Does your kitten bite your ankles? My cat Willie used to do this to people- mostly when my guests or sister would come over to visit. Willie would lay in wait until the person walked by him, and then with no warning or provocation, he’d pounce and land on their feet with the clutching of his paws and the biting with his jaws. Ouchh! would cry my visitor. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I’d say time and time again. “I don’t know why he does that.” This happened, especially to my sister – whose shoes were enemy number one for Willie. He’d attack them with military precision and regularity. Willie’s been gone a long time now, and after researching and reading a lot about cats, I have a good idea of what that was about. If you’ve heard my story of how Willie came into my life, you’ll know I raised him from being a few days old. He never had a feline mother and no cat littermates. He grew up with cottontail rabbits. I was his mother. Listen to the story here – (episode 30, third segment, timestamp: 34:55.)
Normally, a cat spends his first 2-3 months with his mother and siblings, and spends a lot of time play-fighting, and pretend hunting. His mother and littermates, teach the kitten the rules of cat etiquette, when it’s being too rough, when the play is getting out of paw, and when it’s time to stop all the nonsense.
Mom will discipline kitty with quick sharp, nips and the siblings will stop playing, if the kitty gets out of control. This way the kitten learns what is and what is not acceptable behavior. I did not know this. I was not a total loss at teaching rules. I did teach Willie not to jump on counters, to drop that chipmunck in its mouth and to come to me when I called even it he was outside on an adventure. I just didn’t know about teaching bite control.
Did you get a kitten when they were just a few weeks old? Many times, kittens are taken away from their mothers too soon and they did not have the time to learn to control the rough housing that the mother would have taught. So then, if you have a young 6 week old kitty, when they play fight with you, of course, their tiny little teeth and claws don’t bother you too much as they chew on your feet and hands, and we tend to ignore it. How would we know that a real cat mother would discourage it! We don’t – and to the kitten, when we let them do this, without realizing it, we are teaching them that nipping and scratching is allowed. Then as they grow bigger and their claws and teeth get stronger, those ambushes and bites start hurting a lot more and they are capable of drawing blood, as I can attest to from Willies’ surprise attack missions. A kitten can even start to associate someone with fighting behavior, and so the sight of them can trigger the prey drive and an attack. After all your feet and ankles are highly attractive moving targets.
I think this is what happened with my sister and her feet. Every time she came over, it became a habit. There was Willie, latching on to her shoes with his teeth as she came in the doorway. Then he’d break away a bit as she walked into the living room, circling to get the best angle for the next launch and grab as she slowly made her way to sit down. It was all great fun or a threat or who knows what was really in his mind. But as his mom, I had never redirected him away from this continual onslaught.
So, when you have a kitten and it is biting you, be the mom! Teach your kitty to control its bite. Kittens that are allowed to bite when young, are much more prone to bite when they are older. Being a cat mother and practicing discipline can be trying but start teaching them right away.
Every time your kitten bites, look at her and say “no”. You don’t have to yell or shout. Say it quietly, calmly yet firmly. If you do yell in anger, your kitten will just run away, scared, and you’ll lose the teaching moment.
If she does not stop, either tap her on the nose or place your hand on her head and hold her somewhat tightly which is similar to what the mother would do when she immobilizes the kitten with her paw.
When your cat stops biting, praise her in a gentle voice. You will get many chances to practice this often. Just like human babies, kitties like to bite and mouth things.
When your cat is very excited and seems about to bite, stop all your movement because any moving will just excite her further.
And what can you do when your cat has a hold of you and is ripping up your ankles or your arm? First, if your cat has its paws wrapped around you and its teeth are sinking into your skin, do not pull away or run. Gently push your leg or arm towards his mouth and then keep still. This movement confuses the cat and causes him to release the grip. Once he lets go, continue to stay still and ignore him until he moves away. You are teaching that biting flesh is an immediate end to the fun.
Finally, make sure you are giving the cat enough other, external stimulation – plenty of opportunity to play with and hunt things – that are not you. I know you know this, but you’ve got to play with your cat – they need to burn energy – so engage your cat with interactive play sessions twice a day. Get them moving with the stick or pole type toys that you swish around that have the fake bug, bird or mouse at the end.
Raising Your Paws Podcast Episode 34 – Full Show Notes.
Title: Stories of Dogs with Very Special Jobs –Helping People with Disabilities & How Gazing into one Another’s Eyes Is Good Chemistry for You and Your Dog.
Is there such a thing as good chemistry with a dog? Science is proving that both you and your dog’s brain chemistry is changed for the better by certain interactions. Find out which chemicals are involved and when this happens.
Does your dog fetch your newspaper for you? Wait until you hear what specially trained dogs can do to help individuals living with challenges, such as hearing loss or childhood autism. Alan Peters, the executive director of Can do Canines, an organization that provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities, tells stories of people’s lives that are transformed by these dogs.
Does some of your cat’s behavior baffle you? In this “Why the cat does that” fun facts feature, you’ll hear the answers to why your cat makes a chattering sound when seeing birds out the window, why your cat gets the zoomies – running around like crazy at times and why your cat sticks his rear end up in the air and raises his tail near you when you pet him.
We’d like your feedback. Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on the podcast and if there is anything in particular you’d like to hear in future episodes. Thank you.
Resources for the Episode:
Source for the story: Chemistry with your dog: How Dogs Think: Inside the Canine Mind. Time Special Edition