All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Cat Bites Owner

Dear Marie,
I read your article in the Orange County Register paper about socializing a cat. My problem concerns my kitty that I rescued. He is absolutely gorgeous (seal point and snowshoe mix) and very smart. The problem is he attacks my wrists and ankles and bites me! I feed him, play with him, clean his blankets and litter boxes, give him treats, and train him. He is perfect except for the biting. Any idea why he does it? He just turned eleven months old. I would appreciate any advice you can give me. (He does come up on my chest for pets occasionally, and then bites me as he jumps off.) Thank you in advance for your correspondence.
Sonya, Fullerton

Dear Sonya,
You have described a situation that I think most cat owners have experienced at one time or another with their own pets. Cat behavior can definitely be perplexing, especially when it involves biting for no apparent reason. But you might be surprised to know that this is really quite normal in the world of felines!

Unfortunately, most cats are taken away from their mothers at far too young of an age. It is not uncommon to see kittens as young as six to eight weeks old placed into new homes. But ideally, a cat should stay with its mother for twelve to sixteen weeks in order to learn all the behaviors it needs to learn to be well-adjusted and social. This is especially true when it comes to inappropriate biting.

Kittens will often bite their moms and their siblings to get attention or assert their position. Mama cats generally make it perfectly clear that biting is not tolerated, and by the time a little cat is truly ready to be placed into a home, that lesson has been learned well. A new owner usually has very little trouble with inappropriate biting when kittens have been allowed to have a proper kitty education courtesy of Mama-Cat! But most cats don't have that luxury which is why this problem is so ubiquitous.

Your cat is still very young and trainable so you are going to have to make up for lost “classroom” time! First, only play with your cat using toys that dangle on strings, or that can be rolled or tossed down a hall for chasing. Just remember that if you use the latter variety, employ caution when you pick the toy up and don’t try and take it away if your cat is actively playing with it. Never use your hands to play with your cat! Even though they are connected to you, a little kitty will imagine that your hands are prey animals, ready for him to use his awesome predatory skills on! And since you mentioned your cat goes after your feet, he’s looking at them from the same predatory perspective.

It’s important not to pull away if he bites because his instinctual reaction will be to bite harder. Instead move toward him AND either clap your hands or make another loud sound to distract him momentarily. When he releases, walk away from him and don’t engage him in any way until he calms down. In time he will learn that playtime does not involve biting you.

Many cats will also bite when they become overstimulated by petting. Since each kitty is an individual, the threshold for when over-stimulation occurs varies quite a bit. Some cats may only wish to be pet one or two times. You can determine your cat’s limit by observing his body language. For the most part, kitties will begin to flick their tails or their ears, their skin will seem to crawl at your touch, they may stop purring, or their ears may begin to twitch or flatten. If you notice anything like this, stop petting your cat immediately. He may not speak a human language, but he is telling you, in his very clear way, that he’s had enough. If you continue petting him, he will take his communication attempts to the next level, which is biting and scratching, followed by running away from you.

Though it does not sound like the biting you describe is related to a health issue of any kind, I should still mention that it is a possible factor. If you notice that there is a specific spot on your cat’s body that when touched triggers biting, he may have a physical problem. Your veterinarian can address this situation as needed. And of course, if you haven’t had him neutered already, you’ll definitely want to take care if this right away. Aggressive behavior in cats is significantly reduced after neutering.

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