Feline Play Aggression

Filed Under: Cats, Behavioral & Training

Excessively rough and persistent play is called play aggression. Play aggression amongst cats may create a problem when a very vivacious cat pounces on a less playful cat making that cat fearful or aggressive. Inadequate or inappropriate early socialization may be a contributing factor in the development of play aggression. Naturally, a mother cat tends to institute boundaries on what is considered to be acceptable “cat behavior.” Bottle-fed babies without a parental influence tend to be the worse offenders.

Play aggression toward people is common in cats that spend a great deal of time alone and may be a problem with people when kittens fail to retract their claws and inhibit their bites sufficiently while attacking someone’s extremities. A kitten may also be so starved for attention that they try to climb up a human. Elderly people with fragile skin are often the most affected by this type of aggression.

The first step in treatment is to provide daily 10 to 15 minute interactive play sessions that incorporate aerobic play and the owner’s undivided attention. Alternative and suitable play alternatives should be provided for aggressive play and may negate any need for physical punishment. Playful cats should be encouraged to play rather than be ignored or confined, which may compound the problem. Their energy should be redirected to a more appropriate play or they should be given a suitable playmate such as another active kitten as a play companion. Alternative playthings to hands and feet may include a crushed piece of paper, rolling ball, or a toy on a fishing pole. Especially with older people, declawing may prove helpful but will not have any effect on biting behavior.

Outfitting the cat with bells on their collar will allow family members to keep track of the pet and thereby be able to avoid attacks. When these attacks are anticipated, they can be interrupted and the behavior redirected.

Physical punishment such as tapping the cat on the nose for overly aggressive play may be appropriate in certain instances; however the cat may respond by intensifying the aggression or by becoming frightened of the owner. Alternatives to physical punishment include loud noises and water pistols that may prove to be sufficiently startling.

References:

Beaver, Bonnie. Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W.B. Saunders Co. 1992. Pp. 97-115.

Crowell-Davis, Sharon. “Intercat Aggression.” Compendium for Continuing Education Veterinarian. September 2007. Pp. 541-546.

Horwitz, Debra. “Feline Aggression Directed Toward People.” NAVC Clinician’s Brief. May 2007. P. 33-34.

Marder, Amy and Victoria Voith. “Advances in Companion Animal Behavior.” Veterinary Clinics of North America. Vol. 21. No. 2. W.B. Saunders Co. March 1991. Pp. 315-327.

Topics: aggression, play

Similar entries

  • Queens may show aggressive behavior to toms before delivery of kittens as well as while kittens are suckling and dependent. Infanticide (killing of kittens) has been observed in free-roaming farm cats and it is possible that queens treat toms as potential predators.

    Some queens, typically friendly to people, may be protective of their kittens in the presence of human intruders. This behavior typically subsides as the kittens become older.

    References:

    Beaver, Bonnie. Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W.B. Saunders Co. 1992. Pp. 97-115.

  • Redirected aggression occurs when an aroused cat in an aggressive state attacks a person or other animal that was not the original cause of the aggression. The original target has become inaccessible and the cat directs its attention to a new target or individual. An example would be where an outside cat visits the sliding glass doors to a home housing two additional cats. The two indoor cats typically get along but when aroused into a frenzy, due to exposure to the wandering outside cat, suddenly turn their aggression on one another or alternatively, a human in the area.

  • One of the most frequent forms of cat aggression toward people is biting or scratching while being petted. This type of aggression often results from a mismatch between the owner’s and pet’s desire for physical contact. Warning signs may include twitching of the tail, restlessness, and “intention” bites where a cat moves as if to bite but doesn’t.

  • Predatory aggression concerns the natural instinct of cats to hunt. Cats in a predatory response may stalk silently crouching or in a slow walk, often followed by a short run. Hunting skills don’t necessarily need to be learned from their mother. Hunger is not a prerequisite for hunting but will certainly encourage the response. The natural prey of cats are rabbits, small rodents, insects, lizards, and birds.

  • The second most commonly reported feline behavioral problem is that of aggression. It is estimated by behaviorists that aggression represents approximately 13% of their feline case load. The display of aggression in cats is influenced by the environment, heredity, and early experiences in the life of the cat.

    A good medical examination by your veterinarian and history of the behavior in question are important to the diagnosis and treatment of the behavioral problem. Situations that create or contribute to the anxiety should be duly noted.