So you just brought home your sweet new kitten. He looks at you with those big eyes beaming from that tiny face. You gently go in for a soft stroke, then BAM! He's got your hand in a sleeper hold. "Aaaw, he's trying to kill my hand," you might say, but just wait a month or two. It's important to know how to stop play aggression in kittens while they are still quite pliable. What might seem darling now gets enormously painful when their claws get bigger, their bodies heavier, and their muscles stronger.
Let me begin here by making a statement that may seem obvious to you, but is a mistake that I see people making all of the time. Do not... I repeat... do not let your new kitten play with your hands. Your nimble, fleshy fingers don't look like anything they have seen in their tiny kitty lives, and thus, make for incredibly curious and enticing play things. You may be tempted to wiggle your hands at your cat. After all, it's funny to watch them do their little butt dance, then pounce on you. The problem with this is that they never learn that it's a bad thing. The result is that you end up with a full-grown cat that likes to hunt... well... you. This also applies to feet, so don't go wiggling your toes, either!
The How and What of Appropriate Play
The next obvious statement I'm going to make is to use toys. "Well, of course," you may be saying, but when it comes to learning how to stop play aggression in kittens, it is also important to learn about balance. For instance, in the likely event your kitten attempts to play with something you're using – say, snatching at your pen while you're doing your bills – your first reaction might be to hand him a toy. While it's true that you want to get him interested in something else, you first need to grab his attention, then let him know that he isn't being rewarded for his bad behavior. The correct chain of actions is to pointedly say "No!" Wait for him to get completely out of attack mode, then initiate play.
How you play and what you play with will typically depend on the types of behaviors your kitten engages in. Kitties that prefer to chew will often do well with teething-type toys. If he tries to gnaw on your fingers, simply hand him a plaything that will allow him to both grip and bite, thus releasing your fingers.
Wrestling matches are one of the main ways kittens play with each other. That said, one the best ways to avoid a feline smack-down with your feet is to "wrestle" with him via a large, fluffy toy rubbed against his belly. Once he gets the hint that the toy is meant to be played with, he will usually grab hold and begin his play fight away from your delicate digits.
Hunting is also a common type of aggressive play, which usually continues well into adulthood. If your kitten likes to pop out from dark corners, then attack your shins, a quick but firm "No!" will usually get his attention. Positive reinforcement really helps in this sort of behavior. If your kitten comes around the corner, but does not go for the ankles, praise him and give a nice scratch as a reward for being a good little fellow! Surprise attacks aren't the only hunting method for cats, however. In order to satisfy this instinctual need, it is a good idea to stock up on a variety of toys like teasers, fake rodent and birds toys, as well as pet-safe laser pointers.
Working With Adult Cats
All of these methods also apply to older cats; however, while kittens typically play aggressively because of inexperience and an overabundance of energy, mature cats may also "act out" due to simple boredom. In this case, a basic pole toy or squeaky mouse may not be enough. If your adult or shelter cat is playing a little too rough, be sure to keep his environment exciting. Window and wall perches, multi-leveled cat trees, tunnels, and soft-sided enclosures are all excellent ways to create a more stimulating setting for your cat. Feeders, puzzles boxes and balls may also alleviate some of the doldrums. These provide both physical and mental stimulation, thus keeping your cat busy, entertained and calm – the result being less bites and scratches for you.
Knowing how to stop play aggression in kittens is one of the surest ways to ensure a calm, harmonious household in the future. If, however, you've taken in a mature kitty who has learned some bad habits, no need to worry. With love, patience, and just a little bit of training, the new member of the house can learn to adapt and fit right in!
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