Cat play aggression is no laughing matter. Despite that they don’t intend to harm others and are merely engaging in behavior that they consider all fun and games, cats with this issue can cause severe injuries, to their humans and other pets.
I discovered this the hard way when my cat, Murphy, bit me, and I had to be hospitalized for three days. A few days after my release, Murphy and I spent the weekend with my parents — and he bit my mom so severely that she landed in the emergency room!
It was obvious that I had to take drastic measures, because my kitty was out of control. Fortunately, I was able to alleviate his issues with the help of a holistic vet, some natural remedies, and a furry friend.
This cat behavioral problem is exactly what the name implies; it’s a term used to describe felines who play too rough and are not attuned to the boundaries that “normal” kitties are taught to respect at an early age. Felines who present this usually are separated from their moms and siblings prematurely. As a result, they never learned proper play etiquette. This is more common in young cats under the age of two, but it can last a lifetime if not properly addressed.
I adopted Murphy when he was close to four months old from a shelter near my hometown of Ventnor, NJ, in August 2013. Although a sweet kitten, he liked to play rough, a trait that became more pronounced as he got older. He would often show his affection by biting me, hard. He also would want me to play with him while I was busy working on my computer, then would nip at my legs if I didn’t cooperate. The same went for when he was hungry.
One day in early April, I was working at my desk when Murphy wanted my attention. When I didn’t comply quickly enough, he lunged at me and bit me on my right calf. I didn’t think anything of it, because he didn’t even break the skin. But by the next day, my lower leg had swollen to alarming proportions and I was in so much pain that I could barely walk. So I drove myself to the ER.
The doctor there plied me with IV antibiotics and gave me a script for pain meds and more antibiotics to take at home. She then marked my leg with a black felt pen, advising me to return to the hospital ASAP in the event that the swelling spread beyond the borders. Lo and behold, the next day my leg was so severely swollen that I had to return to the hospital, and the doctor insisted on admitting me. Ironically, the date was April 8: Murphy’s first birthday.
I spent the next three days as the guest of the AtlanticCare Regional Medical Center, attached to a spaghetti network of IV tubes, and being awakened every few hours to be plied with more meds and to have my vitals taken.
The nice young infectious disease doctor who treated me said that I had a serious decision to make about Murphy, as he was obviously a danger to me and others — which he further proved a few days later by biting my mom.
My doctor went as far as to suggest that I euthanize Murphy. So I sought the advice of our vet, integrative animal medicine practitioner Dr. Mark Anthony at Clayton Veterinary Associates, located in the New Jersey town of the same name.
After performing a series of tests to rule out any medical causes for Murphy’s behavior — it turned out that he was as healthy as a horse — Dr. Mark informed me that my kitty suffered from acute play aggression, and agreed with my doctor. If Murphy’s behavior were not brought under control, he would understand if I chose to euthanize him or, at the very least, rehome him. Although that would be difficult, considering his behavioral issues.
As the very thought of these options broke my heart, the doc advised me to initially try a natural approach to getting my kitty’s behavior under control. Thus, he placed Murphy on Botanical Animal Flower Essences Devil Be Gone and a diet based on the principles of Chinese medicine, whereby I was to avoid feeding him foods that could exacerbate cat aggression such as chicken, turkey and lamb.
Dr. Mark also suggested that I consider getting Murphy his own kitty to play with. I did just that, by adopting a sweet little 10-week-old gray girl that I named Lily from the Cape Atlantic Cats rescue group in Ocean City, New Jersey.
Lily seemed to be the answer to our prayers, as Murphy instantly fell in love with her and would while away the hours playing with her, cuddling with her and washing her. Then, about a month after we adopted her, kitty karma struck: Lily bit Murphy! He developed such a severe infection that he ran a fever of 106, and Dr. Mark had to place him on massive doses of antibiotics and pain meds.
For her part, Lily was obviously sorry, and remained by his side throughout his recovery.
As a result of getting a taste of his own medicine — along with the natural treatment regimen — Murphy overcame his issues. And Lily never bit him again.
We are now one furry happy little family. Thanks to love, patience, the wonders of natural medicine and a little gray bundle of joy, this tale of cat play aggression woe has a happy ending.
Have you ever had a cat with play aggression? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments!
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About the author: Alissa Wolf is an award-winning journalist and lifelong animal lover who lives near Atlantic City, N.J. with her cats, the dashingly handsome Murphy – the proud owner of a vast collection of bow ties – and Lily, an occasional feline fashion model. She writes about a variety of pet topics on her blog Critter Corner. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.