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Ouch! Domesticated cats haven’t outgrown their predatory instincts over the generations. Many a feline novice has learned this the hard way while nursing bites from their new kittens. The bad news is that it’s all but impossible to stop kittens from biting and nipping. The good news? This natural behavior is easy to control and making the effort can help you and your cat grow closer throughout their kitten years.
Why Do Kittens Bite?
Biting is standard (if occasionally unpleasant) behavior from kittens and cats. Depending on their age, health, and temperament, there are a number of reasons your cat may snap at your ankles or chew on your fingers.
As with human children, the process of losing primary teeth and growing permanent ones is generally a painful one. Your kitten’s first adult teeth begin coming in around eight weeks of age and continue to appear until they’ve aged around six or seven months. Throughout this period, some cats will soothe their aching gums on just about anything they can sink their teeth into.
They’re Just Curious
You’ve probably heard about how famously curious kittens can be. Nipping and biting is just one of the ways they exercise this curious impulse to better understand the world around them. Bite a toy, for example, and they hear an engaging squeaking sound. Bite at an insect and they may get stung. Both types of reactions teach a cat important lessons about how to appropriately interact with objects, people, and other animals.
Most kittens begin to playfully bite their littermates around three weeks of age. This play continues throughout their first several months, before becoming less common after sixteen weeks of age. By this point, cats should have learned from their mothers and siblings that bites are only acceptable up to a point. For kittens without siblings, aggressive biting behavior can persist far past the point of appropriateness. Bites from a six-month-old cat are far different than those from an infant kitten and it’s up to cat owners to discourage the behavior or provide an outlet. You might consider adopting another kitten to provide a playmate who’ll appreciate nips and bites more than you will.
They Want Your Attention
Sometimes a negative reaction is better than nothing. When your cat is lacking for stimulation and affection, they may act out and bite in hopes of getting your attention. If your cat is unperturbed by negative reinforcement, it’s possible that their environment isn’t providing all the engaging sights, sounds, and smells that they should be.
They’re Sick or Unhappy
Repetitive, destructive behaviors like biting could point to a more serious underlying issue. Kittens suffering from pest infestations may compulsively bite at their fur and pets with cuts or scrapes will occasionally bite at the sights of their injuries. Your vet’s guidance will prove especially useful if the cause is not immediately obvious.
Stop Your Kitten From Biting
You won’t convince your cat to cut biting out of their repertoire entirely, but you can discourage excessive and destructive behavior with a little extra effort.
Use Vocal Cues
Interrupting your kitten as soon as they chomp down with a firm vocal cue is often enough to both make them recoil and begin to associate the behavior with negative reactions. For cats under 4 months of age, experts recommend imitating a mother cat with a short hissing sound. Older cats may respond to a louder yelp or shriek. Beware, however, that shrieking sounds may scare an especially young cat and promote more aggression.
Avoid Encouraging Bad Behavior
Jerking away from bites or running for another room may not have the intended effect. Though you’d consider these behaviors to be negative reactions, your cat is unlikely to interpret them the same way. Instead, they might believe that you’re playing with them and encouraging their behavior. As unpleasant as it may be, you’re better off gently applying pressure as your cat bites down. This along with vocal cues should encourage them to loosen their bite and recognize your displeasure.
Offer Another Target
Cat lovers can keep biting at bay by redirecting their pets to more appropriate targets instead. During the height of your kitten’s teething days, use durable chew toys and plushes to divert them away from your hands, ankles, and furniture. Make sure to praise them for the good behavior as they chew and gnaw away.
Your Veterinarian Can Help
If you’re gritting your teeth trying to address your cat’s new biting habit, reach out to your veterinarian for support. In addition to identifying the underlying cause (ruling out serious conditions, if necessary), they can help you discourage bad behaviors while building a strong bond.