How to Stop Aggression in Kitten Play

kitten playing with toy
Benjamin Torode/ Moment/ Getty Images

Cat aggression and cat attacks can be either predatory or play aggression, and both behaviors can look identical. These behaviors in cats can range from minor to severe scratching and bites, for example. Although these actions are far from fun and games for pet owners, this type of behavior is normal for cats and kittens.

Both play aggression and predatory aggression include distinct body language: any combination of stealth, silence, alert stance, hunting postures, and lunging or springing at "prey" that moves suddenly after being still. Owners are typical play aggression targets of singleton kittens. Nearly any type of movement, from walking to picking up an object, triggers the behavior. What begins as "play" can tip over into dangerous aggression, bites, and outright attacks when the kitten or cat becomes aroused.

Causes of Cat Aggression and Attacks

Most cat aggression is caused by fear. However, there are additional reasons for cat aggression and attacks, such as redirected aggression, which is when cats lash out at their owner when sensing something is off. Pet induced aggression may also occur when the cat is feeling uncomfortable or agitated, resulting in possible twitching, meowing, or tail swatting. Territory, maternal insecurity, and pain are some other reasons for this type of behavior in cats.

Targets of Play Aggression

The hands and feet of pet owners are the most typical targets. However, predation directed toward human infants or smaller pets represents the greatest danger. This happens with adult cats that trigger to the motion or sound that reminds them of prey, and "switches on" the hunt behaviors.

The over-the-top play is normal. Hand raised kittens and those weaned early are more likely to engage in this type of behavior. They are known to terrorize shy cats, bully smaller kittens, and pester geriatric felines, in addition to targeting owners. Youngsters usually outgrow the behavior by nine months or so, and confident adult cats usually put these obnoxious felines in their place.

7 Ways Owners Can Stop Cat Play Aggression

  1. Provide safe areas where the picked on felines won't be molested, such as high perches or separate rooms.
  2. Place a bell on the attack cat to warn victims in time to escape, and so the behavior can be interrupted and stopped.
  3. Hissing from an aerosol, a water gun, citronella sprays, and other interruptions may stop the attack cold. Experiment to find what works best.
  4. A leash and harness can be attached to the cat for control and interruption of undesirable behavior. Simply stepping on the end of the leash can stop pets in their tracks.
  5. Play interactive games with all cats to burn off energy. One tip is to move toys perpendicular to the line of sight across cats' field of vision, rather than toward or away from them, to spark the greatest interest. Interactive play encourages confidence in shy cats so they can learn manners.
  6. Create a regular routine that includes specific play times, so the cats learn to expect fun interactive times.
  7. A second kitten of the same age, size, and temperament provides a legal target and playmate, as well as teaching bite and claw inhibition. Be sure to properly introduce the pair.