5 Tips to Tame Your Nippy, Swatting Kitten

Posted on July 18, 2014 under Cat Training and Behavior

an orange kittenBy Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a cat insurance and dog insurance agency.

Don’t let that minute size of your newly adopted kitten fool you. Your tiny tabby shares the same prey drive to stalk, chase and hunt as lions roaming in the jungle.

That’s why it is vital that you don’t initially dismiss your kitten’s playful love nips to your hand or ankle as merely playful love bites. Unchecked, her biting and paw swatting will intensify and could cause physical harm to you and your house guests. Deep puncture wounds from cats have landed people in hospitals to receive treatment for Cat Scratch Fever, a disease caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. Affected persons can develop skin lesions, fever, fatigue and in severe instances, systemic infections.

When you bring home your kitten, school her on what is acceptable play and interaction with people immediately. Here are five effective strategies designed to tone down your kitten’s desire to nip and claw people:

1. Be on the lookout for early feline attack signals. A kitten ready to attack does any or all of the following: tail lashing, ear flicking, dilated pupils, muscling tensing and hissing. That’s your cue to stop petting her to avoid being the target of her attack.

2. Keep paper wads in your pocket. If you spot your kitten lying in wait for you to pass her to ambush your ankles, toss a paper wad in front of you to pounce on it instead. This is a win-win for the both of you: your ankles are saved and your kitten gets to work her predatory instincts.

3. Re-channel your kitten’s prey drive toward cat toys. Offer her plenty of appropriate bouncing, fluttery and moving cat toys for her to chase and attack. The more the erratic movement, the better.

4. Keep your hands out of the play sessions. Never place your hand over your cat’s face in a friendly game of wrestling. And never physically hit your kitten for swatting or nipping because you could cause her to retaliate and want to bite more and harder. If she nips you during playtime, stand up and stop all interactions with her.

5. Work your cat’s brain and brawn. Provide food-dispensing puzzles to focus your feline’s energy on getting food and give her ample appropriate scratching surfaces (kitty condos, cat trees and corrugated cardboard) to hone her claws.

Bonus tip:  Clicker train your overly aggressive kitten toward more acceptable behaviors. One technique using the clicker involves teaching your kitten that it is far more rewarding to heed the cue to sit on a mat and receive a tasty treat than to stalk ankles.

Place a mat on the floor and call your kitten over to it. As soon as she steps on the mat, say “mat,” click and hand her a treat. Repeat several times. If she walks away, wait a few minutes and try again and only treat her when she complies by sitting on the mat.

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