Ask Ethel: New Kitten Keeps Biting!
I have a problem with our kitten biting us. I have a 5-year-old daughter who is afraid of him because he will just walk by and try and bite her. When he comes over to me and starts biting hard, I put him down and say 'no.' I've also tried sounding like a cat getting hurt but it doesn't stop him. He has toys to bite on and sometimes he'll bite when we play, but that doesn't seem to stop him from biting us. What can we do that will teach him to bite his toys, not his family?
Our sympathies. Being bitten to distraction is probably not the way you want to be living out life with a kitten. But then again, kittens aren't always throwing softballs. Sometimes, they can be tricky, and mysterious, and confounding.
We called up Christine Bellezza, DVM, the co-director of Cornell University's Feline Health Center, to see if anything could be done to help your chomp-happy little guy. She helps write an advice column of her own, called "Ask Elizabeth," so who better to help?
Dr. Bellezza had a lot of tips, the first and biggest one being, go see your vet. The biting might be symptomatic of a physical problem, something that's causing your kitty pain. But if you see a vet who is also a behaviorist, they might be able to tell you whether your kitten is being a normal, playful kitten, or whether he's going down the path to becoming an aggressive cat.
Kittens can bite and still be normal – it's part of their maturation process, and they can take up to two years to grow out of their need for high-energy, aggressive play. In the meantime, they just have to be redirected to biting toys, which it sounds like you've tried to do.
Dr. Bellezza suggests setting up regular play sessions multiple times a day, where you can play with your kitten using "safe toys," that is, toys attached to the end of a pole, toys that drop little pieces of food, or boxes and paper bags for the cat to jump in and out of. Basically, tire him out!
"By instituting play sessions where the family is interacting with the cat and getting it to use up its energy, the kitten will be more willing to relax and enjoy the family's company," Bellezza says.
But most of all, you want to protect your child, and her safety is paramount. Don't leave her unsupervised with the kitten, and teach her how to behave around the cat. The child's fear or skittishness might instigate more aggressive behavior from the kitten, so when they're around each other, feed the kitty treats. The kitten will then associate being around his big sister with treats, and the experience should become more pleasurable for everyone.
The takeaway? Try to stay positive. There's hope for your kitty yet.
Got a thorny pet (any pet!) problem that you can't figure out? Try Ethel – she'll do her best to help. Send your questions to email@example.com. Include your pet's age, breed and sex, and try to give as much context to your problem as possible.
Previously in Ask Ethel:
Ask Ethel: My Bulldogs Keep Knocking Me Down!
Ask Ethel: Can This Dog Learn to Pee on a Leash?