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Dear Molly, "Biting"

Dear Molly,

I adopted a 4 month old, male tabby who is now 9 months old and no matter how I give him time out or ignore him, I cannot get him to behave. He bites me when I pick him up to keep him out of harms way or if I simply walk by sometimes he bites and runs away so clearly he knows it is wrong.  

I would hate to give him up as I have a 15 year old female cat that he jumps on and bites in the neck but other times they sit together etc. but when he gets wild they fight and I don't want her to live this way for whatever time she has left.

He has numerous toys (mylar balls, toy fabric mice, laser light ball and a 3 inch high box which is 24" long that he loves to play in) and he gets plenty of attention as both I and husband are retired. Our apartment looks like a day care center!

Please let me know what you feel I should be doing to break him of these habits.  When he is good he is so loving it would break my heart to give him back.

Dear Biter's Mom,

First, know that the behavior you’re describing is normal for a young cat – what you are calling misbehaving is him reacting defensively to feelings of fear. Why does he have the fear feelings is only guessing since I haven’t seen your home or the two of you interact.

  • Age – I also have a 15 year old cat who would probably be terrible at tolerating a young one at this stage, so I can very much relate. Your kitten will be high energy until he hits about 18-24 months.

  • Picking Up – You said he bites you when you pick him up to keep him out of harms way – what is happening that is potentially harmful to him? I’m guessing that whatever that is has him frightened and when you pick up a cat in a heightened state of emotion, they will often react defensively. Without knowing the circumstances around the picking up, I can only tell you that you must interact with a cat on his own terms. If he is biting you, he finds you scary – figure out what you’re doing that is scary and avoid that.

  • Bites and runs away – Cats don’t understand “right and wrong” so when you say he bites you and then runs, it is incorrect that his retreat is because he somehow knows it is bad/wrong. He is likely exhibiting play aggression and does understand your negative reactions from the past (yelling, etc.) and runs to avoid you.

  • Punishment – I have done a whole podcast on punishment I encourage you to listen to: Efforts of time out and ignoring by themselves don’t often work. You must show a cat what you want it to do instead, which involves redirecting his energy. I think this podcast will explain how to effectively correct a cat’s behavior – in general.

  • Space/Safe Zone – Be sure to give your older cat a safe zone she can be away from his kitten antics. You’ll probably need to set up a separate room that is just hers; he is not allowed in there. But she should also not feel like she’s been shunned for the new kitten so it should be a space you spend time.

  • Energy burn – Having toys laying around isn’t enough for a cat. Especially during the next couple of years, you’ll want to burn off as much of the kitten’s pent up energy as you can. This is done in a variety of ways but mainly with Prey Play. There is a blog post here on what this is and how to do it. You’ll want to do it at least two times a day, 30 minutes before feeding time.

  • Diet – This can play a big role in attitude for a cat – especially young ones. I suggest you listen to What to Feed Your Cat to get his diet on the right track (if it is not):

  • Outdoor time – Cats love to explore the outdoors but I don’t recommend you let them do so unsupervised. Harness and leash training a young cat so you can take him on walks is a fun thing – and helps to burn off the energy. Also building a catio for him would help – here is more info on that:

Some others that might contain tidbits of information to help you:

I hope that helps!

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