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Aggressive Play in Cats

Hunting, stalking, and attacking are natural behaviors for cats and kittens.  During play, these behaviors are inevitable.  However, some kittens and cats have trouble determining how far to proceed with these actions.  As a consequence, they may play too roughly.

If your cat is playing more aggressively than you'd like, there are several steps to take.  The first is to offer a wide variety of safe toys.  This will allow your pet to vent some of its aggressive energy on inanimate objects, rather than on you.

Kittens, in particular, may have trouble distinguishing between play that is acceptible and play that is too aggressive.  Although some kittens outgrow this phase, it is important for owners to utilize behavior modification techniques to foster a pleasurable relationship.

Generally, when a kitten is playing too roughly, severe reprimands, squirting water at it, and physical retaliation are counterproductive.  These can escalate the level of play, and can make the problem worse.

Instead, set guidelines for what is acceptible behavior. Consistently try to keep all interactions with your pet within those guidelines.  It is important that you, rather than the cat, control the level of play.

In many instances, kittens and cats will give cues during play that they are getting agitated and may become aggressive. Common cues include a rapidly swishing tail, a crouching posture, or ears pinned back against the head.  Learn to recognize these cues, and disengage from your cat before it can begin playing too roughly.  One simple tactic is to leave the room. Alternatively, you can give your cat a "time out" for 10 or 15 minutes in a safe, but isolated, area.

By consistently setting a gentle tone of play, most cats learn appropriate boundaries. If your cat does not respond to these simple steps, consult with your veterinarian.

Copyright (c) Eric Barchas, DVM
The contents of this page are provided for informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.