The Cure for Playful Aggression and
can take the cat out of the jungle, but we can't
take the jungle out of the cat. There is a little
tiger in every house cat, a solitary predator that
needs to exercise his or her hunting skills on a
regular basis. We may have confined this little
tiger within four walls, provided it with the finest
of feline foods, but we can't ignore basic needs
to do what they are so perfectly designed to do,
hunt. Fortunately, it is not necessary for the prey
to be alive, but it must move.
cats and kittens often frighten guardians because
they look quite dangerous. They silently ambush
feet and ankles as they pass by, surprising, upsetting
and sometimes even hurting the victim. In some cases
the guardians have inadvertently trained their cat
to be a feline terrorist by playing with them as
a kitten using their hands or feet. When the companion
animal is bigger and stronger, those playful pounces
and bites puncture the skin. The solution is to
direct the cat's playful, predatory energies toward
toys instead of body parts.
The easiest solution
may be to get another cat or kitten of the same
sex* and approximately the same age and activity
level as a playmate for your companion. Although
you will now have two mouths to feed, the wear and
tear on you and your home will be greatly reduced
or eliminated. If getting another cat is not possible,
then it will be your responsibility to provide your
feisty feline with scheduled sessions of controlled
Schedule two or three
(more, if necessary) interactive play sessions a
day for times when your cat is most rambunctious.
(Cats love routine, so try not to deviate from these
times.) Depending on how athletic your cat is, the
sessions may last 10-20 minutes each. A fishing
pole-type toy enables the guardian to be stationary
while controlling the cat's activity level with
a wave of the arm. (Some of the best commercially
sold toys for this purpose are the Kitty Tease,
Da Bird and the Cat Charmer.) The play sessions
should not stop until the cat is exhausted, lying
on his side and batting at the toy because he is
too tired to chase after it.
During the session,
make the toy move as would prey; a little mouse
or bird. Don't dangle it in the cat's face. It should
hide behind objects in the house and occasionally
jump into the air. Build up your cat's confidence
and enthusiasm by allowing plenty of "captures."
Fishing pole toys should be carefully stored out
of the cat's reach after the play session as your
cat may continue to hunt for it long after you have
left the room.
There are times when
your cat may want to play when you are not available.
In these cases, it is important to have a variety
of safe, interesting toys to keep your cat occupied.
Be sure that the toys do not have parts that can
be torn off and swallowed or long strings in which
your cat can become entangled. The Peek a Prize
Toy Box, made by SmartCat is a safe, durable toy
that keeps cats mentally stimulated. Just like people,
cats can get bored with the same toys, so be sure
to rotate the toys available every few days to maintain
As kittens mature,
the play patterns of male and females diverge. The
rough-and-tumble, pounce-and-play sequence of male
play behavior may not be appreciated by the female
when she is older and may be greeted with hiss-and-spit.
The Little Monster Still
Attacks You Playfully...
First of all, playful
attacks are not accompanied by vocalizations, hissing
and growling. A natural reaction to being grabbed
or bitten, even playfully, is to swat at the cat.
Don't do this! Physical punishment may cause your
cat either to fear you or to engage in even rougher
play. If your cat becomes afraid of you, you may
face a bigger problem, defensive aggression. If
the attack can be anticipated, a squirt from a water
gun, the noise of an audible alarm or a shaker can
(an empty soda can with pennies in it) may discourage
the behavior, if produced at the moment of the attack.
Timing is everything. If "fired" a second
or two after the incident, the deterrent will not
be connected with the attack in the cat's mind and
no training will take place, although the cat may
be frightened and confused.
Perhaps the best deterrent
is the one that is always at hand, one's voice.
A loud and shrill "Eek," followed by a
sharp "No!" can be very effective with
some cats. The next step is to shun the cat for
the next ten minutes. This means paying absolutely
no attention to the cat. Don't lecture or scold
the cat and don't pick him or her up to put them
in a separate room. Any attention at this point
can be reinforcing, so totally ignore the cat. This
is precisely the way a kitten learns to inhibit
his biting when playing with another kitten. If
one becomes a little too rough, the victim will
squeal and run away. The aggressor will watch his
playmate run away and wonder what happened. Eventually
he learns that if he wants to extend the play session
(which he always wants to do), then he will have
to be more gentle.
This training method
works well--if you are patient and consistent.
If you would
like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist
one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please
call 414-431-6173 to schedule a consultation.