Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Help! My 86-year-old mother has sadly brought her 10-year-old neutered male cat to a shelter because he bites her 2-3 times a year. This causes a serious infection. She most recently was in the hospital for a week! I suggested that she have his teeth extracted so he couldn’t bite and they wouldn’t have to be separated. Her vet has discouraged her from doing that. Both my mother and her cat Ballou are very sad. Please advise.
Thomas: First of all, we know how hard it can be to deal with a biting cat, especially when a heartbroken guardian needs to surrender that cat to a shelter for the sake of their health.
Bella: We do have some tips on why cats bite and how you can stop them from doing so.
Tara: First of all, there are three main reasons why cats bite: Boredom, pain, and redirected aggression.
Thomas: You see, biting cats are usually wanting to use their hunting instinct, but they’ve got no outlet for that.
Bella: The best way to handle that is by offering lots of interactive play, with a toy that the cat can bite and not do any harm to a person. We recommend a “thing on a string” toy like Da Bird or Neko Flies, which are two of our favorites. (We’re not getting paid to share these links, by the way.)
Tara: You can find those toys at most pet stores and online. There are lots of very similar toys that will do the same thing and may cost less.
Thomas: Also, it’s really important that your mother never use her fingers to play with Ballou. She may not have ever done this, but if she has, she needs to stop.
Bella: For you other readers out there, let me explain: Some people use their fingers as toys when their cats are little kittens. That way, a kitten gets used to using his claws and teeth on people’s hands. That’s not a good habit for a cat to get into, because that little biting kitten soon becomes a biting cat, with big and potentially dangerous bites.
Tara: Another possible reason for biting, especially in older cats, is pain. Does your mother touch Ballou in any particular spots when he bites? Oftentimes, older cats’ hips can be sore due to arthritis, and a cat will bite to stop the pain from happening.
Thomas: So we’d definitely recommend, if she hasn’t done so already, that she have the vet take X-rays to see if Ballou has any arthritis. If he does, pain medication could help to reduce or eliminate the biting.
Bella: So, a biting cat is communicating to you that they want you to stop doing something. Even if it’s not pain, it could be that they just don’t like being touched in certain places.
Tara: The answer to that problem is simple: Don’t touch your cat where he doesn’t want to be touched.
Thomas: Another possible reason for your biting cat’s behavior is redirected aggression.
Bella: If the biting happens at times that seem to be random, your cat may be redirecting his frustration or aggression.
Tara: If, for example, he sees another cat outdoors and he can’t get to them, he may turn his frustration on the nearest object. And if that object happens to be your 86-year-old mother, that’s a big problem!
Thomas: So, how do you handle redirected aggression? Find out what’s causing the aggression and do your best to make it stop. You and your mother may find that deterrents are a good solution for keeping other cats out of the yard.
Bella: These motion-activated deterrents can be water sprinklers or sound generators that broadcast an ultrasonic noise only cats can here. These annoy cats enough to make them want to stay away from your yard.
Tara: I know I wouldn’t want to be in a yard where I’d get my fur soaked or I’d get screeched at by an ultrasonic device!
Thomas: But you’re never going to have to be outside again, Tara. You’ve got a safe, loving forever home with us!
Tara: Thank you, Thomas. That means a lot to me. I know you want to be my friend, and I’m getting braver every day!
Bella: So, we’d recommend you start with a trip to the vet to make sure Ballou isn’t in pain. If he is, make sure he gets medicine to help.
Thomas: Play with Ballou regularly using a “thing on a string” toy. Don’t use your fingers as play toys.
Tara: If you think the problem is other cats or wildlife in the yard, use deterrents to keep them away.
Bella: We hope this helps, and that Ballou can come back to live with your mother.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Do you have tips on how to manage a biting cat? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments!