Play Biting in Kittens:
A common complaint at new kitten exams, is “ my kitten is biting my hands/feet.” Kittens learn how to inhibit their bite from their mother, and from playing with littermates. When they get playing too roughly, a sharp bite back from a family member will put them in their place! When a kitten is separated too early, it may not have learned appropriate play behaviour. Kittens also learn what type of play is OK from us. If we use our hands or feet to play with kittens, this is telling them that this type of play is acceptable. Kittens quickly learn that fingers and toes are prey for pouncing.
It is best not ever to use hands or feet when playing with kittens. Using a toy on a rod keeps a certain distance from your hand, or you can throw a toy for them to chase. Kittens love a toy to wrestle with- this is mimicking normal kitten play. You can encourage wrestling by rubbing a toy against your kitten’s belly, but remember to get your hand out of the way quickly! Some kittens like to stalk and “hunt” their owners. They will jump out unexpectedly and bite your ankle. This hunting behaviour is also very normal for kittens.
Do not ever hit your kitten when they nip or pounce at you. This can either make them fearful of human interaction or can cause them to play even more roughly. It is best to say “NO” and stop playing with them immediately firmly. Then offer a toy that is acceptable for them to bite. Do not attempt to pet them again until they are tuckered out. Having them wear a bell on a collar is also helpful, so you can hear them coming before the attack. Making a loud noise (like shaking popcorn kernels in a can) can also startle them mid- attack and cause them to abort the mission.
As a last resort for kittens that are non-stop playing too roughly with their owners, one may consider adding in a second kitten of similar age. This allows for the kitten to have an age-appropriate playmate to express natural behaviours and is quite successful at eliminating human attacks.
Another common kitten complaint is scratching things other than scratching posts! Scratching is a normal behaviour exhibited by all cats. Some kittens prefer horizontal scratching surfaces and others vertical surfaces. Scratching posts are essential for all kittens, and it is best to offer them both options. Posts are best located in a bright, quiet open area. If there are multiple cats in the house, it is recommended to have one post per feline, to prevent competition and unwanted scratching. Recently, a product called Feliscratch was released into the market. Feliscratch helps attract kittens to scratch where you want them to scratch.
The product works in three different ways:
- The product is coloured blue and creates blue lines when applied in lines on the post. This mimics the visual message of scratch marks. The blue lines fade over time but will remain visible.
- Catnip helps attract the kitten to the post.
- Pheromone “ territory messages” signal to the kitten to scratch where the product is applied. Pheromones are natural chemicals capable of acting like hormones outside of the body, and they impact the behaviour of the receiving kitten.
It is recommended to trim your kitten’s nails regularly. We are always happy to give you a lesson in clinic on how to successfully do this at home. Handling your kitten’s paws regularly at home greatly facilitates the chance of successful nail trims. If nails trims become increasingly difficult, another option is a product called “soft paws.” These are vinyl nail caps that are glued on to the cats existing nails. These do need to be replaced on a regular basis (usually monthly) as they fall off.
If there is an area where cats are unwantedly scratching, you can consider placing double-sided tape, or aluminum foil. These types of surfaces are not rewarding to most kittens.
As the adage goes, a tired pet is usually a happy, well-behaved pet. It is essential to provide all kittens with environmental stimulation and the opportunity for appropriate play.
Written by Dr. Katherine Takacs, DVM