How To Stop Playtime Aggression In Cats – Establishing Safe Play Routines

Have you ever ended up with a scratch or two from a little too much kitty roughhousing? While it may seem cute and harmless, playtime aggression in cats can evolve into troublesome behavior. It’s important to know that your cat isn’t being “naughty”—it’s natural. But it's also essential to teach them appropriate play boundaries to avoid those painful love bites.

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into understanding the causes of this feisty feline behavior. We'll discuss how to handle it, suggest ways to redirect that feisty energy safely, and share how to teach your cat to play without turning your hand into a personal scratching post. Ready for a game changer in your pet's playtime routine? Let's jump in.

From Cute Scratches To Painful Strikes: Setting Boundaries

If you've ever welcomed a new kitten into your home, you're probably no stranger to the countless "love scratches" adorning your hands, those playful battle scars left by pint-sized claws and baby teeth.

This is the unmistakable kitten ownership badge, a tale told by dotted lines and tiny, toothy nicks on tender human skin.

Yes, it's all fun and games when those adorable feline bundles are small, their playful strikes barely stinging.

But as their weeks roll into months, those cute and harmless taps morph into not-so-pleasant assaults. That's when you realize it's high time to teach your furball some boundaries.

Remember, though, when it comes to teaching new behaviors, consistency is the golden rule.

Be wary of nurturing those cute but potentially aggressive interactions between your hands and your baby furball.

Being adorable today can easily become a thorny issue tomorrow, and you wouldn't want to be left wrestling a hard-to-kick bad habit.

Owner showing hand wounds from cat scratch

The Reasons For Feline Playtime Aggression

Your kitten is not being "bad". When playing, all young mammals imitate some form of adult behavior that will be useful for them as they grow up.

With kittens, it is either hunting or fighting. Watch a litter of kittens tumble around on the rug, and you will see the same type of playful aggression displayed between them.

It is their way to practice hunting and fighting routines that nature intended them to use as adult cats.

Clearly, there is nothing wrong with the aggressive play itself. The problem begins when the target is the delicate human hand. The solution lies in redirecting the aggression to more suitable targets.

Angry furious cat attacking scratching owner master

Adding a Playmate for Your Kitten

Another kitten can make the perfect target, or rather a partner, for aggressive play.

Protected by their furry coat, kittens seem to know their boundaries and thresholds, and there is usually no need to intervene in their aggressive play.

Obviously, the decision to take in a second kitten is more complex than that. You are not getting a toy for your kitten but rather committing yourself to taking care of another feline for decades to come.

However, if you can provide a home for another kitten, remember that in terms of kitten behavior, raising two kittens is actually easier than raising one.

They keep each other occupied and make the best playmates for any kitty play, aggressive types included.

Redirecting Playtime Aggression to a Toy

A cat toy makes a perfect outlet for all that pent-up playful aggression. Use fish-rod-like toys to initiate interactive play sessions with your kitten.

This is a great way to interact with your cat while keeping your hands out of reach.

Use a variety of toys, whether bought or homemade, but make sure that they create enough distance between the kitty and your hands.

Rotate the toys and keep them out of reach when you are not playing with your kitten.

This will keep them fresh and enticing when you do bring them out (and it may prevent your kitten from getting entangled in any strings while you're away).

brown cat inside a basket bites a toy mouse

How to Release Your Hands

Your fingers are indeed tempting. With a vibrant kitten or even a cat, it's sometimes too easy to find your hand held tight by teeth and claws.

Often, they will not be penetrating the skin but painfully close to that point. Your cat is likely to be extremely excited at this point and hold tight, not letting go of his coveted prize.

What NOT to do:

1. Avoid Forceful Escapes

When a cat grips your hand with its teeth or claws, do not try to pull your hand away forcefully.

The feline instinct is to tighten its hold when prey tries to escape, and you could inadvertently exacerbate the situation and end up with painful scratches and even bites.

cat biting a hand

2. Refrain from Raising Your Voice

Shouting or yelling at your cat in this scenario is not advised. Cats do not respond positively to loud noises, and at this point, they are not thinking clearly.

Raising your voice can heighten their stress and may aggravate the situation, leading them to become even more aggressive due to fear.


3. Never Resort to Physical Punishment

Never hit your cat, not in this situation or any other. Physical punishment will not only hurt your cat, but it will also breed mistrust and fear.

This can result in your cat becoming more aggressive, potentially leading to a cycle of stress and fear for both you and the cat.

Future interactions may become more volatile, with the cat more likely to bite and scratch out of fear.

What TO do:

1. Maintain a Relaxed Stance

Keep the hand that's captured by the cat's teeth and claws relaxed. If you tense up, it may further provoke the cat's predatory instincts, making it harder for you to extricate yourself from the situation.

cat playing and biting human hand

2. Stay Calm & Non-confrontational

Try to maintain a calm demeanor and avoid making direct eye contact with your cat. In the feline world, direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat or challenge, which may escalate the situation.

3. Provide Distractions

Use your free hand to grab a toy or some other object to divert your cat's attention. Redirecting the cat's focus away from your hand and onto a less harmful object can help diffuse the situation.

4. Engage in Playful Diversions

Make playful moves with the distraction you've chosen. This could potentially entice your cat to release your hand in favor of pursuing its "new prey."

This tactic can turn a tense situation into a more playful interaction, helping the cat to redirect its energy positively.

5. Utilize Environmental Distractions

If you can't reach a suitable object, create a diversion with your free hand.

Tap on a surface or make scratching noises on fabric — anything that will catch your cat's attention and make it lose interest in its "current prey" (your hand), focusing instead on the new attraction.

6. Wait for Release

Wait for your cat to loosen its grip on your hand or, even better, to let go completely. Attempting to forcefully pull your hand away while the cat still has a firm grip could lead to injuries.

7. Withdraw Safely

Once you're sure you can safely remove your hand, do so swiftly but gently, moving your hand out of the cat's immediate reach.

Swift action can prevent the cat from re-establishing its grip, while a gentle movement will minimize the risk of provoking a fear response.

8. Allow for a Cooling Off Period

After such an incident, it's beneficial to take a break and give your cat some space.

cat hissing and screaming

This cooling-off period will allow both you and your cat to calm down and reset before attempting to engage in play or other forms of interaction again.

Be Consistent

Do not allow playful aggression in any form. Whenever your kitten directs her aggression towards you, be it your hands, ankles, or any other body part, use the method described above to break away.

Do not allow aggression play when your hands or feet are under the covers, either.

Remember to provide your kitten with alternatives—either by bringing in a second cat into your home or by using cat toys.

Keep in mind that this is a natural behavior for kittens and young cats. They are more than likely to outgrow this phase at some point.

Handle this correctly, without ever shouting at or punishing your cat, and you should be able to make it across kittenhood with your skin intact.

And yes, you can still pet your kitten. Just wait for the little critter to be sleepy and relaxed.

If your cat is older, or you're just not sure why they bite and scratch, check out our article about the reasons for cat attacks to see if there could be another issue here.


Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

Read more:

Playing With Your Cat: 10 Things You Need To Know

How To Choose The Best Toy For Your Cat

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13 comments on “How To Stop Playtime Aggression In Cats – Establishing Safe Play Routines

Judy Fondren April 19, 2021
I am 80 years old, in an apartment, and have a 4 1/2 year old grey kitty, that my daughter got for me when she was just a kitten. She has been such a sweet cat, but lately she has resorted to jumping on my ankle, and if course with my very thin old age skin, her claws draw blood.. When I try to brush her away with my hand she "atacks" my hand/arm!rack Needless to say, this is painful! I bought her a "flopping fish" from Amazon, and I have tried to get her to play with a ball of string I purchased at the pet toys department of the grocery store. She swats it around a time or two and then loses interest She ignores the flopping fish! Help! Any different suggestions other than you already mention here now? I never take her outside for exercise, as I am a bit unsteady on my feet and unable to take her for walks. I do have a small balcony that she goes out on to lay in the sun. She enjoys the birds as they fly by...I am in a second floor aoartment. Any recommendations for toys to keep her occupied would be so be so helpful! My daughter got her from her vet when she was a little kitten a couple of months after my husband passed!
    Catkin July 21, 2021
    If you have Netfix, there are some entertaining shows, one is 'Cat People'. The cats watched it. And didn't claw at the screen. Other ideas that cats have enjoyed is reading to them. There are some cat mystery books that I read (not out loud) but with the intent that I hoped my cat would like it. Another option is a laser pointer. Inexpensive and your cat may enjoy chasing the ball of light. An animal communicator is a good option as well.
Teresa December 29, 2020
My kitten is now 6monthsold. I got him when he was 4 months old. He was in a foster home, so he could learn some skills for a human family life. He is very sweet. But my problem is he gets in these very intense play modes and is very insistent. I can't stop to do anything outside of what he wants when it comes to his playtime. I can't distract him. He seems to be very hyper when he is in this play modes too cause he seems to go on forever. Actually it eventually wears him down but I also am not allowed to bring another cat/dog into my home. Because I live in an apartment. Plus he is an emotional Support animal. What can I do? Need helpful options desperately.
Debbie June 12, 2020
I use a water gun, it gets quick results and is harmless. When she sees the gun she stops. She is the third I have used this method. I stop it when they learned boundaries.
    Furballsmom November 27, 2020
    Hi Debbie. There are other, better methods to utilize that gain the same results without potentially harming your cats' emotional wellbeing and also your relationship with your cat. Please check out The Cat Site's forums and other articles for this information and much more.
Jenny jeanes September 10, 2018
I am so glad to come across and join your forum.Thank you. I just adopted a 7wk old kitten Baby Cindy, now 9 wks From SPCA. She is so tiny and precious. My hands and wrist are all scratched up,my mistake wrestling with her. Luckily my little dog ninj joined in and the two of them are now play fighting alot saving me from scratches i just call my little dog over now. I thought my dog would eat her but he is so good at knowing his limits. They are all over the place chasing and playing. So reading to divert kitty is right on and she is also when she comes charging at me ,grabbing me to play she is keeping her claws in more since playing with my dog.
kommunity kats July 30, 2017
I'm raising a family of cats, including most of 3 litters & two of the parents. I haven't had cats for 30 years, and didn't have access to information about them back then. I find what this article says to be correct, and enjoy being able to come back to it, both to share it with others, as well as to refresh my own memory! :)
yoohoo February 20, 2017
I am so glad to have found and joined this forum!!   I have an 8-mo. old kitten and a large dog.   YooHoo has scratched and bitten me in play!  My sister said to yell at him and blow in his face, but your article suggests better methods.  ( Hope they work! My ha ds are starting to look like my grandmother's hands, and the scratches draw attention to that !!  LOL)   YooHoo always starts to gently bite me at DAWN, and about an hour before our evening dinner..   I have realized that he is trying to tell me something, and I comply, rather than fight him!
jtbo January 5, 2016
Straw worked for my little ones, they learned to have fun without testing their claws to hands.
anneno2 January 5, 2016
Well thought-out article. I always thought a tap on the nose was correct. Woops!
juriesempai July 20, 2015
Very helpful. Rayne sometimes pounces and claws and bites (usually when i'm trying to sleep-- ouch!! )
zephyr care April 21, 2015
Great article with useful information. My cat likes to bite and the information offered here will be of use to me and Cole.
cuddly calico July 4, 2014
This is a great reference! I will definitely be using this. Poor little Kyo loves to bite. Hopefully I can get him to stop with this.

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