How to Stop Kittens From Scratching and Biting

Help Your Kitten Learn Safe, Gentle Play

Close-Up Of Woman With Kitten
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Kittens love to play, but when they become overexcited they often scratch and bite. This behavior is natural to kittens and is not a sign of anger (most of the time). It can, however, become a serious problem—especially when your kitten's playmate is a young child. Fortunately, in most cases, it's fairly easy to tame fierce kittens and avert this behavior.

Check to Be Sure Your Kitten Is Not Angry or in Pain

In most cases, kittens scratch and bite in play. Occasionally, though, scratching and biting can be a sign that your kitten is frightened, angry, or in pain. To be sure this is not the case:

  • If someone other than yourself is complaining about the kitten's behavior, watch to see the interaction between that person and the kitten. Some young children are not yet able to understand that they can hurt a pet, and may be inadvertently playing too roughly.
  • Avoid touching your kitten's paws and stomach. While some kittens are comfortable with being touched on any part of the body, others are protective of these vulnerable spots.
  • Examine your kitten gently by petting it all over. If it responds negatively to a gentle touch in a certain location, there's a good chance it's been injured. If that's the case, a trip to the vet is in order.
  • Be sure that your kitten's behavior is not related to something that it finds frightening. For example, is it scratching only in certain rooms, with certain people, or around certain animals? If that's the case, you may wish to investigate the source of the kitten's fear.

Hands Are Not Toys and Cats Are Not Dogs

When kittens scratch and bite, it's likely that they've been encouraged to do so at some point. This is especially common if you or your children are accustomed to playing with a puppy. It is very important that you do not "roughhouse" with your kitten in the manner you might use with a dog. Playing rough with your kitten will teach him that hands are toys, a lesson that will be harder to break later on. Try substituting cat toys for your fingers when you're rough-housing, and save your fingers for gentle petting. 

Cure Your Kitten's Scratching and Biting Habit

You've checked and are sure your kitten's biting and scratching is not a sign of any physical problem, you've minimized rough-housing with your bare hands, but you're still winding up with kitten scratches and nips. Here are some tips for managing the problem and training your kitten to stop this behavior:

Trim His Claws

Claw trimming, unlike declawing, does not injure your cat and should be done regularly. Do not use scissors or nail clippers designed for humans; instead, purchase a clipper designed for cats.

Yell "Ouch"

Don't scream it, but say "Ouch" loudly and clearly. While you have your cat's attention, slowly remove your hand from his clutches. Don't yank it away or he'll think the play is on, and he'll grab it again. Instead, gently push your hand against the cat, then pull your hand away.

Give Him "Time-Out"

You can either leave the room or take him to a small quiet room and leave him there with the door closed. He may just be overstimulated and in need of some quiet recovery. Open the door after 15 minutes. If he is asleep, which is often the case, leave him alone for awhile. If he is awake, he may be needing some loving attention. Forget the play for now: just pet him and tell him how loved he is.

Redirect His Attention 

Often playful biting of hands or feet occurs simply because your cat is bored, and is looking for a play object. Give him 15 minutes of active play with an interactive toy. Da Bird or other teaser toys are a great choice. Alternatively, try a laser-beam type toy that kittens can chase and pounce on, or even commercially available "gloves" with very long dangling "fingers."

Once you've taught both yourself and your cat that hands are not toys, your play sessions should be more enjoyable for both of you.