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by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS

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Play Aggression - Q&A

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Did you know?

Animal bites to humans are the number one public health hazard.

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Normal Feline Play Behaviors

What is normal?


All cats bite. Nipping and play biting are normal feline communication. Nipping starts when kittens explore the world with their mouths and teeth. However, nips may also occur out of fear or a desire to initiate play. Young kittens may nip during play or play solicitation (asking for play by nipping).


Never hit your cat or cause fear or pain during play sessions to prevent your cat learning  to bite from fear or anger. 


Kittens learn early how to hunt, fight, play and escape danger. By five months of age, kittens begin to practice rough play with each other. In nature, kittens play in order to exercise and build muscle, nervous system, and respiratory organs. Therefore, the goal is to teach appropriate play not to stop play altogether.


An angry or scared cat grabs hold with the front claws. A scared cat may bite and run to hide. An angry or highly aroused cat will bite and scratch with front and back claws and bite continuously until the human retreats.


Why is is important to teach gentle play behaviors?


It has been estimated that cat bites are 10% of all reported animal bites. Many cat bites go unreported. People tend to forget that domestic cats are animals that need instruction on how to be gentle with humans. House cats may not be as big as wild cats but they have five weapons they deploy very quickly.

Allowing your kitten to play bite or scratch your hands or legs may lead to aggressive adult cat play.


What to do


Play with your adult cat daily for at least 15 minutes to allow natural behaviors, healthy exercise and quality time with you. Keep play interesting by varying the game and toy every few minutes and allowing your cat to win by pouncing on the object. Toss in an occasional treat to make the win more like a successful hunt. Your goal is a tired, panting cat.

  • Do not accidentally teach your cat that nipping is an effective way to start play.

  • Do not play rough as this may accidentally teach your cat to be aggressive.

  • Stop play If it escalates to rough play. Leave and allow the cat to cool off.

  • Yowl loudly like a cat in pain to startle your cat if cat teeth touch human skin. Wait for your cat to back off of your hand before slowly pulling your hand away. Stop play and turn your back on your cat for the count of 10. Then, extend a finger for a gentle make-up sniff. Praise this gentle behavior.

  • Freeze if your cat bites at your ankles, then walk away. Keep a water pistol handy if this has become a bad habit. Redirect cat attacks on humans to prey-play toys.

  • Select toys for as play outlets for normal cat behaviors. Keep play real. Move feather toys like birds, laser lights like bugs, strings like mouse tails!

Your cat needs daily interactive play sessions for healthy physical and mental development and aging. Buy or make a variety of prey-play type toys. Praise all appropriate play directed to toys not you.

Normal Cat

Adolescence[1]:  17 weeks to 1 year

  • Sexual maturity if not altered; spraying and fighting to protect territory

  • If allowed outdoors, may wander farther away from home.

  • Keep a break-away collar with an identification tag on at all times.

  • Consider a microchip - permanent identification - to avoid losing your kitten

[1] AAFP. (2004). Feline Behavior Guidelines. Pg. 10.

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