Biting Feline Mystery

by Steve
(New Haven, IN)


Our 1 1/2 year old domestic short hair female neutered cat has developed a habit of biting (most of the time playfully) us when our paths cross. She especially does it to our 8 year old daughter and other children who visit.

We make a habit of playing with her whenever we get home and in the evenings.

Katie seems to make a habit of this mostly after we have been "ignoring" her and she wants our attention.

How can we re-direct this in a positive direction?

If not, she will have to go back to the shelter where we got her about a year ago.

Thanks for the help!!!

Steve, Dawn & Amanda


Your kitty is still young and therefore very playful. It is not uncommon for playful biting-type behavior to continue or begin in the first couple of years of life.

Of course, you don't want to encourage even playful biting. It is necessary to re-direct all types of biting, regardless of whether it is playful or more aggressive.

Make sure you have alternative items for Katie to bite. Get some types of cat toys such as catnip-filled soft bags or mice that she can chew on. Sometimes a small stuffed animal works.

When Katie looks as if she's going to bite, give her an appropriate alternative to your skin, such as the above-mentioned items.

If she does manage to get a quick bite in, don't yell, don't hit, don't throw ....negative punishment does not work with cats. It only makes them worse. Instead you want to totally ignore it as if it didn't even happen. Calmly get one of the toys and give to her.

On the other hand, praising her when she is being calm and not biting can be very useful.

Also, I have a tip for you that is difficult for a person to do, but works better than anything else.

I don't know if she is biting you when you walk by or are just sitting or when. This next suggestion works regardless. When a cat nips at us, our natural reaction is to pull away. This actually gives them more incentive to chase and/or bite again. It is their natural instinctive behavior to pursue their "prey".

If you freeze completely when a cat nips, it takes the excitement out of it for them. If you don't pull away, it's not fun. It quickly becomes boring. I have found this works every time. You have to do it repeatedly every time she nips and everyone has to do it consistently for it to be most effective.

Let me give you an example so it's clear. Let's suppose you are walking past a table that Katie is sitting on and she stretches her head out at the perfect moment to sink her teeth into your arm. Instead of pulling it away, freeze with your arm in her mouth. She'll let go within a second or two and be a bit puzzled but have much less urge to bite again and probably won't. Only moving objects are interesting.

Granted, for some people, this is a little scary to try. The answer to that is to keep her confined to a room or two and have only the bravest, least frightened members of the family train her in this way. It's a good idea to confine her always when other children are over until you break this habit of hers.

This can absolutely work out if you follow this advice and be patient and consistent with your efforts.

You made a very important point yourself when you said it seems to happen when she has been ignored. It may be that she feels ignored and wants your attention, but it also may at times be just because she is a young, active "kitten" who needs to play a certain amount of time each day. If she can't find anything else to play with, then you (in her mind) are fair game. She is being normal and you just have to re-direct her actions. More attention, more toys, positive reinforcement, and lack of response when she behaves inappropriately should do the trick.

Good luck. Work hard and you won't have to even consider returning her.
Dr. Neely

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