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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi, I have a very serious problem. I am handicapped and needed a pet companion. So when I was told about a kitten was whose mamma had deserted her and her brothers soon after birth, my heart broke. She was bottle fed (not by me). I have loved and tried to cuddle her from the time I got her. She is 4-1/2 now. But here is my problem. She bites. I try to watch for signs of “I’ve had enough.” I try to just pet her head and face, because she seems to get overstimulated with too much back to tail petting. I have lots of toys for her. She seems to love her feather toy a lot. But she hides around corners and jumps out and bites ankles. Once my mother got blood poisoning. I love my cat and I am her forever mama. But I don’t want my mom or someone else to get sick. My mother and I live with my sister. Can you help me. Oh, I had her fixed and the vet says she is very healthy.

~ Kathy

A gray Persian kitten is biting at a person's hand in a play-fight.

Kittens often engage in play-fighting. If they learn that a hand is a good thing to bite, it can be a hard habit to break. Photo (CC-BY-SA) by Aravindan Shanmugasundaram

Siouxsie: Wow, Kathy. First of all, thank you for being so dedicated to your cat friend. That’s hard for a lot of people, especially when the cat has behaviors like biting. We do have some tips for you, and we hope that these will help you and your family avoid future bites.

Thomas: First of all, we think this behavior may have had its origin in the fact that she was bottle-fed and not exposed to other cats.

Kissy: When kittens are socialized with other cats at a young age, they learn boundaries and limits — especially when it comes to play-fighting and biting.

Siouxsie: The behavior you’re talking about is rooted in hunting. The best way to direct a cat’s hunting instinct properly is to engage in interactive play. If you use a toy like a feather wand or another type of “thing on a string,” and play with her intensely for 10- to 15-minute sessions, she’ll get her hunting fix and this may help reduce the lurking and biting behavior.

Thomas: The most awesome kind of hunting play happens when you move the toy like prey. For example, a mouse might scurry around, stopping from time to time to check out its surroundings. A bird would move around the floor, bobbing its head as it looks for worms, and then take off as soon as it spots the cat coming. Ooh, I’m getting all excited just thinking about that!

Kissy: Thomas! Stop staring at me! I just know you’re gonna come after me.

Siouxsie: Oh, Kissy, cool it. There’s no need to get all fat-tailed. And Thomas, you stop that tail-twitching, target-locked-in look right now!

Thomas: I’ve got to get it!

Kissy: Aaaah! Holy Bast, I’m gonna $%*&!!*%$!

Siouxsie: You two stop that right now! Do I need to come over there?

Thomas: Oh, okay! Go hide, you little orange sissy-pants!

Kissy: Mama! *sniffle*

Siouxsie: There, there, Kissy.

Thomas: *ahem* Anyway, Kathy … if your disability prevents you from being able to do this, maybe you can ask your mother and sister to help out. It’ll be good for everyone in the family because there’ll be a much lower risk of bites.

Kissy: *sniffle* *tremble*

Siouxsie: The other thing you’ll need to do is to make her lurking spots unavailable to her. For example, if she hides on a shelf under your TV, you may have to put some boxes or books in that space so she can’t hang out there.

Thomas: If she lurks under furniture and launches herself at you from there, you may need to rearrange your furniture to keep her from having such easy access to your feet. You might even need to put stuff under the furniture so she can’t hide there.

Kissy: Another thing you can do, which might be kind of a pain but it could still help, is the distraction technique. If she’s a doorway lurker, keep a toy or two with you, and when you’re about to go through her favorite doorway, toss a toy in ahead of you. This might distract her and keep her from coming after you.

Siouxsie: If she bites you while you’re petting her, use the “ow, and down” technique. This is a way to teach her the social skills she missed when she was a kitten.

Thomas: When she bites you, say “ow!” in a high-pitched, but not necessarily loud, voice, then put her on the floor and ignore her for a few minutes. If you and your mother and sister do this consistently, she’ll learn that biting means she doesn’t get what she wants — petting and affection.

Kissy: Mama and a number of her friends have used this technique with great success.

Siouxsie: We think this combination of kitty socialization, removing her lurking spots, and giving her a constructive outlet for her hunting instinct, will help you train your cat to stop her biting.

Thomas: Good luck, Kathy, and please let us know how it goes.

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