Kittens begin to develop play behaviour at an early age, and this includes mastering the use of their sharp teeth and claws! Here we take a look at the basis for these play behaviours, and what you can do if your kitten’s play is a little overzealous!
Natural born hunter
Kittens begin to develop play behaviour at an early age, and this includes mastering the use of their sharp teeth and claws!
Young kittens love to stalk, chase and pounce. They also wrestle, bite and scratch their littermates and mother - all in the name of fun. This behaviour is helping the kitten learn the hunting behaviours that used to be essential for survival. Luckily, your kitten can now depend on you for their next meal, but their instincts run deep! In fact, your kitten's instinct to hunt is so strong that they'll do it even when they aren’t hungry.
Kittens learn to inhibit any overly aggressive behaviour while they are still with their littermates and mother. If play is too rough, a sibling or mum will let the offending kitten know by way of a growl or a well-placed swipe, and play might stop. Through this process, kittens learn to control aggressive behaviour.
Socialisation helps a kitten learn how to interact appropriately with humans and other animals. Kittens who are poorly socialised or handled roughly by people may develop behaviours that are aggressive and don’t learn to control their biting intensity.
Help! My kitten is biting and scratching me
While your kitten is young, all those little bites and scratches are really just playfulness. But if you find your kitten is coming on a bit too strong, try interrupting the game and ignoring them for a while.
If your kitten bites you, make a short sharp yelping sound. At the same time withdraw your attention from your kitten and ignore it. This shows your kitten that when they bite, the fun and play stops. When your kitten is calm, gently praise and reward them.
Make sure that you are consistent in how you interact with your kitten. Don't allow your kitten to play roughly with you so that you aren't encouraging biting and scratching behaviour.
Be mindful of the signals you (and others) send if you do play wrestle with your kitten. Don't let them nip or scratch you just because they're cute and small. They will grow and get bigger and stronger! It’s a good idea to encourage your kitten to wrestle with a toy, rather than you.
Thankfully, most kittens grow out of the aggressive stage and develop into lovely natured cats, more interested to smooch than to bite you.