How to Stop Your Cat From Biting You During Playtime

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Hands, fingers, and feet are not toys. Although kittens generally are more guilty of chomping down on people’s extremities while playing, cats of any age can play-bite.

You recognize these kitties — they might grab your arm with their front paws while you’re tickling their tummies. They also pounce and bite your hands and fingers as you wiggle them. Play-biters can be opportunists — launching themselves at extremities within easy reach. Others are easily overstimulated, biting during rambunctious play sessions. The painful behavior might not be limited to playtime. Some rowdy cats will attack their people’s legs and feet while the humans are soundly sleeping.

Cat playing with owners feet
Cat playing with owner’s feet by Shutterstock

The reasons for the behavior

Cats bite for several reasons. Here are three:

  1. Many of these cats bite because of how people play with them. Humans use hands and fingers instead of toys, encouraging the kitties to grab and bite. From the cats’ point of view, this is how they’re supposed to play. Although it might be fun to play with kittens using hands, as the youngster ages, biting often becomes a problem.

    Kitten being played with using hands
    Kitten being played with using hands by Shutterstock
  2. Some play-biters have been separated from their moms and siblings at too young an age. Play is a very important social teaching tool. Kittens learn boundaries and bite inhibition by playing with their littermates.
  3. Kitties who are encouraged to help make the beds and play under the sheets and blankets often enjoy playing night games — attacking their people’s legs and feet while they sleep. Although it might seem cute to wiggle hands under the sheets and blankets while playing, it’s not so fun when those same kitties pounce on their sleeping owners.
Cat being encouraged to play under the sheets
Cat encouraged to play under the sheets by Shutterstock

Stop the behavior

Here is what you can do.

  1. Although it’s difficult, don’t pull away while being bitten. Cats are hard-wired to chomp down on prey that is trying to escape. Try to relax the extremity the cat is biting and freeze it in position. Because you aren’t acting like prey, cats will usually release their hold.

    Siamese cat biting owners hand
    Siamese cat biting owner’s hand by Shutterstock
  2. Kittens need to learn that hands and fingers are not toys. Play with youngsters using safe toys that can’t be chewed apart and ingested. Fishing pole toys are ideal because they put distance between your hands and the kitten. Always play with cats of all ages using toys, not body parts. Hands are dispatchers of affection and love, not roughhousing and play.

    Play using fishing pole toys
    Play using fishing pole toys. A cat playing by Shutterstock
  3. Give your little biter a time out. Time outs are easy to do and they don’t last long. When your kitty is biting or overstimulated immediately stop interacting with her. Turn around, leave the room, or turn your back to her. Don’t yell, call her name or interact with her in any way. Time outs for play biting are short — lasting one to five seconds. After the kitty has calmed down, you can start paying attention to her. It doesn’t take many time outs to stop the behavior — the cat quickly learns that when she bites, her favorite playmate disappears.
  4. In addition to time outs, make sure your little biter has appropriate toys to chomp and bat around.

    Give your cat an appropriate toy to play with
    Give your cat an appropriate toy to play with. Photo by Shutterstock
  5. Don’t encourage your cat to help you make the bed. Resist the urge to play under the sheets and blankets with her. You might have to temporarily remove her from the bedroom while making the bed.
  6. When possible, allow kittens to stay with their siblings until they are 12 weeks old so that they learn important social skills such as the limits of rough play, boundaries, and bite inhibition.

    Kittens learn important social skills when they play together
    Kittens learn important social skills when they play together. Kittens by Shutterstock
  7. Don’t punish or yell at cats when they bite while playing. Punishment can cause cats to become fearful, stressed and afraid of people.

    Punishing cats cat cause them to become afraid
    Punishing cats can cause them to become afraid. Fearful cat by Shutterstock

Although play biting can be stopped, the hardest part is changing how people play with their cats. Everyone in the household needs to modify their own behavior, learning to play in ways that don’t encourage biting.

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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that might be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian.

Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site and Skype consultations. She uses positive reinforcement, including environmental changes, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.

She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other positive reinforcement methods. Marilyn is big on education — she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors.

She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.

6 thoughts on “How to Stop Your Cat From Biting You During Playtime”

  1. My sisters cat has put her in hospital after ripping into yet again. It has since attacked her partner after being good all day. She has been to a behaviourist, had it neutered to no avail the cat is even on medication to calm it but nothing is working. As a result she is devastated and is now considering her options. Her son and previous partner had been tormenting him but they are now gone and have been for a while. IS there anything she can do to stop it causing such damage to people and attacking them and her?

  2. How can I stop my cat from aggrssive behavior with his littermate sister. They grew up together and were always together. Now he uses her to get a reaction from me.

  3. My 10 week old kitten loves to bite me, sometimes so deeply that I can’t keep from screaming! She has very sharp baby teeth, and had come from a foster mom who had two cats of her own to play with the cat I got from the foster home. She was originally found under a pickup truck, so I don’t think she had enough time with her real mom. She will bite me on my mouth, arms, other parts of my face, and it really hurts! I don’t really know how to discipline her! When she is sleepy, she couldn’t be sweeter! I need help to understand what I can do to discipline this aggressive behavior!! She is 10 weeks old, and I want to be able to change this bad behavior before she gets much older! Any help you can give me will be appreciated! Love her but hate her aggressive behavior!! N. Durham

  4. We adopted a kitten that was 6 weeks old. She is a bites and claws. When we are eating she will attack our legs and feet, while we walk she will go after our legs and feet and she gets so excited during play that she goes after us. We mainly try to play with her using the fishing toys and laser pointer. I have tried telling my family if she attacks to stop moving. Any advice would be useful.

  5. I gave my year old spayed cat a foot long fuzzy tube-toy that has a few feathers on one end. She played with it for a long time, chasing it, etc. but lately she is mating with it, holding one ends with her teeth, while straddling it and walking in circles, stopping at times to step side to side like she is mating it. Is she just conquering and dominating her prey? Should I allow this behavior, or throw the toy out? She was a wild kitten that showed up on my porch, at about 10 weeks old. I slowly tamed her and she is the perfect pet for me, and super attached. She was very scared of lots of things and people for quite a long time, and I figured had endured no telling how much trauma in her early days. Shes super smart, and communicative. Just unsure about this mating behavior.

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