Cat Behavior

How to Stop Play Aggression in Cats

Aggression in Cats

Getting Your Cat to Play Nicely 

One of the things that people love the most about their cats is how playful they are. However, that play of theirs can often involve a reasonable bit of aggression.

It’s helpful to remember that cats are predators, and this is reflected in a lot of their play activities. According to the ASPCA, this behavior is most common in kittens and cats under two years old.

Although play aggression isn’t malicious, it is something you want to curb somewhat early. This type of assault is the type that cat owners are most likely to encounter with their pets, finding those teeth and claws a bit painful. One question that many cat owners have about aggressive behavior during play is how to best put a stop to it.

In short, the best ways to stop play aggression are to give your cat plenty of play time and discourage attacking peoples’ feet and hands.

The Forms of Play Aggression 

Feline play aggression takes several forms that include biting and scratching. This type of behavior has its roots in predatory instincts that are a major part of the cat’s instincts.

These activities help kittens refine their hunting skills, as well as learn how to sheathe their claws and control biting.

Hitting and swatting are common behaviors that often seem entirely harmless for cat owners. In most cases, actions are harmless.

However, some cats lack control and will hit or swat with their claws out. This type of behavior, if left unchecked, can result in painful scratches that might end up infected.

Biting is also likely with certain types of stimulation. Playing with a cat, especially a younger one, in ways that mimic the movements of certain types of prey, might encourage him or her to bite. If you play too roughly and they feel that using their claws won’t be sufficient, they might decide to use their teeth.

Although stalking, chasing and pouncing are behaviors that seem cute, these can get out of hand with energetic cats, according to Debra Hortwitz.

Chasing is one way that a lot of cats end up inadvertently tripping their owners. When felines pounce, they can cause injury if they scratch or bite someone in the face.

How Play Aggression is Different From Other Aggression 

Redirected aggression or territorial aggression is different from play aggression, according to Hill’s Pet. Redirected aggression occurs when a cat cannot take its frustration out on an aggressor, so attacks the owner or other pets.

Territorial aggression is directed against another person or animal that they see as invading their personal space.

Even though these other types of aggression have different motivations from play aggression, unchecked play aggression or inappropriate responses to it can develop into other forms of attack.

Knowing how to both prevent play aggression and correct the behavior in a gentle way are essential. You want to make sure you retain a good bond with your pet and know how to modify his or her response is one way to accomplish that goal.

Providing Enough Healthy Play Time 

A lot of cats receive little play time and end up bored because of the lack of stimulation. Felines often get rid of the pent-up energy through rambunctious play. In the absence of another cat to play with, your pet is likely to initiate the same type of play with you that they would with their kind.

The only problem with this type of play is that it often results in injuries for the person who ends up being the object of their sport. This rough play is also a situation you want to avoid if you have children.

You need to find a healthy balance between respecting a cat’s odds of being more active at night and making sure you have a chance for them to play that works for your needs.

When is Play Aggression a Problem? 

Play aggression that gets a bit out of control is common in kittens and young cats, according to Pam Johnson-Bennett who haven’t learned to control their behavior.

An increase in this behavior often coincides with kittens developing stronger hunting instincts. However, when an adult cat plays too rough, this can be a sign of aggression issues that need to be checked.

An adult cat who plays too aggressively may have been poorly socialized as a kitten or been taken away from the mother too soon. When your cat missed out on the chance to learn how to play like a kitten, it’s up to you to help guide him or her into more appropriate behavior. Making some changes to how you play with your pet can make a difference.

Discouraging Painful Attacks with Toys   

One of the biggest mistakes that many cat parents make is teasing their pet with their hands and feet, which effectively shows play aggression at work.

These behaviors trigger cats’ prey instincts, making them more likely to scratch or bite. If they associate your hands and feet moving with play, they are more likely to do attack when they see them moving.

Cats that like to bite or swat peoples’ hands and feet can be broken of this habit, but it takes a little bit of effort. You need to make sure your pet isn’t rewarded for undesirable behavior.

Otherwise, they’ll be encouraged to continue the behavior, which can prove a problem for very young or old members of your family more vulnerable to injury.

Instead of using your hands and feet, offer an appropriate toy. Your cat will associate the toy with play, instead of seeing your body parts in this manner.

The most important takeaway that your pet will get from this is that biting and scratching their human family members is not okay.

One Type of Toy to Avoid 

As tempting as they might seem, avoid buying gloves that have cat toys attached. Even though they have cat toys attached, they still encourage contact with your hands. Your cat will only become confused if you use these gloves, but then discourage them from biting or scratching your bare hands.

Toys that are on lines or ropes with a wand are an excellent way to encourage play without being bitten or scratched.

These types of toys provide appropriate stimulation, without adverse effects from triggering aggressive behavior. Many of these toys are easy for a cat to engage with even when you’re not right in the room with them.

Toys You Should Buy 

A variety of different toys your cat can try out usually work out quite well. Lighter balls or toy mice are usually winning choices for most cats. Consider putting new toys at the opening of a paper bag or on a perch or windowsill to draw more attention.

In addition to wand-style toys mentioned previously, interactive toys designed to encourage independent exploration are also useful for keeping your cat happy.

If you can plan for 15 minutes of playtime twice a day, you’ll go a long way towards keeping your furry friend happy. Adding a little extra playtime each day can help correct any shortcomings in your bond.

Don’t Play Too Roughly

Cats aren’t big enough to withstand the types of wrestling that you would do with a large dog. Your difference in size will make the cat treat you more like an adversary than a friend. Playtime with your cat should be fun for both of you, not something that causes distress.

Another ill consequence of wrestling with your cat is defensive behavior, which can fuel aggression. You want your cat to associate time spent with people with good times, not an unpleasant experience. Keeping their playtime fun will help strengthen their bond with you.

What to Do If You Get Bitten 

Pulling away from the cat when you get bitten is the worst thing you can do. Their prey will usually pull away, and doing this will make him or her bite harder. Push towards the cat gently, so they lose their grip and get distracted.

Immediately cease all play with him or her. Moving away from the cat altogether or ignoring them for a few minutes teaches them that this is not acceptable behavior. He or she will associate your response with an end to play.

Never Use Corporal Punishment 

Throwing, tossing, shaking or hitting are all behaviors you should avoid when your cat misbehaves. Your pet is likely to become afraid of you and start growing defensive. Cats that develop aggression because of abuse are unlikely to move forward and will mistrust humans.

Another ill effect from physical punishment of a cat is reactive behavior. Cats who are reactive can cross the line into more aggressive action. Using positive disciplines has a better effect and is less likely to make your cat mistrust you.

One of the best ways to deal with aggressive behavior is to be prepared to stop it in progress. For example, if your cat chases and pounces on you while you’re walking by, keep a few small toys on hand. Toss the toys for the kitty to swat at or chase to distract them.

Another thing you can do to stop bad behavior on your cat’s part is to carry a spray bottle or a can of compressed air around. Most cats hate getting wet, and the sudden spray of water will distract them.

The compressed air is a diversion from whatever bad behavior the cat is engaging in, and they will learn to take the hissing noise as a cue not to continue the bad behavior.

Giving Your Cat a Better Environment 

Boredom is often a serious issue among indoor cats with owners who work long hours. One way to make things more interesting for inside cats is to provide cat perches or trees near windows so they can watch what’s going on outside, as well as have fun climbing.

If you have multiple cats in the household, multiple elevated areas help them feel as though they have more personal space.

Places, where your cat can nap in greater privacy or hide, will help curb overall aggression, according to Best Friends Animal Society. Most cats enjoy checking out enclosures or boxes.

When you have more than one cat, several spaces like this can cut down on territorial aggression that might otherwise be taken out on others during play.

Picking the Right Time for Playtime 

The best time to schedule play for your cat is during times when they are more restless. An ideal schedule for many cat owners is to do one-morning play session before work and a night session when you’re home for the night. You’ll find it easier to avoid attention-seeking behavior that can turn into aggression.

Because cats tend to have nocturnal schedules, you might find your cat misbehaving when you’re trying to sleep. You can avoid this situation by doing the evening play session just before your bedtime. Be sure to give your furry friend something to eat so they’ll be set for the night.

When you’ve been playing with the cat, make sure they’ve been able to “capture” the toy on several occasions. He or she should have ample time to settle down, instead of having you stop the play very abruptly. If the cat’s still feeling energetic after play, he or she might be more likely to get involved in an aggressive play.

Less Play Aggression, Happier Owners and Cats 

When your cat avoids engaging in play aggression, you and the rest of your household will be a lot happier. Far too many cats end up in shelters because of behavioral and other issues, according to Dr. Marty Becker that is relatively easy to correct.

When play aggression is allowed without reservation, the chances of injury to human family members or other pets that results in surrender to a shelter increases.

Knowing why your cat might get play aggressive and taking steps to avoid and correct this will go a long way towards keeping everyone happy.