I’ve seen several clients lately that are having problems with feline play aggression with their young kittens. Feline play aggression can be a serious problem that destroys the human-animal bond and can lead to relinquishment later.
It helps to understand normal kitten play development to understand why feline play aggression occurs.
- From birth to weaning (8 weeks) kittens engage in social play where they interact with their mom and littermates.
- From 8-10 weeks of age, kittens engage object play where they become interested in objects in their environment. They will pounce, chase, stalk, batt, swipe, bite and claw at objects which is an integral part of a kitten’s eye-paw coordination and hunting skills.
- From 10-12 weeks of age, kittens engage in locomotion play where they develop their agility and balance skills.
Most kittens are acquired around 7-8 weeks of age; therefore, it is important to help and encourage them with object and locomotion play. Unfortunately, I believe that indoor only kittens have less environmental stimulation than outdoor cats which is usually why feline play aggression occurs. Most kittens that I see with feline play aggression problems are either bored or the owner is using their hands to play with the kitten.
Five ways to curb feline play aggression:
- Avoid using your hands while playing with kittens. Part of object play involves biting and clawing which can lead to injury to yourself. Playing with your hands encourages the kitten to continue feline play aggression with your hands.
- Provide plenty of toys. Ideal toys for kittens include smaller objects that can be batted around or picked up with their mouth. Avoid toys that are small enough to be ingested. Wand toys that contain feathers or mice at the end are excellent toys to dangle in front of your kitten or drag along the floor to help them develop their predatory skills.
- Encourage your cat to explore and investigate their new environment without destroying your property by providing appropriate perches, scratching posts and lounging areas. Most cat towers supply all three of these things.
- If your kitten happens to bite or scratch you, yell “ouch” loudly and clearly. Slowly remove your hand. If you move your hand too fast, your kitten may think it’s a toy and go after you again.
- Anytime your kitten is playing inappropriately, redirect their attention to something more appropriate. Engage in five to ten minutes of active play.
It all boils down to providing an enriched environment for your kitten, so they don’t get bored. I recommend rotating toys and giving your kitten three different toys daily.