Why Kittens Bite (and How to Make Them Stop)
Written by: Richard Rowlands, Pet Health Expert
Kittens are one of the most adorable creatures on the planet. Entire regions of the internet are even devoted to their delightful antics and cute little furry faces. And rightfully so!
It’s no wonder then that when we get a kitten of our own, it’s far too easy to let them do basically anything they want, including biting. But why do kittens bite? And what can we do to make them stop?
Biting is a perfectly normal behavior for kittens to engage in. They’re predators by nature, and along with pawing and using their claws, biting is just hardwired into them.
However, without proper training, the behaviors that are cute and only mildly annoying as a tiny kitten can be reinforced and continue into adulthood.
And no one appreciates chomps and scratches from their adult feline friends.
In this article, we'll explore the reasons why kittens bite, discussing how this behavior is both natural and needed. We'll also provide some practical tips to help you train your kitten and tackle the issue of problem biting, so it doesn’t develop into a never-ending saga as your kitten transitions into adulthood.
Why Do Kittens Bite?
We already touched on the topic a little, but now let’s explore it more.
The first reason, which we already mentioned, is your kitten is biting out of instinct. Predators across the animal kingdom learn from a young age how to track their prey and use the tools they were born with to attack.
Thinking you can stop your kitten from biting whatsoever is not only impossible, but also not fair to her or him. Your little friend needs to satisfy these urges and we’ll discuss later how you can help them do this.
Another reason why some kittens bite is socialization issues. Sometimes, kittens are taken away from their mother and siblings too early. You may hear of kittens being homed at 6 or 8 weeks, but ideally, they should stick with their mom and litter mates until the 12-to-14-week mark.
They might be "less cute" at this point, but they will have learned a whole lot more about the dos and don’ts of play and other aspects of socialization.
And that leads us into play aggression. When kittens bite one of their siblings or mother too hard, they will be corrected. This is how they learn to use soft paws and not bite down so intensely.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t make very good substitutes for brothers, sisters, or moms when we bring a kitten home.
We wiggle our fingers and maybe even our toes which really gets the attention of our little furry balls of adorable fury. But even at a small size their nips and scratches can be painful and damaging, or in the case of cat scratch disease, even worse. Our yelps of pain aren’t quite the best substitute for what they’d learn if still with their siblings and mother.
Kittens can sometimes also bite because of the need for attention. They require stimulation and play in order to expend that sometimes seemingly bottomless reserve of energy they come charged with. A bored kitten will get into trouble in a number of ways and nibbling on their humans is definitely on the list.
Lastly, it is possible that a kitten is biting due to stress & anxiety, pain, or other health related issues. Every kitten is different, and it can take time to learn their personality. A more shy or reluctant kitten may bite if grabbed suddenly, for example. So, take the time to learn your kitty’s personality and work with them accordingly.
If your kitten is hurt or having some other problem related to their health, they may become defensive and lash out with claws and teeth if you try and pick them up. If this kind of behavior comes on suddenly, it may be a good idea to visit your vet and have a consult to rule out any underlying issues.
How Can I Train My Kitten to Stop Biting?
Now that we know all the reasons why kittens bite, let’s explore ways that we can stop them from biting. Or at least, stop them from biting us!
As mentioned, a big mistake many people make is using their fingers, hands, and feet as a part of playtime. This is a big no no. As tempting as it is, you absolutely must resist the urge!
Instead, invest in some fun and interactive toys to stimulate your kitten’s predatory instincts while at the same time directing all that energy in a suitable and appropriate direction. Away from you!
There are tons of great cat toys on the market that you can try. Some cats will like everything, some may be pickier. But the earlier you introduce a variety of toys, the more success you’ll have.
Toys with feathers and strings are often a huge hit with kittens. So you might want to look into natural options for interactive toys.
Another fun option, for human and kitten alike, are plush toys (especially filled with catnip) which can easily absorb a bite much better than your skin can.
Proper and consistent play with the rights toys is absolutely essential for a kitten. And you can coordinate that play as well to coincide with meals or treat time.
When you finish playing with your kitten, reward them for their good behavior. By giving them the satisfaction of something tasty, you’ll really bring that predator instinct full circle and signal that playtime is over.
One way to do this is, as we said, with a meal. But there are only so many meals a kitten can have in a day, so opting for some delicious treats is another excellent way.
Just like toys, you’ll find kittens may be more interested in one treat type versus another. Try a variety of proteins and types.
Setting up structured routines like this is also a great way to bond and build trust with your kitten. There will probably come a day when you have to give your adult cat pills for one reason or another. Having trained them from a young age to trust you, you’ll avoid problems later down the line. And probably more biting as well!
Just remember that biting, along with other potentially unwanted or undesirable kitten behaviors like scratching furniture, often arise out of a biological need. So, if we provide our kittens with the proper replacements such as adequate stimulation and appropriate toys, along with the rewards to let them know they’ve done good, we’ll be doing everyone a favor.
In the end, it’s important that when it comes to training a kitten not to bite you are consistent and patient. Never punish your kitten physically, just try another approach or option.
If one toy doesn’t work, try another. If one treat doesn’t earn their favor, move onto a different one. But keep working at it! Eventually you’ll find the right combination.
And if things are still very tough for you and your kitten, speak to your veterinarian or a trained animal behaviorist. If the problem biting persists even after you’ve consistently and patiently tried to work through it, there’s no harm in asking for a little help.