If you wonder, “Why is my kitten biting me?”—you should know that kitten biting is a natural practice. It is absolutely adorable at first and really doesn’t hurt. Kittens explore their world by using their mouths. They will place with their mouths on all objects, sometimes even our hands and feed.
Like I said, it is cute at the beginning, but if you let it go undetected, it can turn into a real cat biting problem as an adult.
Before you can stop your kitten from biting you, you need to understand its reason for biting. From there you can take the right course of action.
Kittens bite for many reasons. If your kitten won’t stop biting, see if you can figure out the reason for them biting and go from there. Keep reading to understand the motives behind kitten biting and find out how to healthily put a stop to it. (And still make sure your kitten loves you).
Why Does My Kitten Keep Biting Me?
To figure out the reasons behind kitten biting, ask yourself what the cats motives could be. Depending on the kitten’s personality, socialization, age and other factors, there may be several reasons why your kitten is biting.
I love to compare kittens to babies. (Moms don’t come for me, only in some cases do I like to compare). Babies love to explore the world. They do they by crawling and grabbing and…chewing. Kittens want to explore too. Except, kittens don’t have hands. They use their mouths to test everything. Picking things up, biting objects (such as our ankles or hands) teaches them how such things act and react. Biting a toy makes it squeak. Biting your ankle makes you squeal and run. Biting a bee stings back. Everything teaches them a lesson.
If this is your kitten, then you want to make sure that they associate biting you with making you sad or unhappy with them. I’m not saying yell at them. I like to yell “Ow, ow, ow! And whimper a little”. This teaches the cat that Ow is not a good thing and not something to associate with playing.
Dogs are not the only ones who can sense stranger danger. Sometimes kittens can bite as a reactionary measure. Kittens who are shy or fearful also can bite to make that scary thing back off.
If this is the case, it is important to teach your cat that strangers are not a bad thing. Have visitors pet them on the head, or let them smell them. This teaches your cat that there is nothing to fear with new-comers.
Kittens start play biting at about 3 weeks of age, and social play reaches its peak between 9 weeks through week 16 and begins to fade thereafter.
Cats in litters will teach kittens how to play. They will also teach them that biting hurts and what is acceptable in playful banter.
Cats that are orphaned from their litters don’t have siblings and mothers to teach them the right way to play. They don’t know what level of biting hurts and what makes their friends play back. This can lead to play aggression. If you want to know more about kitten aggression, check out my post ‘Why is my kitten attacking me?’ You will get everything you need to know about kitten aggression and how to help it.
If it is play aggression, luckily that is a pretty easy fix. Sometimes a kitten simply needs a friend around their age to help wear them out and learn the ropes of society. (And by society, I mean cat society for acceptable playing and biting).
Most kittens also tend to outgrow this behavior by about 9 to 12 months of age. But it is important that you set good habits early so they don’t linger.
They Need Attention
What is the fastest way to get a human’s attention? Honestly in most cases it is biting them or getting completely in their way that they can’t ignore you.
And you may even be rewarding this behavior without realizing it. Kittens think it’s a fun game when you squeal and run. When kittens don’t receive enough mental stimulation during the day, they will do whatever it takes to get some form of attention.
The best thing that you can do is ignore the biting (I know it is hard). Give them some time, then come play with them at a time when they are not trying to bite you. It will show them that biting will not get them attention, but being a good kitty will.
How to Stop a Kitten From Biting
You won’t eliminate kitten biting entirely, but you can offer better alternatives to nailing your tender toes, ankles or nose. Punishment that hurts or scares kittens is NEVER acceptable and can make biting worse by turning play-bites into defensive aggression. It is important that you help the kitten learn positive habits so the biting does not become a negative habit. There are four steps that you want to take when training a kitten to stop biting. Let’s deep dive into each of these.
- Interrupt the inappropriate bites
- End positive attention
- Offer a better target
- Reward good behavior
Interrupt Inappropriate Kitten Biting
I will again use humans as an analogy for cats. Let’s say we have a bad habit of biting our nails when we are nervous. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we do it until we are already doing it.
If kittens have developed a habit for biting, then it could be a mindless bad habit. Kittens have a very short attention span, so the interruption must happen right as they chomp your ankle or nails or your hand.
A very effective way to interrupt a young kitten from biting is to make a percussive “OWWW!”. I know some cat owners have had great success with hissing to their cat. a feline hiss means, “Back off, I’m warning you!” this works especially well with young kittens under about 4 months of age.
Kittens who play don’t want to hurt you; they want the games to continue. The short “OWW!” not only startles and interrupts the biting, it explains what you think of their out-of-control play behavior, too. Whether it is exploring or play aggression, you are helping to teach the kitten what is acceptable play and what is not acceptable play.
End Positive Attention
This is one I will warn you is really hard. When consequences are pleasant, they increase the chance a behavior will be repeated. It’s cute to allow kittens to play with your fingers when they’re tiny, right? Then they get big and it’s not so cute anymore. Whoops! You’ve taught the kitten it’s fun to target your hands—a hard lesson to un-learn.
People often reward biting without realizing it. Jerking away your hands or dancing around to dodge kitten bites make hands and feet even more alluring, because cats are triggered by movement. You are literally giving your cat a live version of a laser pointer.
It’s really hard to do, but don’t play into that. What I do, if they are latched onto my hand, I stay where I am out, yell ‘OW’ (like mentioned above). You are stopping the behavior in it’s tract and no longer giving them a toy to chase after.
Then stop the games and positive attention. The sequence should be: bite = no games. They’ll learn that any time they bite, the fun stops. The only way for playtime to continue is if they learn to inhibit their bite.
I have one kitten who still has trouble with that sometimes. She has been trained pretty well so if she gets worked up, she will do a single bite. Then because she doesn’t want the play to stop, she will start licking me. If she is really worried about playing continuing she will even rub against me. I like to think she is saying..’Oh no, I didn’t bite you. Look how cute and sweet I am’.
Choose Better Targets and Rewards
So if you notice you cat is biting you, ask yourself if they have sometimes to be biting INSTEAD!
Use cat plush toys or a cat feather wand to wear out all that energy. Encourage the kitten to bite and chase the toy (rather than your hands or ankles). Praise them for bunny-kicking the stuffing
Reward Good Behavior
If you kitten used to be an advice biter any time you would try to play with them, work on the items above.
The first time they play without biting, make sure you reward them. You want to kitten to associate not biting with MORE attention and love.
And the best way to do that is associate other habits with attention.
Kitten biting may be cute in the beginning, but it can become a bigger problem later on by encouraging the behavior. It may take trial and error of different techniques, but in the end you will help your new kitten to learn how to play nice.