By Suzanne Denk, CSB-C, Dip.FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist
A sassy kitten can be amusing but a biting adult cat is not! With planning and consistency, biting can be stopped early on before it becomes a problem.
Getting ready …
- Have toy stations easily available when interacting with your kitten. A toy station can include teaser wands, kickers or mice placed in a jar, bowl or location you can easily access. Place a toy station in any area where you interact with your kitten so that you can always respond to biting.
- Have treats ready. Choose a treat that your kitten loves and only use this special treat to reward calm behavior or appropriate play. Using their favorite treat only at this time maintains its high value as reinforcement for your kitten.
- Biting may be more intense before meals are served. This is a result of the instinct to hunt for food. The cycle for the hunt instinct is chase, stalk, hunt, kill, eat, groom and sleep. Offering interactive play with a teaser wand before mealtime is a teaching opportunity for your kitten. They can “kill” a teaser wand (and use biting appropriately) and then be served their meal.
- Set up a downtime corner. The downtime corner should be a happy and comforting space. This can be a wire dog crate with a small litter box, food, water, a soft towel or bed and an interactive toy like a cat kicker or wobble toy.
Consistency is key! Everyone who interacts with your kitten must follow the rules if teeth contact the skin.
- Remove yourself, hide your hands or freeze. The movement is what is interesting to a kitten.
- Redirect the biting to a toy. Keep toys in your pocket or have accessible toy stations.
- If you freeze and your kitten stops biting, give them a treat. If they do not stop biting, stay frozen and say “ouch” while they are biting.
- Immediately and gently place your kitten in their downtime corner.
- Wait a few seconds and when your kitten is calm, they can be removed from downtime. Encourage appropriate play and provide a treat if they are not biting.
- Return your kitten to the downtime corner as often as necessary, even if that means multiple times in just a couple minutes!
- The downtime corner is not meant to punish your kitten and should be used minimally. In time, they will learn that biting means interaction with you ends.
These consistent actions and fun play time can teach your kitten manners and set them up for a lifetime of success!