To stop a kitten biting you need to keep them entertained, happy and remove all their nippy incentives. Punishment won’t help and will only potentially damage your growing bond, so it’s important to know what to do when your cat comes at you all teeth and jaws! Today I’ll share simple rules, tips and tricks to stop this upsetting behavior and help your cute baby kitty to stay calm and relaxed, as well as target their new hunting skills in a better direction!
- Why do kittens bite?
- How to stop them
- True aggression in kittens
- Where are you being bitten? From faces to fingers!
- Do’s and Don’ts of bite training
A Common Real Life Problem
”I’m having problems with my kitty. He is about four 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’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.”Anonymous online query
I recently came across this post while conducting research on kitten behavior. Despite how cute and innocent kittens appear, I realized 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!
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 address some of the questions posed by many owners on different forums. Such as these:
“Why is my four-month-old kitten biting me?”
“How to get a kitten to stop biting”
“Do kittens grow out of biting?”
We’ll also look at how a kitten’s background and development influences biting behavior. As well as whether cat bites are dangerous.
Why Do Kittens Bite?
To answer this question, it’s important to understand some things about the development and background of our kittens. Our domestic kitties evolved from desert-dwelling wild cats. Those cats were anatomically designed to hunt and kill prey with maximum efficiency!
Included in their armory are razor-sharp teeth. Teeth that are used for performing the death bite, shearing flesh from bone and 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 two weeks of age. At around three and a half to four months old, their baby teeth start to be replaced by permanent adult teeth.
This happens relatively quickly so that by about six to seven months of age all 30 adult teeth are in place. Cats have four types of teeth, which are differentiated by their shape and position in the jaw. Each type plays an important role.
Four Types of Teeth
Incisors are the small teeth at the front of the mouth, and they are used to grasp and hold prey in the mouth. Canines 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 are behind the upper and lower canines. Cats have six pre-molars at the top and four at the bottom. They are used for chewing. Molars are located behind the pre-molars and are also used for chewing. There are two molars in the upper jaw and two in the lower, one on each side. Both pre-molars and molars have sharp cutting edges. Unlike humans, when cats chew it’s more of a cutting action rather than grinding.
This explains 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 – Consider Personality
The personality of all cats is a combination of genetics and environmental learning. 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 social skills. One of the ways they do this is through play.
Social play starts at around four weeks of age and continues until 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 two to seven of their lives (known as the Socialisation Period) has a significant impact on the behavior we can expect from those 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 kitten’s body, holding her, talking to her and playing with objects.
By the way, object play doesn’t include any part of our own bodies! The best practice for kitten socialization also includes positive experiences with different types of people as well as other animals.
Can Kittens Be Aggressive?
Before we discuss how a kitten’s experiences during its first few weeks might influence its 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 often used to describe cats who react in a hostile way towards us and/or other species. But, this label is an injustice to our feline friends. Aggression in cats is an entirely normal emotional reaction to fear, anxiety and frustration. It’s also appropriate behavior related to play, predatory behavior and maintenance of territory.
Additionally, aggression may be behavior learned as a kitten to control situations or deter unwanted attention. Your cat is not being spiteful! I’ve already mentioned that for kittens, playing roughly with each other comes naturally 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. When we allow them to grab and hold our hands in their paws and rake furiously with their hind legs, we reinforce behavior that we’ll want to stop later.
If we allow it, the kitten will continue until exhausted and learn nothing about acceptable behavior. And, we will have unwittingly created a future feline thug who thinks it’s fun 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 labeled ‘aggressive’ and taken to behaviorists or even rehomed.
Is Kitten Biting a Phase?
The short answer is yes, it can be a phase. As well as kittens’ play-biting, another reason they bite is due to teething. This occurs when a kitten’s baby teeth begin to erupt at around two weeks of age and then again when those teeth are replaced by adult teeth at around three and a half months.
As with human babies, teething can be painful and cause kittens to bite and chew to ease the pain and discomfort. By around seven months, all adult 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 to how to stop a kitten biting.
Kitten Face Biting
“Help! My kitten keeps biting me on my face!”
This is worrying, but it’s not an 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 on you, licks your face and then takes a nip!
This could simply be his way of getting your attention. When you respond, the kitten learns that face biting is a successful strategy. It may 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. Be sure you’ve provided him with a comfortable bed elsewhere along with plenty of toys. So, making the situation less likely to occur and distracting them are the best ways to start. We’ll look at other options in more detail shortly.
Kitten Finger Biting
When you have a biting kitten and your fingers are the target, it’s probably because he’s 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 from the start. That 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 symptoms of teething.
Your kitten may be naturally confident or from a reactive breed. But, it could also be due to inappropriate socialization, teething or just bad habits. Any combination of the above could result in a kitten that bites everything and won’t stop.
Wall corners, plastic cables, cardboard boxes, plastic bags and electronic devices are all examples of things owners have complained about their kittens biting. In such cases, it’s wise to have a vet check out your kitten first. 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? Are you leaving him alone for long periods of time? Taking appropriate steps to safeguard against boredom and ensure 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 disappear by around one year of age. However, if bad habits have developed, the behavior may continue into adulthood. This is why the methods for how to stop a kitten biting are important.
Are Cat Bites Dangerous?
Incidents of penetrating wounds caused by your cat biting you are comparatively rare. Luckily for us, superficial wounds that don’t puncture the skin are the more common outcome of cat bites. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Wash, but don’t scrub, minor bites with soap and running water. If any redness, pain or swelling develops, see a doctor.
If a cat bite penetrates the skin causing bleeding, wash the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. See a doctor to determine if additional treatment is necessary.
Cats carry bacteria in their mouth, such as Pasteurella multocida, that can cause infection if not treated. This is particularly relevant for children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Another good reason to get your kitten into good habits.
How to Train a Kitten Not to Bite
We can’t change the fundamental character of our kittens, but we can modify their behavior in two ways. First, by making changes to how we interact with them. Second, 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 eight weeks of life, which is usually before we get them. So, unless we’re breeding our own kittens, what happens in this important phase is the hands of someone else.
Nonetheless, whatever habits they may have already formed, good or bad, we have a responsibility do our best by them. So, here are some do’s and don’ts on how to stop a kitten biting:
- Punish your kitten. Shouting, gesticulating, tapping their nose, spraying water on them, etc. will only make them anxious around you. In addition, they’re unlikely to connect your response with their biting. And, it doesn’t teach them anything about what constitutes acceptable behavior.
- Dance around in pain, shake your bitten body part and generally make a big hullabaloo. All this movement is likely to make you an even more alluring plaything.
- Wait until the pain of the bite has subsided before taking positive action. By that time, the moment is lost and your kitten has moved on to other fun things.
- Don’t allow your body parts to be part of a game with your kitten, ever.
- 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. Use your observations to preempt 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 excess energy and strengthen the bond between you.
- Reserve your hands for positive associations 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. Various toys specifically designed for this are available.
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:
• Larger toys that he can ‘kick and rake’
• Cardboard boxes or paper bags (handles removed) with something inside
• Cat Tunnels
• Scratching posts and climbing frames
And allowing him to hunt for his food by feeding kibble in puzzle feeders.
Redirect 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.
Ignore the behavior. If a bite happens silently walk away without making eye contact or showing any emotion. Stopping an instinctive “Ow!” may require wearing sturdy boot-slippers and/or gloves!
Your cat will soon learn that biting leads to a loss of your attention. Alternatively, carry him at arm’s-length and place him outside the room. After a ten minute time-out, allow him to return.
Be consistent in your approach and only reward good behavior. Have patience. Your kitten will outgrow this phase.
A recommendation that might work for some kittens is to get another one of approximately the same age so they can play with each other. However, there are no guarantees that they 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, some owners, like the one who posted the following, believe it’s 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.”Anonymous forum poster
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 to it appropriately.
Kittens need appropriate outlets for their normal predatory behaviors. Punishment doesn’t work, but withdrawing your attention helps teach your kitten how to interact with you.
Have you struggled with your kitten biting? Tell us about it in the comments.
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- Halls, V., “Fighting Tooth and Claw: Aggression Prophylaxis in Companion Cats.”
- Hennet, P., “Cavities and calculus…Undertaking thorough dental examinations in cats,” Journal of Veterinary Dentistry.
- Turner, D. C. & Bateson, P., The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour, 2000.