Will neutering change my male kitten's aggressive behaviour?
December 7, 2006 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Our recently adopted, very sweet, very clingy male kitten is showing some signs of aggressive behaviour. Is this typical of intact males? Will his behaviour change for the better after he's neutered or should I be worried?

My roommate and I were recently "adopted" by an incredibly sweet male cat who just showed up on our porch one day about four weeks ago. He was immediately affectionate and not at all intimidated by our dogs so I assumed he was a housepet that got himself lost. We put up flyers and asked around the neighborhood but no one ever claimed him, so we took him in. He's been in to the vet for a checkup and shots and we're planning on having him neutered after the holidays. We estimate his age at less than a year. He still has an immature look to him and a neighbor thinks he saw him around during the summer as a very small kitten.

He's very sweet and very clingy, especially with me. He wants nothing more than to sit by me, near me or, preferably, on me and is pretty demanding when it comes to being petted. Just recently, within the last few days, he has started getting a little more agressive when it comes to demanding attention. When I have to leave and he doesn't want me to, he'll take a swipe at my leg. It's a pretty light swipe but he has all of his claws and my pantlegs have taken a beating. Today I got up off of the couch (where I had been petting him) and he cried and bit my arm. Again, not hard, didn't draw blood, but it concerns me. I have tried to discourage this behavior by loudly saying OUCH and then ignoring him for a time but from time to time he will still swipe at my leg if I try to leave him. I love him to death but this unpredictability is making me a little nervous. I don't want to be bitten or scratched and neither does my roommate. (He hasn't done this with the roommate. He doesn't seem to be as attached to him as he is to me.)

Is this common in intact young males? Can I expect this clingy behaviour and agression to diminish after he's neutered? Or is this a sign of a bigger problem that I should be worried about? I plan on talking to my vet about it when I see him but that probably won't be until after the holidays and I would really like to rectify the problem as soon as possible.
posted by LeeJay to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ours, male and female, went through the swipey behavior and neither of them were intact. I think it's just sort of the cat terrible twos. For the "clingyness," I don't know, some cats just really like to be with their humans. If it bothers you, you should start training him out of it now, because it will only stay exactly the same as he gets older. Our cats are described by some as "codependent" but we like it that they want to be with/near/on us at all times. (I understand that this is a personal preference, and I'm not judging you for wanting or not wanting this behavior.) They will go "in and out" of this behavior - because we have two there is a distinct cycle to it for them - but it will persist, the clingyness, if you don't do something about it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2006

My young male used to attack my feet incessantly while I tried to sleep. He was also pretty crazy in general. It lasted for a while, but he just grew out of it. Getting snipped helped. Now he's just a lazy ol' sweetheart.
posted by The Michael The at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: For the "clingyness," I don't know, some cats just really like to be with their humans. If it bothers you, you should start training him out of it now, because it will only stay exactly the same as he gets older. Our cats are described by some as "codependent" but we like it that they want to be with/near/on us at all times. (I understand that this is a personal preference, and I'm not judging you for wanting or not wanting this behavior.)

It's not so much the clinginess that bothers me. It's the aggression that is seeming to develop from it. I love the fact that he's a snuggle bunny and likes attention. I guess I just want to make sure that I am not encouraging the aggressive behaviour by indulging the clingy-ness.
posted by LeeJay at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2006

Just continue to ignore him when he does it. Just like a toddler, he'll learn that it's behaviour that you don't like and start to change on his own. In general though, male cats tend to be more clingy than female cats (in my experience.) Also I think that cats get more and more clingy if you don't set out boundaries. They're smart, and they want to be spoiled. So they will keep trying. My fourteen year old neutured male HAS to lie between the keyboard and the computer screen if anyone is on it. We should never have let him on the desk in the first place.
posted by typewriter at 7:46 PM on December 7, 2006

The clingyness doesn't have to go hand in hand with the aggression. We are very clear with our 18 pounds of orange cat that clawed swiping/scratching is not okay. We are firm, and we tell him no...and then we ignore him for awhile. He has claws because he is an outdoor cat and needs them, but they very rarely show themselves around the humans. On the other hand, we do mock-fight, but he can bat pretty hard, his claes remain sheathed.
posted by typewriter at 7:50 PM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: Cats usually take a little time to figure out right and wrong. The important thing is to be consistent with your training of them.
I've also found that when my little buggers were young, they misbehaved much more (they're only 2 and 3 and a half, respectively). So give him some time, snip his balls off, feed him good food (that's one of the best things you can do for him) and get The Natural Cat, by Anitra Frazier and Norma Eckroate, to find out how to raise your kitten well.

Have fun with your cat!
posted by mixer at 8:22 PM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: Some good advice, but I also suggest that you get him in the habit of nail-clipping now. Get the halfmoon scissors . Be careful not to clip the pinkish quick (perhaps have your vet show you the first time). This will make your life easier later.
posted by oflinkey at 8:34 PM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: You're already on the right track. Although my cats have never been into scratching or biting their human, the male cat did go through a phase of acting like yours (mostly "slapping" me when I failed to pet him at great enough length...). After about two weeks of being dumped and ignored, he got the picture.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2006

Squirt guns/other water splashing are a good way to deter inappropriate cat behavior. So is a light (non-painful) flick on the nose, accompanied by a loud "NO!"
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:09 PM on December 7, 2006

My super clingy female cat gets this way sometimes and I've attributed to being frustrated. She'll sit on my lap, tail swishing slightly and then she'll lunge for my hand. Haven't a clue why she does it.

Disagree with flicking a cat's nose. You could make him more aggressive by escalating the situation or he could come to fear you (and your hands). If your going to correct him you want it to come from some mystical place that the cat wont associate with you ie: water spritzer tucked out of the cats sight line, an aluminium can with some pennies in it, something that will avert his attention long enough to forget about why he wanted to bite you in the first place.

This SPCA pamphlet [pdf] has some more information on correcting bad behaviour. Hope it helps.
posted by squeak at 1:58 AM on December 8, 2006

My neutered cat is the same way. He's very clingy and bites when I don't let him in my lap. He bites when you pet him too much. He bites when you don't pet him enough. He bites on days that start with T or F, and ones that end in Y. Or he knocks things off tables and countertops. He's a brat. But I love him to death.

Most of the I-want-more-attention biting is initiating play-fighting (there seems to be a large gray area with cats about what's "play" and what's "fight"). Like all toms, he loves to wrestle and scrap. My cat also quite obviously prefers me to anyone else. I think in part is because I'm willing to play-fight with him.

When I adopted my cat he was about a year old. He was already neutered, so I don't know if it was done late or early. He's sixteen years old now and acts the same way.

I never considered the biting aggressive—it's just what cats do. Particularly toms. Have you ever seen lions mating? Lot's of biting. Cats are crazy in the head and have queer ideas about friendship. I consider it part of owning a cat, and not behavior that requires correction.
posted by mealy-mouthed at 5:45 AM on December 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your going to correct him you want it to come from some mystical place that the cat wont associate with you

I think this is excessive concern. Cats don't hate/fear you because you punish them (assuming you don't cause them physical pain, of course); they accept it as boss behavior. I used to have a male kitten who occasionally did unacceptable things, and I squirted him with a water gun for them, and he stopped doing them and never showed the slightest sign of being afraid of me or not wanting to be around me. He just knew if he did X he'd get squirted, so he didn't do it. (My current male kitten has a bizarre unfeline love of water, so I don't think the squirt gun would work.)

I never considered the biting aggressive—it's just what cats do. ...I consider it part of owning a cat, and not behavior that requires correction.

That's fine for you, but I'm not sure your house guests feel the same way; most people certainly don't. It is aggressive, and it can be stopped, and most people want it to stop.
posted by languagehat at 6:08 AM on December 8, 2006

Drawing blood is one thing, but mild "I'm going to put my teeth on you" biting has been pretty common in my experience. Most of the cats I've spent time with have done it, it's never bothered me, and I mildly encouraged it (letting them wrestle with my hand, for example).

If you have more than one kitten, you're probably quite familiar with their wrestling each other. This involves some non-painful biting/scratching, and it seems to me they sometimes decide you'd like to join in.

Nothing serious, IMHO.
posted by aramaic at 6:13 AM on December 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When we got our current monsters as wee little kittens, they learned fairly quickly to be careful with their claws because pain = no more play time. As an example: my sweet little furball loves to play "attack the feet". I rub his tummy with my toes, he develops an insanely evil cat face and claws the almighty hell out of my foot - if and only if I have socks on. Without socks, he never uses his claws, because he learned at an early age that claws on bare feet would end the game. (Of course, now that he is a 17 pound monster instead of a 17 ounce kitten he can claw right through my socks - I just grit my teeth and let him play.)

Definitely get him used to the nail trimmers. I used to play with my kitty's feet a lot, and he became comfortable with it. I can grab his feet and play with his toes, he doesn't mind. Easy to trim his nails. My wife's cat, on the other hand, never got this attention, so I have to quite literally sit on him to hold him still enough to clip his claws. Start while you are still clearly the boss. Kittens will let you do quite a bit that older cats won't accept easily. And please let him keep his claws! Declawing isn't good for cats, many vets won't do it any more, and declawed cats generally learn to bite. A good scratching post (rough surface, not fluffy carpet, and heavily weighted so that it doesn't wobble when attacked) and a little patience in redirecting his toe-sharpening attentions will do wonders for your furniture in the future.

As for neutering - definitely calms the male kitties down in some respects; ours still attack each other at the drop of a hat, but generally it is play-aggression rather than full-scale cat war. Ask your vet before getting it done to be sure your little guy is old enough. Male cats can develop urinary problems if they are snipped before everything finishes growing down there. Ours were nearly a year old before we gave them that little "present". A side benefit is that both of them are darn big cats... most males neutered at a young age don't get to be such hulking beasts.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:27 AM on December 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Might I also suggest a nice feather toy on a string? At this age, kittens really need to play. When my old man cat (age 12) would get aggressive in his youth, I gave him a stuffed animal to "kill". I'd "attack" him with it and let him get out all the mean kitty on the toy and then he was ready for love. My younger boy cat loved the feather toys and would play for hours and still does.

Both of my male neutered cats now will sometimes start to play rough but then when they are told "Ouch" or "No biting" they play much more gently.

Cats can learn quite a bit about who's okay to be rough with and who isn't. My youngest will rip one of our friend's hand to shreds because our friend doesn't stop him, but the same cat never uses his claws on my young godson. It's just like any other pet, set up boundries, enforce them in a reasonable way and encourage good behavoir.
posted by teleri025 at 9:12 AM on December 8, 2006

"Cats can learn quite a bit about who's okay to be rough with and who isn't."

This does seem true. Our 6 1/2 month old boy kitten, Sherman, is one of those who liked to "play bite" -- clearly for play, not in an angrily aggressive way -- and so we've been spending time trying to teach him not to do it.

The result now is that he almost never even tries to bite me. But my husband still gets the play bites. The way I have tried to handle it is that when Sherman bites, I hiss at him (the cat style hiss), say "no", and freeze. I don't pull my hand away until after I have "frozen" for a while, because he will interpret that as part of the game -- "Oh, chase the hand now!" I just freeze long enough so he realizes the game isn't happening. Then when he plays without biting I give him a lot of positive reinforcement. It's working great and I can now rub the kitty's belly without any attempt at biting from him. In the last few weeks he has hardly ever tried to bite -- maybe once or twice a week.

In my husband's case, I am not sure exactly why it's not working, because he says no, hisses, and stops just like I do. I think it might be that he doesn't freeze long enough for the cat to realize the game stopped. But who knows what is going on in the kitten's head, really.

Also, once the neutering happens the cat may mellow down somewhat. Ours was neutered in October. I disagree with the above poster -- you do NOT want to wait until a year, you are way more likely to see spraying problems, etc. As well as escaping to impregnate the neighborhood cats. How much does the kitten weigh? Ours was neutered at 5 lbs. If the cat is around that weight it should be OK to neuter him. Do it soon.
posted by litlnemo at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions! I really appreciate them all. Just to clarify, I definitely don't plan on having our boy declawed and he has tons of toys (we went a bit nuts with the whole new-cat-ownership thing). I am going to keep going with ignoring him when he misbehaves. I think I am going to try hissing instead of saying ouch when it happens. My roommate and I are going to attempt to clip his nails this weekend. He's very good about letting us handle his feet so hopefully he will accept a trim from us as well. I will also try the spray bottle if the ignoring doesn't work. Thanks again! I'll let you know how it all works!
posted by LeeJay at 5:26 PM on December 8, 2006

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