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.


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

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