Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I adopted a 3-month-old kitten a few weeks ago. She loves to crawl all over me and snuggle. She seems to like to snuggle up against my neck, which is fine, but she also nips and nibbles while she’s there. She is not in any distress. She is purring, kneading and snuggling, and if I put her down she will climb onto me and nip my neck again. Is this worrisome? Thank you so much.
Siouxsie: There are a couple of things that might be going on here, Kelli, the first of which is that at this stage in her life, your kitten’s permanent teeth are coming in.
Thomas: We cats start getting our adult teeth around 11 weeks of age. The first to come in are our little nibble-teeth (which vets call incisors), then our grown-up fangs come in, and then the premolars.
Bella: So your kitten may be chewing and nibbling because she’s teething.
Siouxsie: There are toys made just for kittens that are teething. They help ease itching and discomfort, and they can even be put in the freezer to get cool, just like human baby teething toys.
Thomas: Just do a web search for kitten teething toys and you’ll find lots of options.
Bella: Make sure your kitten isn’t chewing cords or other dangerous things like strings or cloth, though. A kitty could get very sick from that!
Siouxsie: That’s right, Kelli. And make sure the teething toys you get are durable and made specifically to be cat-safe.
Thomas: The second possible reason for your kitten’s neck-nibbling behavior is that she may have been orphaned or weaned too early.
Bella: Bottle babies have a tendency to engage in activities like this because of the comfort factor and because they weren’t really socialized with other cats.
Siouxsie: If this is part of the issue, you’re going to have to do some kitten training. The most important first step is to play with her until she gets exhausted. Use a toy with a feather or a mouse-like object on the end of a string and get her chasing it. (Want to find out how to play with your kitten LIKE A BOSS? Check out Mama’s how-to post on Catster!)
Thomas: You’re also going to have to practice the “Ow, and Down” technique. When your kitten starts nibbling your neck, say “Ow!” in a high-pitched voice and put her gently on the floor, then pointedly ignore her. Keep doing this every time she nibbles, and eventually she’ll get the idea that she’s not going to get cuddles if she nibbles.
Bella: Make sure you have some appropriate toys with you wherever you go, and if your kitten starts moving toward your neck, give her a toy instead.
Siouxsie: You want to give her the toy before she starts nibbling, because the point of this exercise is to distract your kitten before she starts nibbling and chewing on your neck. If you don’t catch her before she starts nibbling, use “Ow, and Down” instead.
Thomas: If you’re very consistent about this, your baby will eventually get the hint that you love it when she snuggles but you don’t want to be her chew toy.
Bella: Good luck, Kelli. Please let us know how things go.
Siouxsie: If you other readers have some hints for helping retrain kittens out of inappropriate biting or nibbling behavior, please share them in the comments!