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Please help with my kitten's scratching and biting behavior

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This man is unaware that hands are not toys

Asa Playing With Kitten Jaspurr

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy
Question: Please help with my kitten's scratching and biting behavior
I love to play with my kitten, but too often he turns mean and starts biting my hand and scratching it with little "rooster kicks." I have scolded him and squirted him with water, and that only makes him meaner. Can you help me train him not to bite and scratch when playing?
Answer:

Hands are Not Cat Toys

Scratching and biting by kittens is commonly caused by poor play habits early on. It is very important that you do not "roughhouse" with your kitten in the manner you might use with a dog. Playing rough with your kitten will teach him that hands are toys - a lesson that will be harder to break later on.

Cure the Habit of Scratching and Biting by Cats and Kittens

Okay, so you didn't learn your lesson the first time around. What do you do now when a couple of pats on your cat's tummy are rewarded with bloody scratches? There are a few things you can do to distance yourself from these play attacks:

  • Trim His Claws
    Hey, Rome wasn't built in a night, and it will take some time to retrain your cat. Meanwhile, you might as well protect yourself from damage. Claw trimming should be done regularly, anyway. There is no need ever to declaw a cat because of scratching behavior. Here is a detailed step-by-step instruction for trimming your cat's claws.
  • Use Soft Claws
    (Or Soft Paws - the same product as sold by veterinarians.) Soft Claws are plastic "Nail Caps" for cats, which take the sting out of scratching and minimize damage to furniture.
  • Yell "Ouch"
    Don't scream it, but say "Ouch" loudly and clearly. While you have your cat's attention, slowly remove your hand from his clutches. Don't yank it away or he'll think play is on, and he'll grab it again. Instead, gently push your hand against the cat, then pull your hand away.
  • Give Him "Time-Out."
    You can either leave the room or take him to a small quiet room and leave him there with the door closed. He may just be overstimulated and in need of some quiet recovery. Open the door after 15 minutes. If he is asleep, which is often the case, leave him alone for awhile. If he is awake, he may be needing some loving attention. Forget the play for now - just pet him and tell him how loved he is.
  • Redirect His Attention
    Often playful biting of hands or feet occurs simply because your cat is bored, and is looking for a play object. Give him 15 minutes of active play with an interactive toy. Da Bird is a great choice. For two years it has defended its position as the top interactive toy as well as the top overall toy in my Top Picks. Alternatively, try a laser-beam type toy that kittens can chase and pounce on, or even one of those "gloves" with very long dangling "fingers."
  • "Scruff the Cat"
    This is one of the most effective forms of discipline of cats, but should only be used as a last-minute resort. It mimics the punishment given a kitten by his mother when he became unruly. Grasp him by the scruff of the neck and firmly push him down toward the floor, while saying "No!" in a firm tone of voice. Hold him in this position for only three or four seconds and release. You will see and feel him visably relax. Chances are, he'll slink away, thoroughly chastened, to bathe and recover his dignity. But he'll remember this lesson for a long time.

Once you've taught both yourself and your cat that hands are not toys, your play sessions should be more enjoyable for both of you.

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