When does play become aggression in kittens?

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Vet’s Column

A young kitten will chase, jump on, stalk, wrestle, bite and scratch its siblings and mother. This is generally regarded as ‘friendly’ aggression.

The kitten is not deliberately trying to hurt anyone, it is expressing itself and is normal behaviour for a kitten.

Kittens become socialised within their litter and learn to inhibit over­aggressive behaviour. If a kitten gets too aggressive with its sibling the sibling will usually correct the aggression either by hissing or it will simply stop playing because it is hurt. All the offender wants to do is play so he learns that being over­aggressive will stop play.

The kitten’s mother also warns him if he becomes too aggressive, often with a growl, hiss or a swat. Kittens are continually showing each other signals that indicate the interaction is meant as play and not aggression.

From these interactions with its mother and siblings a kitten learns subconsciously how to control its aggressive behaviour.

How do I stop my kitten biting and scratching me?

Biting and scratching usually occurs as a result of the your actions. It’s a natural thing to want to play wrestle the kitten with your hand letting the kitten bite and scratch it. This is cute as a kitten, but as it grows and the kitten becomes stronger it can become very painful and the kitten will often draw blood.

A kitten wants your attention and to play with you but you should try diverting his attention away from your body parts by having a soft toy about the size of the kitten.

Encourage your kitten to wrestle with the toy that you are holding instead or your hand

Stop play if the kitten discards the toy and begins to bite or scratch you. As a kitten learnt from his siblings and mother he will also learn from you. If he bites or scratches and becomes you simply end the game. Tell him in a stern voice ‘no’ and with a loud clap of your hands walk away from the situation and ignore him.

Please don’t let your kitten to play roughly with you if you don’t want them to bite and scratch you. You must be consistent and don’t give your kitten mixed messages.

Don’t allow aggressive behaviour one day and then the next day punish him for it.

You need to teach your kitten that this behaviour is not acceptable every time he gets rough. Be very firm and make it clear to him that drawing your blood is not the type of play you will tolerate. You need to use a stern voice with a loud ‘no’ and a clap of your hands.


I have answered last week’s question from an anonymous couple. They said that they were told to spray the kitten with water? No, this is not the way forward. Its a very harsh treatment and simply makes the kitten scared, which can then grow into problems with aggression shown in other ways.