While a kitten’s gentle nibbles may seem cute at first, biting can turn into a seriously bad habit. In kittens, biting is learned from playing and interacting with others in the litter. In this case, the idea is not to hurt, but is rather a form of mock sparring or play-hunting that helps kittens bond with their siblings and with their mothers. In the first two weeks to a month, kittens tend to bite very gently, and are unlikely to sink their teeth in unless they feel threatened.
As cats get older, biting is often a sign of fear or anger. It’s important not to tease your cat, or encourage them to retaliate, as this is more threatening and irritating than fun. It will make them use biting to signal a need for space or distance (can you blame them?).
Play-fighting (without the use of toys) only encourages your cat to engage with you aggressively. If a cat bites your hand or foot, it’s best not to engage. This deters them from thinking you’ll engage in games which involve biting. One of the best ways to do this is to stop touching your cat immediately if they bite you. Just walk away and remove eye contact.
When they’re too rough, tell them
Another tactic is to say ‘Ouch!’ loudly whenever your cat bites you (even if it isn’t sore). When cats play with each other and one of them cries out, it signals that the play has gotten too rough. So by vocalizing when your cat hurts you, you can help them learn the difference between play and too-rough-play.
Under absolutely no circumstances should you ever retaliate to a bite with physical punishment – this will only make your cat scared of you and the biting will continue as a form of self-defense.
When playing with your cat, always use a toy instead of your feet or hands. Toys can be great wrestling partners for cats and are a great alternative for them to redirect their extra energy toward. Cats that don’t have other cats to play with can benefit from having a stuffed animal close to their own size as a ‘play mate’.
Is something wrong?
If biting or aggression are new behaviours for your cat, this could be indicative of another underlying issue such a physical pain or discomfort. Generally, this kind of troubled biting is accompanied by low growling, flattening of the ears and in serious cases, even some hissing. If you’re worried, take your cat to the vet to have them assessed, in case something is seriously wrong.