How to Stop Kittens from Attacking During Play

We're conditioned to view kittens as soft, harmless balls of fluff which fall asleep on our laps and generally procrastinate their youth away. In reality, kitty got claws, and they have them for a number of very useful reasons. Stepping in every-time you see your kittens take their mitts off may not only prove fruitless, it may also prove detrimental to their personal growth.

The purpose of this article is not only to offer a few accessible and easy tips on how to placate the volatile tempers of kittens, but also on how to distinguish healthy playing from senseless violence. It can be difficult to tell when fur hits the fan, but there a few signs we can use to our advantage. The first step will be to understand feline psychology and the role of aggression in how it helps transform kittens into cats.

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A Note On Breed

Certain breeds of kittens are innately more prone to aggressiveness than others. If you haven't already, it may be worth your while to learn what to expect of your breed of cat based on its personality.

Cute But Still A Predator

Kittens need their temper, claws and array of snarls, hisses and yelps in order to grow into functional predators. Here is a concise list of reasons why:

  • Rough play is commonly used by kittens in order to dictate their long-term relationship. Human children often echo this trait which results in one sibling that is naturally more dominant and one that is consequently more submissive.
  • Cats rely on play-fighting to learn how to hunt and defend themselves. A kitten which was unable to battle it out in the school yard will likely be less capable of capturing it's prey in the wild. All the ambushes (kittens absolutely love pouncing you when you least expect it), surprise attacks and posturing are simply ways for kittens to practice for later. Another kitten provides a fantastic reactive target.

When To Intervene

We might be blind to it, but kittens do communicate and establish that they are indeed playing. Despite the frightening-looking bites on the neck or belly, if they are in a state of play, which they almost always are, there's no risk of hurt. If a kitten feels pain, they have their ways to inform the offender that it's gone too far and that they should stop. So, what are the differences between play and actual fighting? In the main -- there a few ways we "humans" can tell the difference.

  • Hissing and growling repeatedly usually constitute signs the playing has gotten out of hand.
  • If your kittens, after some play, tend to avoid each other and not act as if nothing ever happened, then perhaps they weren't actually playing.
  • Real fights between cats are short and brutal, whereas play tends to last quite a lengthy period of time. If you kittens have been at it since the dawn of time, it's fairly safe to say they are enjoying it.
  • Body language such as ears flat on the head, an arched back, baring teeth, using their claws and puffed up fur can indicate something is amiss.
  • Overly dramatic screeching, yowling or screaming are also signs you should intervene.

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Spaying And Neutering

Spaying and neutering cats (usually before their first heat) can reduce fighting catalyzed by hormonal reasons. Learn more about the process and what it entails by following the link above!

How To Stop Them Fighting

If their practice session has gotten out of hand, and the house is ringing with the sounds of battle, consider taking both short term and long-term action.

Short term: Forcibly separate your kittens (preferably with an emphatic "no!") and have them do some jail-time by putting them in different rooms. Please note, it is advisable not to separate them by hand, physically. It is better to use a spray (water will suffice) or by shocking them with a loud sound. Praise good behavior, but don't chase them around of punish them -- or it may cause their trust in you to evaporate.

Long term: Invest in more distractions such as toys, which can allow a kitten to play without resorting to bugging his/her partner in crime (who may not currently wish to play). Also, bear in mind that cats are territorial, and if you limit them, or are limited to, small living quarters, fights over territory are more likely to occur. The more space you have, and the fewer cats, the fewer quarrels will arise.

Don't lump two cats of difference ages together immediately. Slowly introduce them, and try to make the process as gradual as you can by forcibly keeping them in separate rooms for awhile. This also goes for introducing new cats into the household, particularly if they are of the same sex.

Other: Another method to reduce the likelihood of aggression that may help stop kittens from attacking (I have not tried this myself) is via the use of pheromone products such as Feliway which help reduce stress.

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Comments 11 comments

tlmcgaa70 profile image

tlmcgaa70 4 years ago from south dakota, usa

great hub, and informative. i have been rescuing cats and kittens for 12 yrs, and what you say is spot on. when my kittens/cats play to rough, i tell them in a firm voice to "play gentle" or "be nice"...and if that doesnt settle them down somewhat (it usually does the trick) i will reach over and tap them to get their attention. i have 16 cats atm (i have had up to 20). and i have such a close relationship with my cats that even if they are fighting i am able to walk between them or pick them up without getting injured in the least. they immediately stop fighting. even back when i had toms and they fought i could still do this. only one cat ever bit me. and mostly it was due to my not taking his special circumstances into mind when i was dealing with him. you see...he was a hermaphrodite. he was facing off with another tom (back before all got fixed) and i told him he had better things to do, and i gently nudged his back side away from the other tom. he went, grudgingly . i thought, if i dont put him inside they will be fighting as soon as i turn my back, so i reached down and picked him up. right away he began squirming, which wasnt like him. when i shifted my grip to get a better hold on him, he flipped over in my arms and bit down hard on my forearm just under the wrist, and dug all his claws into my upper arm in the back and the wrist. this surprised me. i kept telling him "Moses, let go", then i realized he wasnt about to let go until i did. so i lowere my arm to the ground and released my grip on the scruff of his neck. he looked at me and at the ground and back at me, then launched himself off me. he has some major long fangs. i have a thick wrist and his fangs came within a hairs breath of the bone, as i saw from the x-ray i got when i went in 2 days later to make sure it was healing cleanly (it was). what i did not take into consideration when i picked Moses up is that he suffers both male and female hormones and hormone surges. it makes for a very confused and irritated kitty...not just emotionally irritated, but skin crawling irritated, when he goes into fight mode with another tom. all my cats are fixed at this point, but they still like to get into fights now and again. they still will break up immediately if i get between them or pick them up. voted up and shared.


thooghun profile image

thooghun 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

tlmcgaa70, that has to be the best comment I've gotten in 4 years as hubber, thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience. I get the feeling that you know far more about this than I do :P


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 4 years ago from Maui and Arizona

I sure enjoyed tlmcgaa70's comment and story.

I also really enjoyed your hub. I've had my share of experiences with cats and I hope to have many, many more. But as for my own cat, I can proudly say that I trained her when she was young -- from about four months old to a year -- to not use her claws when we played together. When she had my forearm within her four legs and was pummeling it with claws out, I would say loudly, "No!" Then I'd go right back to playing rough with her for another 30 seconds or so. She learned to play whole-heartedly with me but keep her claws in. She's five years old now. She always purrs when we play and she finishes most games with me by clamping her mouth and teeth over my hand, ever so gently pulling on just a bit of skin, just to say, "I would have won if I was allowed to use my claws and teeth."

Voting up, useful, awesome and sharing.


annerivendell profile image

annerivendell 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Love the hub, agree with everything you said. Also love the comments! Entertaining read all round.


thooghun profile image

thooghun 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Aye, the comments are awesome, thank you all again! @Pamela, it must be tough to solely bear the fury of a kitten!


tlmcgaa70 profile image

tlmcgaa70 4 years ago from south dakota, usa

i enjoyed that story Pamela. felines are highly intelligent animals. people have all kinds of bad things to say about them but it is only because they never took the time to get to know one (its also possible that the cats in their experience had issues for one reason or another, that no one saw or knew how to deal with). i have written several hubs , both on my experiences and cats in my life as well as the things i have learned from observing them.


sgiguere profile image

sgiguere 4 years ago from Marlborough MA

Nice Hub, very well written and succinct. I was wondering if you had any pointers on stopping my kitten from play fighting with my hand/wrist. He gets much too rough and he doesn't seem to get offended by any sort of rebuke.


tlmcgaa70 profile image

tlmcgaa70 4 years ago from south dakota, usa

if thoogud doesnt mind, i would like to make a suggestion...either dont play with him (which is very difficult a temptation to deny)...or redirect his attention. as you are playing, when he becomes to rough, tell him "gentle" or "no" in a firm voice (no need to shout or yell it). if he ignores you pick him up and set him aside, letting him know his behaviour is unacceptable and you wont play with him until he can learn to be gentle. you can give him another toy to play with, but the idea is to take his pleasure away for the moment, teaching him that until he can play gentle, play wont be fun or with you. do this each time consistently until he learns. sort of like a time out for bad behaviour in a child. also, whenever you play and he is playing gentle, be sure to praise him..."good (insert name)...good boy for playing gentle"...stress the word gentle and let your love for him ce heard in your voice.


thooghun profile image

thooghun 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

No worries Tlm, you're suggestions are always welcome! Thank you for your time, compliments and attention sgiguere!


Will Apse profile image

Will Apse 4 years ago

We have two cats and they have never got on. A stray comes in and they happily play with her. But never each other.

Once a serious enmity develops I think the best to hope for is an armed truce.

I'm not sure cats are really trainable at all. lol.


tlmcgaa70 profile image

tlmcgaa70 4 years ago from south dakota, usa

like anyone, human or animal, cats can be trained...if they desire to be. dogs desire to be trained because they desire to please the one they love. cats also can desire to please the one they love. if they do they can be trained. if you want to train a cat that doesnt desire to be trained, the trick is to make them think it is their idea. to train them to fetch you make them thibk they are training you to throw their toy for them. i told my Nala that i could not throw it again unless she brought it back to me. even if she brought it close then dropped it i would not get it. she had to bring it all the way to me if she wanted me to throw it for her again. she soon learned if she wanted me to throw it she had to bring it to me.

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