Biting is one of the ways that kittens learn about their environment, play with their littermates, and test boundaries. Throughout a kitten’s growing stage, you will notice both physiological and behavioral changes that prepare them for their predatory roles in the future. And, since their ancestors are desert wildcats, these little felines are predisposed to developing sharp claws and teeth for killing prey.
For this reason, your kitten might start biting to practice his hunting skills. Cats do not just bite for the purpose of hurting their owners, and it is worth understanding more about your kitten’s biting phase so that you know how to raise a well-behaved cat, rather than a feline thug that bites non-stop. This article will summarize the important things you need to know about your cat’s biting behavior, and how to correct it with proper training and socialization.
Why kittens bite
Cats are natural predators. Their bodies are designed to hunt and kill prey with their sharp claws and teeth. Since cats have evolved from desert wild cats, it is perfectly normal for them to practice their pounce and attack on moving objects that look like prey. The biting behavior is also part of their natural instinct when they feel afraid and want to defend themselves.
Kittens’ ‘milk teeth’ can start to appear around two weeks after birth and last until six weeks of age. This period is known as the first stage of teething. During this time, the young kittens are starting to learn about and explore their environment and practice hunting. The baby teeth erupting through their gums can also be painful for the little kittens, driving them to bite or chew to soothe their discomfort – just like human babies.
The second teething stage occurs when the kittens reach about eight weeks old. They are now ready for their razor-sharp adult teeth, which are capable of shearing the flesh of their prey. The baby teeth are pushed out as the adult teeth start to develop through the gums. The teething and biting stage of young kittens is expected to be worse until they are about 20 weeks old. By the time they reach six or seven months, they should already have all 30 adult teeth in place.
Given this process that kittens have to go through, it should not be surprising to see them bite, gnaw or chew from time to time. The little kitties are not just being spiteful! And, although they are well-fed and housed in a comfy home, the predatory instinct of their wild ancestors will always remain.
The importance of social play
The first few months of a kitten’s life are a crucial period of development. Without proper training and socialization, you could be raising a feline that thinks biting and clawing are fun and perfectly acceptable to humans. You do not want this predatory instinct to get out of control, and social play is very influential in helping your cat learn when biting is okay and when it is not.
Playing with his littermates can teach a kitten about bite inhibition. Biting their mother or siblings too hard or too frequently will result in them being bitten back. And playtime not only teaches them about acceptable boundaries; it also develops predatory skills and defenses for when they are out in the wild.
By the time your feline is four months old, you should start to notice his limbs getting longer, his fluffy baby coat being replaced with thicker, glossier adult fur, and his physical features becoming more refined, like those of an adult cat. The eruption of adult teeth continues, starting with the front teeth and followed by the molars. You should also start to discover your cat’s unique personality and revel in his new behavioral habits as you raise him into a happy adult cat.
This is also the perfect time for your cat to learn about hunting. You will notice his chase and catch skills improving. Whenever he sees little objects moving, he will wiggle his bum in excitement as he prepares to attack. During this stage, it is important to introduce your kitten to interactive toys. Never tolerate him biting or scratching your fingers or toes, or you will suffer nasty consequences when he becomes an adult.
Do kittens grow out of biting?
Cats do not purposely bite or scratch their owners to inflict harm. If you intervene early, your kitten will most likely outgrow this biting behavior. Teaching him about biting boundaries and proper behavior will turn him into a friendly house cat. Without the appropriate training, however, your little feline will grow into an adult cat that plays roughly.
Can biting lead to aggression?
Aggression is a normal behavior for most animals, including cats, when they feel threatened, frustrated, or anxious. Cats also tend to show this behavior naturally when they hunt, defend themselves, or keep other predators off their territory so it is a little unfair to label them aggressive when it comes as part of their survival instinct.
Often, the reason an adorable kitten turns into an aggressive cat is largely due to a lack of proper socialization and training. Young cats that were raised without littermates may not learn the important lessons of scratching or biting boundaries. Some fur parents can also reinforce this negative behavior by allowing their pets to grab their fingers with their paws and bite. Soon, these little kittens will grow into feline thugs that ambush their owners with their sharp claws and teeth.
Cats that are not properly raised and socialized can also redirect their aggression to other animals or visitors at home. Sadly, most of these poor cats end up being rehomed or given up to shelters, possibly making their behavior more problematic, especially for their new owners.
Why your cat bites too much
Bad habits, lack of proper socialization, and teething phases are all factors that can turn your kitten into an aggressive feline that literally bites everything. Chew marks present not just on your fingers and toes, but also on electronic devices, household items, plastic cables, and cardboard boxes will become a common sighting. Frustrated owners can be left wondering why their cats behave in such a destructive manner.
When biting becomes too much, it is best to have your cat checked by a veterinarian. Sometimes, the excessive biting could be a result of underlying health issues, especially if such issues are causing your cat pain and discomfort. Dental-related problems can also trigger the nasty biting behavior in cats.
But what if the health check-up is all clear? Then it is time to consider environmental factors. Is your kitten well-stimulated? Do you provide toys and lots of playtime? Keep in mind that a happy and contented cat is less likely to harm your possessions, while a bored and anxious one is sure to view your houseplants and carpets as an outlet for his predatory nature.
How to stop your kitten from biting
Curious kittens often use their mouths to learn about their environment. With your help and patience, you can redirect this behavior away from your body parts and household items. Here are some of the ways you can stop your cat from biting things he should not.
1. Introduce your kitten to a playmate
If your kitten is raised alone, it could be a good idea to adopt another feline as his playmate. Cats are excellent teachers and can set biting boundaries for one another. Eventually, your kitten will learn when not to bite and will have less desire to play rough with his human.
2. Stop the play session when biting becomes too rough
Stopping the aggression as early as possible teaches your kitten what behavior is acceptable. So, when he starts to bite or scratch a lot, stop playing and ignore him immediately. Leave him alone until he calms down. Never reward him with your attention or he will not learn anything from the bad behavior.
Keep in mind that cats learn better with positive reinforcement. Do not physically punish your cat, as this can cause negative behavior such as anxiety and owner avoidance.
3. Invest in a cat cardboard scratcher
Scratching posts come in handy to keep cats busy while you are away. They serve as a good outlet for cats to stretch their muscles and sharpen their claws, instead of on your furniture. Train your kitten to use the scratcher whenever he needs to relax or train his claws. If you have multiple cats at home, make sure that each cat has access to at least one post.
4. Teach them to attack toys, not your fingers and toes
It is fun to watch adorable kittens play and wiggle their tail as they prepare to pounce on their target. The fun stops, however, when they see your fingers and toes as targets. Fortunately, you can stop this behavior early by distracting them with toys.
The next time your little companion jumps on your toes or bites your fingers, stop the play and redirect his attention to a toy. Kittens love regular stimulation and providing them with a variety of toys will keep their sharp teeth away from your digits.
5. Ensure your cat has a regular trip to the vet
Pain and discomfort can make your cat feel defensive and hurt anyone who comes near him. That is why regular check-ups are important for your cat to prevent serious health problems. If you notice your kitty is unusually aggressive, a visit to your vet should help you uncover any underlying issues.
Wrapping it up
Correcting your kitten’s biting behavior prevents him from turning into an aggressive, adult cat that is difficult to restrain. Socialization and proper training at an early age, along with positive reinforcement, are the most effective ways to teach your cats when biting is not okay.
Image: istockphoto.com / SunRay BRI Cattery RU