Welcome to our complete guide to how to stop a kitten biting.
Brought to you by expert Cat Behaviorist, Clare Hemington.
‘I’m having problems with my kitty. He is about 4 months old and EVIL! He scratches and bites me, sometimes by accident, but at other times I know it’s deliberate! He’s just so mean, a real DEVIL.’
I recently came across this post whilst conducting some research on kitten behavior.
Despite how cute and innocent kittens appear, I realised that this was obviously a very real and upsetting problem for her.
And let’s face it, we can’t get away from the fact that beneath the impossibly adorable exterior of our kittens there lies a future hunting and killing machine!
The post continued… ‘I’ve tried telling him off. I’ve picked him up by the scruff of the neck like a mother cat would do, looked him in the eyes and said ‘No!’ I would never hit him but if he doesn’t mellow out my next step will be to spray him with water.’
Unfortunately, this kind of disciplinary approach to a kitten biting hard isn’t uncommon. Although I genuinely believe that the person posting the comment, thought she was doing the right thing.
What it highlights is a lack of understanding of cat behavior and its motivations.
So, in this article, I’ll be addressing some of the questions posed by many owners on many forums.
Such as ‘why is my 4 month old kitten biting me?’; ‘how to stop a kitten biting’ and ‘do kittens grow out of biting?’
We’ll also look at how a kitten’s background and development might influence their appetite for biting. As well as finding out whether or not cat bites are dangerous.
My kitten keeps biting me…
So why do kittens bite? To answer this question, it’s important to understand a bit about the development and background of our kittens.
Our domestic moggies evolved from desert-dwelling wild cats, anatomically designed to hunt and kill prey with maximum efficiency!
Included in their armory are razor sharp teeth used for performing the death bite and shearing flesh from bone, as well as for defending themselves.
It’s not surprising therefore, that biting is one of the more commonly reported problems by cat owners! So, when do these weapons first appear?
Kittens teeth start to erupt shortly before 2 weeks of age.
At around 3½ to 4 months their baby teeth start to be replaced by permanent adult teeth.
This phase is relatively quick and by about 6 to 7 months of age, all 30 adult teeth are in place.
Cats have four types of tooth, differentiated by their shape and position in the jaw. Each type plays an important role.
Incisors. These are the small teeth at the front of the mouth, which are used to help grasp and hold prey in the mouth.
Canines. These are the long teeth positioned one on each side at the top and the bottom of the front of the mouth. They contain nerves that allow the cat to pinpoint the gap between the vertebrae of its prey so that it is killed quickly and painlessly.
Pre-molars. Cats have six pre-molars at the top and four at the bottom and these sit behind the upper and lower canines. They are used for chewing.
Molars. There are two molars in the upper jaw and two in the lower, one on each side. They are located behind the pre-molars and are also used for chewing.
Both the pre-molars and molars have sharp cutting edges4. So unlike humans, when cats chew it’s more of a cutting rather than grinding action.
Now we can understand why even the tiniest of teeth can produce a lot of pain! But what role does a kitten’s emotional development play in biting behavior?
How to stop a kitten biting should take into account their personality
The personality of all cats is a combination of both genetics and learning from the environment around them.
Traits such as friendliness, boldness and timidity may be inherited. But events that happen in the first weeks of life can have a huge impact on how a kitten develops behaviorally.
For example, the presence of littermates helps them to develop their social skills. One of the ways they do this is through play.
Social play starts at around four weeks of age and continues until around twelve to fourteen weeks.
This is an important activity as not only does it help them develop their predatory skills, it also enables them to start figuring out what they should do if they’re threatened by another predator.
An important aspect to social play is learning about bite inhibition.
If they bite their sibling a little too hard, or too frequently what happens? They get bitten back and they learn a vital lesson about acceptable boundaries.
How people interact with kittens, especially during weeks 2 to 7 of their lives (known as the ‘Socialisation Period’) has a significant impact on the type of behavior we can expect from our cats throughout the rest of their lives.
Appropriate handling when a kitten is in a positive emotional state is key.
By ‘appropriate’ we mean touching all parts of the body, holding, talking and object play.
By the way, object play doesn’t include any part of our own bodies!
Can Kittens Really Be Aggressive?
Before we discuss how a kitten’s experiences during its first few weeks might influence it’s behavior later on, it might be useful to find out what aggression is and whether there is such a thing as an aggressive kitten.
The term ‘aggressive’ is very often used to describe cats who react in a hostile way towards us and/or other species.
By applying this label, we’re doing our feline friends an injustice.
Aggression in cats is an entirely normal emotion related to fear, anxiety, frustration, play, predatory behavior and maintenance of territory.
It can also be a behavior learnt as a kitten to control situations or deter unwanted attention. It isn’t a cat being ‘spiteful’!
We’ve already mention that for kittens, playing roughly with each other comes naturally to them because they are honing their predatory and defense skills.
Unfortunately, when people play with kittens, we have a habit of reinforcing the more aggressive stuff, allowing them to grab hold of our hands in their paws, and rake furiously with their hind legs!
If at this point we don’t stop, the kitten will continue until exhausted and eventually stop, having learned nothing about acceptable behavior.
And we will have unwittingly created a future feline thug who will grow up thinking how much fun it is to ambush their owner, using adult claws and teeth to target our hands and feet!
The behavior might even be redirected onto people who visit the house. These cats are then labelled as ‘aggressive’ and end up being seen by behaviorists, or even being rehomed!
Is there a kitten biting phase?
As well as kittens’ play-biting, another reason why they bite is to do with teething.
This occurs when kittens’ baby teeth begin to erupt at around 2 weeks of age, as well as when these teeth are replaced by adult teeth between at around 3½ months.
As with human babies, this can be painful and cause kittens to bite and chew to help ease the and discomfort. By around 7 months, all teeth are in place and the biting phase, caused by teething, ends.
Let’s take a quick look at some common ways kittens bite, before we move on in detail to how to stop a kitten biting
How to stop a kitten biting face
‘Help! My Kitten keeps biting me on my face!’
This is a worrying but not uncommon problem.
Quite often it happens when you’re lying down, in a non-threatening position. Just as you’re nice and relaxed, your kitten jumps onto you, licks your face then takes a nip!
This could simply be his way of getting your attention and when you respond, the kitten learns that face biting is a successful strategy! It might also happen if your face is too close to your kitten when you play with him.
For our own safety, as well as that of any visitors, children or babies, it’s a habit that can’t be allowed to continue.
If necessary keep your kitten out of the bedroom when you’re lying down, making sure you’ve provided him with his own comfortable bed elsewhere, along with plenty of toys.
So making the situation less likely to occur and distracting them are the best way to start. We’ll look at your options in more detail shortly.
Kitten biting fingers
When you have a biting kitten and your fingers are the target, it’s probably because he’s become used to having them made available to him as toys during play sessions. As already discussed, it’s vital to get your kitten into good habits, and this means only allowing him to play with cat toys or suitable objects around the house, not your hands or feet!
It’s also important not to allow kitty to suck on your fingers to alleviate any symptoms of teething!
Kitten biting everything
Your kitten might be naturally confident, or from a reactive breed, or he might have been inappropriately socialised, be going through teething or been allowed to develop bad habits.
Any combination of the above could result in a kitten that won’t stop biting – everything!
Wall corners, plastic cables, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, electronic devices are all examples of things owners have told me that their kittens have bitten.
In such cases, it’s wise in the first instance, to get your kitten checked out by a vet.
If he’s given a clean bill of health it’s time to take a good look at his environment. Does he have enough stimulation? Is he being left alone for long periods?
Taking appropriate steps to safeguard against boredom and ensuring he has appropriate toys or other objects to chew should help.
You can also deter him from biting inappropriate objects by coating them with bitter apple. The smell and taste may be enough to put him off.
When do kittens stop biting?
Biting behavior should gradually reduce over time and have disappeared by around one year of age.
However, if they’ve got into bad habits, they might carry the behavior into adulthood. This is why the methods for how to stop a kitten biting are important.
Are cat bites dangerous?
Incidences of penetrating wounds caused by your cat biting you are comparatively rare and luckily for us, superficial wounds that don’t puncture the skin are a more common outcome.
That doesn’t mean to say we can be complacent.
If a cat bite penetrates the skin, causing bleeding it’s time for us to visit our doctor.
Cats carry bacteria in their mouth such as Pasteurella multocida7 which can cause infection if not treated.
This is particularly relevant for children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Another good reason to get your kitten into good habits!
How to stop a kitten biting
We can’t change the fundamental character of our kittens, but we can modify their behavior in two ways.
By making changes to the way we interact with them, and by providing increased environmental enrichment.
Naturally it’s critical that we start this as early as possible, but for some of us this can be tricky.
Most of a kitten’s learning and development takes place during the first 8 weeks of life that is usually before we get them. So, unless we’re breeding our own kittens, what happens in this important phase is usually in the hands of whoever rears them.
Nonetheless, whatever habits they may have already formed, good or bad, we still have a responsibility do our best by them.
So here are some do’s and don’ts on how to stop a kitten from biting:
Don’t Be Tempted To…
Punish your kitten. Shouting, gesticulating, tapping their nose, spraying water on them etc will not only make them anxious around you, but they’re unlikely to connect your response with their biting. Nor does it teach them anything about what constitutes acceptable behavior.
Dance around in pain, shake your bitten body part and generally make a big hullaballoo. All this movement is likely to make you an even more alluring play thing!
Wait until the pain of the bite has subsided before taking positive action. The moment is lost and your kitten will have moved on to other fun things!
Allow your body parts to form part of a game with your kitten – ever!
How to stop a kitten biting tips
Learn how to read your kitten’s body language leading up to a bite, and get to know the situations in which he is most likely to ambush you.
This way you can pre-empt potential strikes.
Provide plenty of playtime for your kitten each day when he’s at his most active.
Use interactive toys that replicate natural feline behavior such as balls, laser pointers, knotted shoelaces or fishing rod toys with feathers on the end that he can chase and leap up to.
These will all help work off his excess energy, strengthen the bond between you and allow your hands to be associated instead with gentle stroking, holding and feeding.
Create a set of rules for interacting with your kitten and ensure everyone that comes into contact him follows them. This includes family members and visitors.
Give your kitten something to chew on if he is teething. There are various toys available specifically designed for this.
Best kitten toys
Provide plenty of things for your kitten to do when you’re not able to spend time with him. These can include:
• Cat Balls
• Cat Feather Toys
• Catnip Toys
• Larger toys that he can ‘kick and rake’
• Cardboard boxes and paper bags (handles removed) containing loose catnip or a toy
• Cat Tunnels
• Scratching posts and climbing frames
Allow him to hunt for his food by feeding kibble in puzzle feeders.
Re-direct your kitten’s energy onto something appropriate if you see him about to strike. A ball, toy or scrunched up piece of paper will positively interrupt the behavior and save your skin from attack.
Other ways to stop a kitten a biting
Ignore the behavior. If a bite happens silently walk away without making eye contact or showing any emotion.
He will soon learn that biting leads to a loss of your attention. Alternatively, he can be carried at arms’ length and placed outside the room. After a ten minute ‘time-out’, he can be allowed to return.
Stopping an instinctive ‘Ow!’ may require you to wear sturdy boot-slippers and/or gloves!
Be consistent in your approach and only reward good behavior.
Be patient. Your kitten will outgrow this phase.
A recommendation that might work for some kittens is to get another one of approximately the same age that they can play with. However, there are no guarantees that the cats will continue to get along once they have matured!
How to stop a kitten biting
When kittens bite they are not being ‘aggressive’ but performing behavior that helps them develop important survival skills.
Sadly, there are owners like the one who posted the following, that still believe it to be a deliberate and malicious act:
‘I make sure to hurt her as much as she did me. That seems like something she’ll certainly understand as retaliation for her aggression toward me.’
I can confirm that this is absolutely incorrect. Your kitten is not a little terror, she’s just being a kitten.
Experiences during the first few months of a kitten’s life are key in shaping its long-term behavior.
This is why it’s so important for us to not only learn what normal kitten behavior is, but to also understand how to respond appropriately to it.
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References and Further Reading
- The Cat – The Biology of its Behaviour. Dennis C. Turner & Patrick Bateson
- Introduction to Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology. Victoria Aspinall, Melanie Cappello
- Cat Communication – Sight, Sound and Touch. John Bradshaw.
- Cavities and calculus…Undertaking thorough dental examinations in cats. Philippe Hennet
- Bad Cats – A Difficult Kittenhood. Vicky Halls.
- Fighting Tooth and Claw – Aggression Prophylaxis in Companion Cats. Vicky Halls
Free Updates For Cat Lovers!
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