How To Stop Playtime Aggression In Cats

Owners of new kittens can be easily identified all too often – all you have to do is look at their hands. Kittens are notorious for attacking hands during playtime, and those tiny teeth and claws can and do leave marks on delicate human skin.

Some owners take pleasure in this form of play, at least while the kitten is young and the game is still relatively painless. As kitty grows, in a matter of weeks, many owners find that the cute game is becoming too painful. It’s time to teach the kitten to stop…

It should be stated at this point, that as with any behavior trait, consistency is the key. Therefore, you would be advised to avoid any aggressive interaction between your hands and your kitten, as young as she may be. It may look cute now, but soon enough it will get nasty and you’ll have a bad habit to deal with.

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 which nature intended them to use as adult cats.

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

Adding a Playmate for Your Kitten

Another kitten can make the perfect target, or rather partner, for aggressive play. Protected by their furry coat, kittens seem to know their own 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 kind of 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 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).

Read more:
Playing With Your Cat: 10 Things You Need To Know
How to choose the best toy for your cat

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.

Here’s what you should NOT do:

Do not try to pull your hand away by force. When prey tries to escape, a feline’s instinctive response is to tighten its hold. You could end up with painful scratches and even bites.

Do not shout or yell at your cat. They are not thinking clearly at this point, and you may aggravate the situation and turn this into fear induced aggressive behavior.

Never ever hit your cat. Not in this situation or any other. If you do, you will end up with an even more aggressive cat, and a stressful episode for both cat and owner. Next time, your cat is even more likely to bite and scratch – this time out of fear as well.

Here’s what you should do. Relax the hand that is held by the cat’s teeth and claws. Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact with your cat. With your other hand try to grab a toy or some other object and distract your cat’s attention with it. If possible, make some playing moves with it, in an attempt to make the cat let go of your hand and move on to chase its “new prey”

If you are unable to reach any suitable object, use your free hand to create a diversion. Tap on something, or make some scratching noises on some fabric. Make the cat lose interest in its “current prey” (your caught up hand) and focus on the new attraction.

Wait for your cat to at least loosen its grip on your hand, preferably let go of it entirely. Once you are sure you can remove your hand, move it out of reach in a swift movement.

Break away from your cat at this point and allow for some cooling off time before you engage in any form of play 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 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 you’re cat is older, or you’re just not sure why they bite and scratch, check out our article about the reasons for cat attack to see if there could be another issue here.


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

10 comments on “How To Stop Playtime Aggression In Cats

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. https://thecatsite.com/
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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