Do Cats Gets Stressed?  You Bet!

We get a lot of questions about cat biting, so we're calling this Cat Biting, Part 2....

Dear Cat,

I truly hate to be a pest, but our cat Zito is now neutered and almost teethed (he will be 6 months next week). The problem we have is that he literally attacks human flesh without being antagonized! My roommate, friends, and I will be trying to play with him, and he will lunge at our arms instead of the toys. His sister, Luna, behaves much the same way, which perhaps leads me to believe it is just his age (I forget how young he is since he is 9 pounds already!).

Zito was from a litter of barn kittens that were taken out of the barn very young at 2 weeks I believe. Is there anything to the rumor that barn cats have different instincts that other cats?

I am just curious to know if this is a common complaint with new kittens? My roommate is getting a little fed up!

signed:   Bit Up and Fed Up!

First of all, catFriends are never pests! Second of all, you have a frisky teenager on your hands (a cat's teen years start around 6 months.) And thirdly, we have some suggestions for you.

Zito sounds like he could be a tad "under socialized" depending on what happened to him between when he was taken from his cat mama and when you received him. 2 weeks is way too young to take a cat from his mama, so I hope that isn't true. And barn cats are no different from pedigree cats in's what they're exposed to in the first 9 weeks of life, especially the first 6 weeks that makes all the difference (along with DNA of course!). Cats who are not around people -- and do not have positive and loving interaction with people -- the first 6 weeks of life are more aloof and/or fearful and/or aggressive toward humans.

An excess of unused energy, and a lack of opportunity to release it can lead to a condition called "play aggression." This kind of aggression usually shows up as overly excited or aggressive play, which can unintentionally lead to scratching and biting humans. This kind of "play" can bring out a cats basic nature like the predatory stalk, pounce, and bite. Although this play is more common in kittens, it can extend through adulthood if a cat doesn't get enough "play time."

The younger you start dealing with the problem, the less problems you will have as the kitty matures. Some people adopt a cat thinking it's just going to sleep all day...and maybe run around a little at night (but not enough to bother you, of course)...and that's all there is to it. There are probably a few cats out there that aren't very active (and they'll tend to be older cats), but most cats love to P-L-A-Y! You must provide opportunities for cat play and be the one to initiate in daily... interactive play sessions. These should be AEROBIC play sessions so that the cat gets plenty of exercise. Short on time, then do a short session, but do schedule time.

Keep up your cats interest in toys...organize a toy basket, rotate the toys, occasionally buy new ones but don't throw out their favorites! Or keep the toy basket out of reach, and then every day take out a few toys -- or a paper bag or box will do as well! -- and set them out for the cat to play with. Set aside some time for interactive play with you as well.

Don't forget that roll such as ping pong balls or what Clyde enjoyed (and still does!) -- a tightly wadded-up piece of paper, about the size of a ping pong ball or smaller. Throw it lightly, like a ball, and see what happens.

Also popular are toys that dangle, battery-operated and spring-mounted toys, and catnip-scented scratching posts. For cats that enjoy exploration and climbing, cat condos and perches are ideal. Hiding treats in various locations stimulates searching behavior that cats enjoy. Bird feeders outside of windows occupy some cats, while others might be interested in videos for cats. Catnip toys and toys with food or treats that can be obtained by scratching or manipulation, also help stimulate play and work off that excess energy.

And when kitty becomes "bad kitty".....there must be some kind of punishment or the behavior will continue. For punishment to be effective it must be non-physical and occur while the behavior is taking place. Hitting a cat is not just "mean and wrong," it will also not have the intended effect. Instead you will teach your cat to fear you, and distrust the touch of your hands, and that inflicting pain is acceptable when upset.

Noise deterrents are often the most effective punishment. For kittens, a hissing noise may deter excessive play behavior. Other punishments that can be effective include a water sprayer, a shaken can full of coins, or one of those annoying New Year's Eve noisemakers. What is most important is the timing. You must have the noise-maker or spray bottle with you so that you can immediately use them. Accompany the "bad" noise with a sharp "NO!" spoken so they fully understand the word...cats understand tone of voice very well.

And did you know this?....cats can also be trained to do tricks! This is an excellent way to stimulate your cat and to interact with your cat in a positive way. Using a few choice food tidbits as rewards, most cats can be taught to sit, come, fetch, or "gimme five."

Good luck and gimme five; if none of the above works, or you want reassurance that nothing is physically wrong with Zito, take him in for a professional diagnosis from the Vet.

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