cat's play is starting
to lead to injuries. What can
an excess of unused energy,
and lack of appropriate opportunities
for play can lead to play aggression.
This may be exhibited as overly
rambunctious or aggressive play
which inadvertently leads to
injuries to people. In some
cases, the play
can include a number of components
of the cat's predatory
nature including the stalk,
pounce, and bite, which can
be extremely intense.
play is usually more common
in kittens, it may persist through
adulthood especially in cats
under two years of age that
are only cats.
mentioned, cat play is best
stimulated by moving objects
that can be stalked, chased,
swatted, or pounced upon. (See
our handout on ‘Feline
play and investigative behaviors').
Providing ample opportunities
for self-play aids in reducing
inappropriate play with owners.
In addition, before you consider
using one of the interruptions
(water sprayer, alarm, and compressed
air), the cat should first receive
a sufficient number of play
cats need to play and initiate
interactive play sessions.
directed toward the owners,
which is initiated by the cat,
should not be tolerated. Owners
that allow the cat to initiate
affection and attention-getting
behaviors run the risk of these
behaviors escalating into more
aggressive sessions, should
the owner refuse the cat's
demands. Successful interactive
toys include wiggling ropes,
wands, dangling toys, and those
that are thrown or rolled for
the cat to chase. Exercise care
and choose toys that cannot
be ingested or swallowed.
self-play the cat can be provided
with toys that roll such as
ping pong balls or walnuts,
toys that dangle, battery-operated
and spring-mounted toys, scratching
posts, and toys within containers
that deliver food when scratched
or manipulated. For cats that
enjoy exploration, climbing
and perching give opportunity
for these. Hiding treats in
various locations stimulates
searching behavior that cats
enjoy. Bird feeders outside
of windows occupy some cats,
while others might be interested
in videos for cats. Catnip toys
and toys with food or treats
that can be obtained by scratching
or manipulation, help to stimulate
play and exploration. Cats with
a strong desire for social play
benefit from the addition of
a second kitten to act as a
playmate, provided both cats
have been adequately socialized
can I tell if play is about
to become aggressive?
it is possible to see a change
in your kitten's behavior
that will signal to you that
the play session is getting
out of control. The first sign
may be intense movement of the
tail from side to side. The
ears may go back and the pupils,
the dark part of the eye, may
become larger. At this point
it is best to end the play session
before the kitten becomes too
should I do if the cat begins
to exhibit play aggression?
possible ignoring the cat, or
perhaps even walking out of
the room, will teach the cat
that there will be no interaction
or reward when he or she initiates
play. Play with you should be
initiated by you, and not by
punishment must be avoided!
First, pain can cause aggression
so if you hit your cat, you
may increase the aggressive
behavior. Second, painful punishment
may cause fear and owner avoidance.
Third, owners that attempt to
correct the playful aggression
with physical contact may actually
serve to reward the behavior.
a deterrent to be effective
it must occur while the behavior
is taking place and be timed
correctly. Punishment also should
be species appropriate. Noise
deterrents are often effective
in cats. For very young kittens,
a "hissing" noise
may deter excessive play behavior.
The noise can be made by you,
if not immediately successful
a can of compressed air used
for cleaning camera lenses may
be more effective and is less
likely to cause fear or retaliation.
cats need an even more intense
deterrent. Spray cans with citronella
spray, water sprayers and commercially
alarms or air horns should be
sufficiently startling to most
cats to interrupt the behavior.
What is most important in using
these techniques is the timing.
You must have the noise-maker
with you so that you can immediately
administer the correction. (Also
see handout on 'Controlling
undesirable behavior in cats').
However without providing ample
appropriate play opportunities
punishment and distraction techniques
will not be successful on their
should I do about my cat that
hides, stalks or jumps out at
family members and me?
component of aggressive play
behavior is hiding and dashing
out and attacking people as
they walk by. Often the kitten
or cat waits around corners
or under furniture until someone
approaches. This can be a difficult
keep a journal of occurrences,
time of day and location. This
can help identify a pattern
that can be avoided. Second,
you need to be able to know
where your cat is. An approved
cat collar (one that has a quick
release catch or is elastic)
with a large bell on it is helpful.
If the cat always attacks from
the same location, you can be
ready, anticipate the attack
and become pre-emptive. As you
prepare to walk by the area,
toss a small toy to divert the
cat to an appropriate play object.
Another tactic is to use your
noise deterrent to get the cat
out of the area or block access
to the location such as under
the bed so that the cat is unable
to hide there and pounce out
at your feet. Again, these techniques
are most successful when combined
with plenty of opportunities
for appropriate play.
there a way to prevent this
for this problem is much the
same as for other forms of play
aggression. You must provide
ample outlets and opportunities
for play on your terms. Perhaps
schedule play sessions. These
should be aerobic play sessions
so that the cat gets plenty
your cat does not seem to be
interested in these play sessions,
try other toys. Some cats prefer
small, light toys that are easy
to manipulate. Others prefer
balls or small stuffed toys.
Make sure the toys are safe
and not small enough to be swallowed.
Provide play sessions when the
cat seems interested and avoid
sessions at all other times.
For example, if the cat seems
to be interested in nighttime
play, try and circumvent problems
by offering play at approximately
the same time that the cat would
begin. Should the cat begin
to initiate the play "session"
before you are ready, remember
that you must ignore the cat
(or use one of the interruption
devices) and restart the session
after the cat has calmed down.
Next evening begin a little
earlier so you can "beat
the cat to the punch".
It can also be helpful to try
and keep up your cat's
interest in the toys. This can
be accomplished by a daily rotation
of toys so that the cat is presented
with a few new items daily.
Pick up all the toys and place
them in a box or basket out
of the cat's reach. Every
day take out a few toys, or
a bag or box and set then out
for the cat to play with. Set
aside some time for interactive
play with you as well.
can also be trained to do a
number of tricks. This is an
excellent way to stimulate your
cat, to interact with your cat
in a positive way and to gain
some verbal control over your
cat. Using a few choice food
tidbits as rewards, most cats
can be taught to sit, come,
fetch, or "give 5".
information sheet is based on
material written by Debra Horwitz,
DVM, DACVB and
Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn
Inc. Used with permission under
license. March 11, 2004.