Every year, cats (and pets in general) are euthanised due to being unmanageable or aggressive.
Now, there are many types of aggression, but one of the most common causes for young cats to be euthanised or surrendered to the shelter, is play aggression. And unfortunately, being labelled ‘aggressive’ makes it really hard to find new homes for those cats.
So, what causes this level of aggression?
In fact, let’s say we’d hypothetically want to create such a kitty. How would we go about it?
Well, here are the steps to follow for optimal results:
Step 1: adopt a kitten at 8 weeks or earlier
I’ve touched upon the pro’s and con’s of adopting a kitten at 8 weeks or , alternatively, at 12 weeks before. And while there are some benefits, the fact is that kittens learn social skills from their peers from the age of 9 weeks – including not to bite or scratch each other too hard during playtime.
So, for maximum results, let’s adopt one kitten at 8 weeks or younger.
Step 2: make that kitten the only cat in your home
Now, take that 8 week old kitten, without social skills, back to your home – without any siblings or even older cats to learn cat etiquette from. With nobody to tell him that he needs to hold back when playing, he never properly internalises that lesson.
However, since the guardian is still interacting with the kitten, they could certainly teach the kitty this very important lesson.
Sooo, next in our program to create an aggressive cat is…
Step 3: Play with your kitten with your hands and feet
Honestly, it’s a mistake we’ve all made – I sure have. Those little teeth and claws don’t hurt at that age and they’re so adorable, so touchable and so cuddly at that age. It’s hard to not to. And finding that wand-toy instead, can be a bit of a drag.
That said…at this point, your kitten is learning that biting skin is ok. That it’s acceptable behaviour. Normally. their siblings would meow and walk away, effectively ending playtime, if the kitten played too roughly. But we can take it because we’re a lot bigger and let’s face it, it’s adorable to see them go that crazy.
Now…wind forward 10 months.
Your kitten becomes a beautiful cat.
With sizeable fangs and claws to match.
With improved hunting skills and a drive to use them…and absolutely no idea that at that size, with that level of skill, it’s not going to be appreciated by his guardians.
…While going through the teenage kitty years, where they test their boundaries as it is.
It’s a beautiful train wreck in the making.
Step 4: Be the focus point of entertainment in the house
Now add an indoor kitty situation. While the cat has a few toys and maybe a scratching post, most of the entertainment and stimulation comes from the owner moving through the space.
Here is a young cat, bursting with energy, and nothing to take it out on, except some lifeless toy mice. Meanwhile, the guardian’s ankles pass by the couch where the cat lies in wait.
What would you choose to hunt as a cat?
Step 5: Success!
And there we have it – a beautifully aggressive cat, who purrs and cuddles one moment and attacks the next – all because of how they were raised. And you don’t even have to complete all the steps to get there – just some of them can do the trick.
The unpredictability makes the guardian apprehensive, so they start acting afraid. Next, they start moving with less confidence – like prey – which triggers the hunting instinct of the cat even more. .
Tick Tock…How long before the guardian is so afraid they put them down or surrender them to the shelter?
That sweet little kitten’s days are suddenly numbered.
So, let’s rewind – how do we undo this?
How to delete this subroutine from your cat’s programming
Here we go!
Step 1: Get some boots
For about 2-3 weeks, if your cat attacks your ankles, wear boots inside. That way, they can do their worst and you can literally walk away without rewarding the behaviour in any way. Don’t yell, don’t scream, just ignore them and walk on.
Step 2: Walk away
When your cat attacks your hands, get up (even if it drops them off your lap) and walk away.
This is the lesson that siblings teach – if you bite me too hard, I effectively end playtime, attention and any interaction with you and walk away. It will teach the cat that that exact action is the reason you’re ending your interaction with them.
Step 3: Playtime on your terms
Young cats are full of energy and they need somewhere to vent this energy. So, take charge of that play time. Play with them 15 minutes per day using an interactive wand-toy. For play, only use toys.
The message then becomes ‘only toys are acceptable to hunt, bite and scratch’
Meanwhile, make sure they have enough to take out the rest of their energy on. You’ll find that as you engage them in playtime with an interactive toy, they’ll engage their static toys more. But there is no need to stop there – think about adding jumping opportunities and other environmental enrichment, as well as other activities you could enjoy together – such as going for a walk on a harness.
Step 4: Adjust your bodylanguage
You’re likely automatically cringing whenever you anticipate an attack – which can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Take a deep breath.
Your kitty isn’t trying to hurt you – he’s just playing with you the way he always has. Take some time to repair the relationship with your cat. Remind yourself why you adopted them in the first place and make it a point to engage them regularly to re-affirm the bond you guys once had.
So be confident when you to pet them. If you’re having trouble relaxing your muscles, try it after an extensive play session, when they’re relaxed and snoozy, to minimise the chance of attack.
Meanwhile, the boots will help to ease the fear of being attacked in your own apartment.
Step 5: Success!!
In the beginning, your kitty will try harder. The behaviour has always paid off before, so they’ll need to make sure it’s absolutely no longer an option. So stick to your guns.
By taking away one outlet and providing a constructive alternative instead, the transition should be easier.
Playtime will be on your terms – no more scratched up arms and ankles!
If you would like to learn more about why your kitty does what he does, and how to prevent other problem behaviours, sign up for the newsletter, and receive The First-Aid Kit for Cat Guardians!