Play biting is normal kitten behavior. For kittens, playing is really just practice for hunting, and hunting entails biting. Though she will probably never grow up and need to hunt, the play instinct is hardwired into your cat. Play biting may also be seen in adult cats that weren’t properly trained as kittens.
This type of biting usually occurs when petting a kitten or cat, because it will think that the petting is an invitation to play. Biting might also be the cat’s attempt to get a game started. Its body will be fairly loose, and the cat may flop down or be wiggly.
The first step to stopping play biting is actually preventing it. Only use toys when you play with your cat. Hands and feet should not be viewed as playthings. Tickling and wrestling encourage the cat to grab hold and bite. Also, try to avoid handling your kitten while she is in the midst of playing. Wait until she has calmed down a bit to pet her or pick her up.
When your kitty does bite, stop moving and say “Ouch!” in a high-pitched tone. If she doesn’t respond to that, try hissing at her or making a sharper noise instead, such as slapping a table or saying “Ack!” The novel noise may startle her and cause her to stop biting. Praise her softly as soon as she stops biting. Wait until she is more relaxed before resuming play or petting. If she starts to bite again soon after, all attention should be withdrawn for several minutes. This allows time for the cat to decompress, while also hopefully teaching her that fun ends when she bites.
In some cases, the cat is too full of energy to stop biting. When this happens, offer the cat toys that she can bite. Catnip toys and large wrestling toys, such as Kong® Kickeroo™ and PetStages Wrestle & Romp, are excellent substitutions. Ensuring that your cat gets enough play time throughout the day will make it less likely that she will get to the point of over-exuberance.
Never hit your cat for biting. She may still try to bite your hand, but with more pressure, as it is now a fast-moving object she is focused on (i.e., prey). You may also damage your relationship by teaching your cat to fear you.
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.