September 17, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Help us meet our new kitten's playtime needs!

Kirby is a 4-month-old kitten who has lived with us for about 2.5 weeks. She is very social and loves to be near us. However, she wants to wrestle with/pounce on EVERYTHING, most especially our hands and (bare) feet. I know that this is very normal kitten behavior (she came from a house with 3 other young kittens, so she is used to having a lot of playmates). I want to set her up for success by combining (1) LOTS of playtime with appropriate toys, (2) positive reinforcement for good behavior (praise for letting us pet her without trying to play with our hands, etc) and consistently enforced consequences for bad behavior (saying a sharp "ow" and calmly placing her down on the floor when she pounces on/nips us).

My question here is more about the playtime, especially particular toys that might be useful. One thing that we have noticed with Kirby is that she will sometimes be in a clearly playful mood, but will not want to chase or play with her usual toys. We throw the little ball, she just looks at it. We toss the crinkly thing, she bats it one time and then just looks at us. If we try to pet or sit with her when she's in this mood, she immediately wants to nip at our hands, so she's clearly not ready to settle down, but I'm at a loss for how to engage her appropriately. What are some toys that we might be missing here? She has the following, all of which are engaging at least some of the time: tinfoil ball, crinkly ball, scrunched up paper, wobbly ball with base (like so), cat tower. She has a wand toy that we will use to play with her and which is definitely her favorite toy, but we hesitate to overuse it (what if she gets bored with it?? The horror!). We play with the wand 1-2x per day, about 20 vigorous minutes per time.

One thing I am specifically wondering about is "wrestle play." We noticed that Kirby is REALLY wanting to wrestle with things (our couch pillows are a frequent target, much grabbing and biting). Again, I recognize that this is normal and this is likely how she used to play with her littermates. Because of this, and to save our poor pillows, we gave her an old stuffed bear that has become her nemesis. She attacks Mr. Bear regularly and with vigor, and we will redirect her to him if she's going at the pillows again. However, sometimes she's in the playing mood but still won't go for Mr. Bear. I have read elsewhere about people using hand puppets to play wrestle with their kitten, allowing for a more animated opponent but limiting damage to human limbs. However, my boyfriend and I are both hesitant to give mixed messages about whether playing with hands is okay. If you have used hand puppets, did you find it made inappropriate biting/playing with hands a problem?

We love Ms. Kirby very much, and she is a fun addition to our house. We want to start things off right with her. We are unfortunately not in a position to add another cat/kitten to the household, but we try to provide several hours of dedicated playtime each day to make up for the lack of feline compatriots. Any feedback would be much appreciated!
posted by Bebo to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
She's so cute!

I can't find a link, but at Cutter's Mill I saw a cat toy that was designed to promote kicking with the back legs. This is similar to what you're trying to do with the bear.

My cats have a mouse that squeaks when it gets hit, and love that one. They also love the cheap, small mice (like 50 cents at the store). They're about an inch long but my cats love them much more than the larger, more expensive ones.

Something like this might work, since the mouse will keep going after your kitten swats at it. Bonus is that it has a scratch pad on top to help file down those sharp claws.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2011

I used the Kitten Mitten Cat Toy with my old guy when he was a kitten and he grew out of the "pounce on my hands and feet at every opportunity" stage with no issues.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:40 AM on September 17, 2011

Best answer: If she loves the wand, use the wand. It sounds to me like she wants to play with you, and that the wand is the way she can do that. My guy has been playing with the wand for twenty minutes a day for five years, and he still gets big eyes when we make a move for it. I wouldn't worry about her getting sick of it.
posted by freshwater at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

My cats never tired of the wand. A cheap alternative is to take a wire hanger and bend it out straight, but leave the hanger top as a handle. Make a loop ate the other end. Cut tissue paper or other crinkly noisy material into long strips and tie around the loop. Instant cat wand toy. Also, I highly recommend a laser pointer. My friend's cat is 20 and still goes nuts over the glowing dot.
posted by bedhead at 9:45 AM on September 17, 2011

Our cat loves the stick+string+dangly thing, but what she loves most is tinfoil balls. She will chase them like crazy, fetch and bring them back. We started putting them inside shoes and she loves trying to get them out. Now, she puts them in the shoes herself and tries to get them out.

I wrestle, barehanded, with our cat. I'm the only one that does this with her and she's pretty good at understanding that. She bites like she would another cat, and if it's too hard I just give a firm "gentle" and pull my hand away. She has her claws and doesn't use them. I like this better than a "glove toy" or something because she realizes it's me and can't bute too hard.
posted by dripdripdrop at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2011

No matter how many toys they have, kittens just can't resist the fun and thrill of biting/scratching/pouncing on unsuspecting human flesh. Probably because it's reminiscent of play-wrestling with their littermates - humans are warm and they'll react when attacked. However, humans don't have a protective coating of fur, and we're a lot bigger and stronger so we can't "bat" at them when they bite too hard because we could hurt them. Mama cats have a method of halting unacceptable kitty behavior - they hiss at them. Not exactly as mean as the traditional hiss when two cats are preparing to fight, more like a short and sharp "SSSsss!!" Often she accompanies the hiss with a firm swat of the paw. By the time a kitten is a few months old, they learn to associate the "SSsss!" with a paw smack, so just the noise is enough to make them halt immediately. So if you're, say, playing with Kirby (who is adorable, BTW!) and rubbing her belly and all that and she suddenly latches onto a finger or the top of your hand with those needle-sharp teeth, freeze immediately (stop playing) and hiss. When Kirby lets go, retract your hand. (It takes longer to type out than to actually occur; it's very quick: bite, stop moving, hiss, kitten scampers away a few steps, retract hand.) Every kitten we've ever owned has had a myriad of different toys, including some that became favorites, but up to a certain age they still have to go through a hunt and pounce on human feet or wrestle with human hand stage. It's preparing them for hunting prey when they get older (even though all Kirby will have to hunt is the location of her food dish).
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on September 17, 2011

You and Kirby (was she named after the vacuum cleaner? I have a yard-cat named Hoover for her eating speed) need some plastic drinking straws. They're perfect kitten-chewing shape and texture. Anytime she goes after your digits, give her a straw to bite on.

Also, get some Velcro (the kind without the adhesive stickum on the back. The fuzzier side makes for very satisfying chewing, and cleans their teeth too.
posted by Corvid at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2011

Yes, your kitten wants to play with you. Cute little bugger!

Two words: Fishing Pole.

We have a kid's (short) fishing pole we got at a discount store. Take off the reel and just tie 4-5 foot of line on. You can attach many wonderful things to the end of the line. Our cats really love pieces of leather shoe lace, but you can tie on crinkly paper, plastic bags, twigs, small piece of carpet, artificial flowers, feathers, a stuffed glove--your imagination and Kirby's attraction will be the limit.

You didn't mention paper bags and boxes. Sit on the floor and open the bag, throw the toy into the bag, and repeat. Cut various size holes in a couple different size boxes, one she can crawl into, one she can only get a head out, and a couple paw hole to grab through. You can even tape boxes together for a condominium. Stuff her in an old sweatshirt and let her fight her way out, if she likes.

Yarn ball! There's a reason sweet little kittehs are depicted with a ball of yarn. Just watch she doesn't get a claw stuck or eat it. Long peacock feathers. Small swishy branches with the leaves still on are a renewable one time use toy. Don't forget small catnip stuffed bags or toys.

The only real expense would be in the fishing pole and the catnip. Miles and miles of fun for little expense.

Oh, and wait till the holidays. Lovely messy turkey bones to chew. Christmas was created to entertain kittens. Great fun climbing the tree and knocking everything off! Bows to tear off! I think it's a kitten/owner rite of passage to have to pull tinsel out of their butt (bleah!) Or scoop sparkly turds, at the least. Really, really not good to let them eat it, but it seemed to have happened at least once with every cat we've ever had.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:53 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, small blanked over the head. Tape on the paws. The list of kitteh torments is endless.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:00 PM on September 17, 2011

posted by BlueHorse at 1:01 PM on September 17, 2011

Shoelaces with a couple of knots tied in them, for dangle-and-chase. Shoelace with a catnip mouse tied to one end. Cardboard boxes! A big pinch of catnip in a box makes my cat wallow vigorously for ten minutes, then crash.

Sounds like you're definitely on the right track with playtime!
posted by Occula at 1:05 PM on September 17, 2011

My standard wrestling toy is a too-old-to-wear sock filled with catnip (though yours is too young to enjoy that aspect) and more socks or other fabric. Its large enough to hug and kick and bite without leaving you bleeding. Just tie a knot in the end and let the fur fly! My kitten at heart loves to have me play tug as he rabbit kicks and growls at it. Good times! Also: ice cubes are the ultimate cheap toy.
posted by gilsonal at 1:33 PM on September 17, 2011

Seconding gilsonal that Kirby (who is too goddamn cute) will most likely not react to catnip as a mature cat would.

Our cat (Kiki), loves to wrestle little cat toys that look like mice that have about 3-4 inch ribbons for the "tail."
posted by kuanes at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2011

Our kitten learned very fast that she can attack human hands when they are under a towel or blanket (doubled so it really doesn't hurt), but not if bare skin is visible. It only took a few weeks before she was really very good about this. She never puts her claws out when playing with bare hands, and never bites, so she can actually wrestle with and bat bare hands now and not make a mark or hurt people at all.

We did it by giving her plenty of opportunities to play attacksies with a hand under a towel, and by always ending that game or any other immediately if she bit or scratched bare skin. Not just a short time out, but game over, no more playing for an hour or so. Supposedly that's what mother cats do to their kittens when they get bitten or scratched too hard, too.
posted by lollusc at 1:59 PM on September 17, 2011

The best cat-toy string, by the way, is paracord. All cats seem to like chasing string, but little ones and CERTAIN adult ones, not naming any particular cat that's snoozing next to me now, can bite through almost any normal string, and possibly eat the bits when you're not looking.

Paracord is very flexible, very hard-wearing, and useful for numerous things besides cat toys. Cheap probably-not-military-spec paracord from eBay will do nicely.
posted by dansdata at 9:35 PM on September 17, 2011

I used hand-puppets for several different kittens who had the same play need as your adorable Kirby, and it didn't confuse the "don't maul our hands!" issue in the least.

When they started getting feisty, I'd pause the play and specifically put the hand-puppet on in their view, then use it in whatever way interested them in engaging. A couple of the kittens required adjustments - the owl hand-puppet was too scary, for example, so another was procured - but once we figured those out, we were golden.

Don't use plain socks or anything else that commonly covers parts of your person you wouldn't want pounced (blankets could be confusing in this way).

Using cardboard boxes as staging areas for drawn-out play is always a great idea. Sturdy cord pulled through and along can help her get out the chase instinct a bit more.

The fishing pole idea above is good, too.

It's tempting to give kittens things like plastic drinking straws, yarn, ribbon, or adhesive tape, but these are all things that they can ingest in whole or part and end up needing very serious vet treatment to resolve. Having pitched in multiple times to help friends get surgeries (and once, sadly, a cremation) for kitties who have done this, I wouldn't even introduce the possibility.

Note that you've only got a few more months of this super-extra-hyper-crazy kitten behaviour (unless you're astonishingly fortunate), so your instinct to enjoy the heck out of it is going to be priceless.
posted by batmonkey at 11:02 PM on September 17, 2011

Play with favorite wand toy! Then when boredom sets in, buy Da Bird wand toy with the spangle, fur, fluff-feather and mousie attachments. Rotate attachments. Bear in mind that sometimes cats, as they get older will not need the 30 min or so straight up playtime that kittens seems to need every day for the first few years. Bear also in mind that a Da Bird wand or any small thingy dragged slowly on the ground long enough will intrigue most cats even tho (as they get older) they will pretend to be paying attention elsewhere. (If you see kitty with some prey-thing, like a bug, it will torment, capture, and then release...sort of. Bug slinks slowly away from kitty while kitty nonchalantly licks paws (or whatev) but then POUNCE! since hunting beats capturing. Pounce, paw, ignore...repeat.) So be patient and pretend the attachment is a bit wounded but mobile....especially the mouse and fur attachments. The feather ones fly beautifully and offer kitty a chance to leap mightily for the grab/swat takedown.

We used those kittygloves with dangly fingers to play with our kittens. As adults, they don't bite, scratch or attempt to disembowel our hands and arms. But, if we slide on one of those gloves, they know they can bring on the Killing Game.

Do search askmefi archives for awesome suggestions for kitty playtime: sheetplay, popup hamper/tent play, cardboardbox play, plastic bottle top skittling across the floor play.....tons of happy kitty fun!
posted by Jezebella at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2011

Great advice for toys above. But is another kitten out of the question? Perhaps one of her littermates is still available. I've long been of the opinion that kittens/cats come in pairs. Yes, cost is generally doubled, but I think having the playmate is important.
posted by deborah at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2011

Sphero Robotic Ball
posted by homunculus at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2011

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