by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Biting and scratching are normal activities cats use to defend themselves – when they turn these behaviours on us it is not so nice! There are a number of common reasons that may apply in part or in full to any situation.
Kittens learn from their mother and litter mates how much biting and scratching is acceptable. This training takes place up to 12 weeks’ of age, so kittens who are not brought up with other kittens and an adult cat have not completed their lessons! Gentle and correct handling is also important at a young age so there is less fear of human contact. Cats who have not been exposed to this initial training are often difficult to handle and bite and scratch.
Rough play using your hands and feet encourages kittens and cats to be rough in return. We are many times larger and stronger than they are, their only defence is their teeth and claws. Hunting and chasing games can get out of hand if the cat becomes overstimulated and cannot catch the toy ‘prey’.
Cats that are in pain, injured, cornered or fearful will bite to protect themselves from further pain or attack. They feel vulnerable and the best method of defence is attack. Deaf or blind cats can be frightened by sudden movements and noises that were not anticipated.
Certain breeds of cats are more highly-strung than others and are more likely to bite in the excitement of a game or petting session. Individuals within a breed will have different personalities and reactions to a situation.
There is a fine line between pleasurable petting and annoyance. Many cats love to be stroked, scratched and tickled; however there comes a time when that is enough, one more stroke and he attacks. There may be areas on his body that are no-go zones for petting.
Environment and lifestyle play a part in aggression. If your cat is used to a quiet life and is suddenly exposed to dogs, noise, children or strangers he may bite out of confusion and a lack of experience in dealing with the new situation.
MomCat is protective over her kittens and will use teeth and claws to make sure they are safe from all ‘predators’, including those that provide food and admiring words.
When a cat sees or imagines a threat his body produces adrenaline which needs to be released. If this cannot be directed towards the threat itself it is released on the nearest target, often the human who is trying to protect or help him!
In a multi-cat household cats are recognised by sight and smell. If one cat smells different, for example after a visit to the vet, others may not recognise him as family and attack.
From this list it is possible to see that biting has many meanings from the perspective of the cat. Consider the situation to identify the reason for biting before labelling him aggressive.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org