Managing Rough Play

posted on Monday, January 22, 2018 in Pet Help

Managing Rough PlayPlay-motivated aggressive behaviors are common in young, active cats less than two years of age, and in cats that live in one-cat households. This is when your cat moves from a play motivated emotional state and will use its claws, teeth or both when over aroused. If they switch to predatory behavior it’s no longer play or aggression it’s a hard wired natural hunting instinct, remember you are not your cats food. Cats need to play it provides them with opportunities to practice skills they would natural they just have to be appropriate with humans.

Kittens like to explore new areas and investigate anything that moves, and may bat at, pounce on, and bite objects learning about it and if us our reaction to these behaviors. Kittens learn how to inhibit (make softer) their bite from their litter mates and their mother. A kitten that is separated from its family too early may play more roughly than a kitten that has had the benefit of learning “the” rules from other cats.

Humans can create behavior problems by playing with a young kitten using their hands and/or feet instead of toys, the kitten is liable to learn that rough play with people is acceptable. This is one of the worst things someone can do with their cat. In most cases, it's possible to teach your kitten or young adult cat that rough play isn't acceptable behavior. This type of behavior is not aggression , but because they learned that toes and fingers are their toys at an early age , they have learnt that this is just play. Unfortunately this is not what most people want from their cat and the cat is the one who pays the price in the long run.

Encouraging Acceptable Behavior

So what do we do if this behavior is happening, the best thing to do is redirect your kitten's aggressive behavior onto acceptable objects like toys. Drag a toy along the floor to encourage your kitten to pounce on it, not you, or throw a toy away from your kitten to give her even more exercise chasing the toy. Some kittens will even bring the toy back to be thrown again. A great toy to use is a Ping Pong ball, because it is lightweight and will bounce and roll all over, keeping your kitten entertained for a long time. (Note: If you have a dog, be careful of these balls, as dogs will tend to crunch them.)

A stuffed toy about the same size as your kitten can make a great play mate, your kitten can wrestle with it, grab it with both front feet, bite it, and kick it with her back feet doing what cats do with each other especially when they’re young.

'It's also one of the ways they try to play with human feet and hands, so it's important to provide this type of alternative play target. Encourage play with a "wrestling toy" by rubbing it against your kitten's belly when she wants to play roughly. Be sure to get your hand out of the way as soon as she accepts the toy.

Kittens need a lot of playtime, try to set up three or four consistent times during the day to initiate play. If you don’t provide those outlets your kitten will finds its own fun. Teaching your kitten the playtime rules will help it understand that they don’t have to be the one to initiate play by pouncing on you.

Here’s an idea, you could get another cat, I’m sure you like to have social interaction with others, they will play with each other and teach each other appropriate behavior. Bonus.

Remember an important factor is that you need to be consistent as possible with the redirection. Do not do it off and on. This only confuses the kitten and that helps no-one.

Discouraging Unacceptable Behavior

You need to set the rules for your kitten's behavior from the very first day, if there are no rules your kitten will make its own. Prevention is better than cure. Every person your cat comes in contact with, including your friends, should reinforce these rules. For example, your kitten can't be expected to learn that it's OK to play rough with Dad, but not with the baby.

Withdrawing Attention for Nipping

If your kitten starts to play roughly stop the play. If the distraction and redirection techniques don't seem to be working, the most drastic thing you can do is to withdraw all attention when she starts playing roughly. Why should the kitten get what it wants when you don’t get what you want? Where meant to be the smart ones here aren’t we? So eventually she'll figure out how far she can go if you keep this limit consistent. Limits should be set at a point that the whole family are happy with, it’s difficult for your kitten to adjust play styles if someone teaches rough play, then someone else says that’s not allowed, let’s be fair.

One of the best ways to withdraw attention is to walk away into another room, and close the door long enough for her to calm down. If you pick her up to put her in another room, you maybe inadvertently reward her by touching her. You should be the one to leave the room. Note: None of these methods will be effective unless you also give your kitten acceptable outlets for her energy, by playing with her regularly using appropriate toys.

What Not To Do

Things like a tap, flick, or even hitting your kitten for rough play are almost always guaranteed to backfire. Your kitten could become afraid of you, your hands, or she could interpret those flicks as playful moves by you and play even more roughly as a result. Picking up your kitten to put her into a "timeout" could reinforce her behavior; did she do the rough stuff to get you to pick her up? Careful she’s not training you. Squirt bottles are not worth the trouble, they can make your kitten afraid of you because the only time the nasty “spray thing” only happens when you’re around, Hello kitty’s pretty smart and very observant.


Kittens can bite or scratch through the skin. In these cases, it's best to seek help immediately from a behavior specialist to work with your kitten's actions. Be sure to keep your kitten confined so it cannot keep practicing the unwanted behavior until you can get professional help. Be sure to thoroughly clean all bites and scratches and consult your physician, as cat scratches and bites can easily become infected.