doing. "Stern" and "loud and sharp" make them cease their shenanigans. Of course, this takes time. Immediately, a thup on the nose and a loud, stern "NO" should start to help, as well as providing alternate play things that it's okay for him to decimate.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:59 AM on March 13, 2005

One of my cats is a biter (a housesitting friend once told me, "it was like he looked at my hand and said, 'this is alive and I'm going to kill it!' ")

I've found that when he's biting the hand I'm petting him with that if I take my other hand and just put in on his body somewhere he'll chill out. But whether that's a reaction thing or he's just confused by two targets I don't know.
posted by Cyrano at 8:42 AM on March 13, 2005

and jerk your hand away, and then there's blood trickling down your hand and dripping on the floor.

You should never pull back from a cat bite; instead gently press forward into the jaw, and they should release. Still hurts, but not so bad & you shouldn't have blood dripping down your hand.

I just have to watch for the mood of my cat - basically I just go with her rules. If she's got a fluffy tail and looks all alert/excited, then she's in play mode, and I don't put my hands near her mouth (unless I'm being dumb, which I sometimes am). When she's in a cuddly/purry mood, she likes being squeezed and pet, and doesn't snap at the hands.

With a young male cat, you may just have a lot more of the former mood than the latter for the moment. He'll calm down as he gets older, and before then there will be moments on warm sunny days when he's just sprawled out on the floor, etc, but I'm not sure you can really train a cat to play by your rules...
posted by mdn at 9:15 AM on March 13, 2005

Hey, the biting you describe, its cat language! It means "Do NOT touch me, PLAY!" Cat who wants to play has no interest in affection. This is the difference between a cat and a dog. Dog will change his mind, cat usually will not. You have to understand, you are the cat's human, resistance is futile. Seriously.

Otherwise: I've used pinching. I watched mother cats nip their kits for playing too rough with mama. I try to emulate, although usually for me this is desperately trying to teach them, human skin is not as good with claws as fur, when they are being affectionate. A little pinch to the paws.

Cats use biting also to simply mean "Don't touch me that way!". This is often done in a deliberately gentle way, but a way that carries meaning. Cats often won't allow their bellies to be touched, that's a tender place. Cats command respect.
posted by Goofyy at 10:19 AM on March 13, 2005

You need to do 2 things: train yourself and train your cat. First, yourself. Work on letting your hand go limp when the cat bites, scratches or bunny kicks. It's counter-intuitive at first, but playing dead absolutely reduces wound potential and slows down the cat's kill instinct. You need that slow-down for part 2, training the cat. When the cat goes too far you need to tell it "no" in language it understands. Hissing loudly works, or if you feel silly doing that like I do, blow hard right in it's face. If it chomps again, do it again, all the while keeping your hand absolutely immobile in its jaws. Do not try to disentangle yourself or pet it or otherwise stir -- that will send the message `ha! psych! just kidding!', which is not what you want. My biter usually takes two, maybe three, angry blows in the face before she disengages and struts off, all the while pretending it was her idea to quit. Hopefully, yours will prove to be a little more compassionate/smart.
Additionally, stock up on neosporin.
posted by dness2 at 2:31 PM on March 13, 2005

Your cat is biting because they think it is fun to do so. If you have more then one, watch them play: they routinely bite and claw at each other. If course, you aren't a cat, so it hurts.

But just to confuse things even more, the biting can mean "I don't like that".

But you can deal with this. Firstly, think about what you are doing when they bite: are you touching one particular area? If so, don't touch that area: many cats have spots that they don't like to be touched.

Does it happen after a certain amount of time? There is a chance that the cat is saying "you know what? I'm done!". If there is a certain amount of time, then bear this in mind - play with them, then stop for a bit and restart.

If the cat is aggressively biting, then try and hold as still as possible, then slowly move your hand away. Sudden movements will trigger the biting instinct again. Remember: your cat is a born hunter, and if you move quickly, you trigger the prey instinct. And you are the prey...(FX : ominous music)
posted by baggers at 3:56 PM on March 13, 2005

your cat needs some space to get used to you and your place ... let him initiate contact with you for awhile ... if he's too aggressive, don't play with him then ... my x has three cats ... two of them are pretty nice, but the old tomcat only wants to be petted at certain times and then only for a bit ... then he'd nip at your hand and that meant you'd better quit

watch your cat's tail closely ... straight up is very friendly ... if the cat's tail is wagging, he's upset, conflicted or nervous and you should be careful ... a cat's body language will tell you what he's feeling once you learn it
posted by pyramid termite at 4:22 PM on March 13, 2005

I once heard a cat behaviorist on, I think, Fresh Air. She spent a lot of time on this behavior, and she asserted that the problem was a miscommunication between cat and human. If you're petting the cat with long, slow strokes, the cat will relax and purr, but may eventually start interpreting this as sexual. Then they move to advance up to the next stage of the cat foreplay ladder, which is nipping and biting. Imagine, then, the cat's surprise and confusion when we react badly to the bite and get angry.

So we're thinking 'isn't this nice, Kitty's purring, she must be so happy I'm pettying her so well'; meanwhile the cat is thinking 'ooh baby'. Creepy, right? Anyway, it's worth looking into - try a Google search. I pet my cat differently since I heard that show - if she starts getting toooo relaxed, I just stop, 'cause I don't want no biting.
posted by Miko at 8:42 PM on March 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Holy Cow! I had only the vaguest memory of that show; it was broadcast in 199 freaking 7, and I found it! This guy was fascinating on cat psychology. I don't know if there's an audio archive, but there's information about his book, and a search on him would be profitable. Good luck.
posted by Miko at 9:37 PM on March 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

« Older Lawyers and Employment Termination (USA)   |   Brain hemisphere separation Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.