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Dear Molly, "Sudden Biting"

My cat Bobo is six years old. I’ve had him a little over a year and I adopted him from a shelter. He was played with very rough and beaten before he came into the shelter. There are no other humans or animals in our home and he only spends about three hours a day alone. The problem is, he will attack my legs with bites and then runs and hides. He also bites to get attention. This happens once or twice a day and to correct it I use behavior correction spray and touch his nose and say “no”. I feed him dry food, which is available all day and occasionally give him Fancy Feast. I really just want him to stop biting and attacking my legs.

Dear Sudden Biting,

It sounds like your little guy has had a bit of a traumatic upbringing; Thank goodness he found you! That foundational experience with humans very much forms their behavior in adulthood. However, there are many things we can be doing to help them build confidence.

As you say, he is attacking to get your attention so the best thing you can do is to ignore the behavior. Any attempt at scolding is actually reinforcing the unwanted behavior. To counter this, reward him with yummy treats (I like to use turkey from the deli counter for this) any time he is being calm and loving with you. This is counter conditioning any fears he has lingering from past scary associations with people.

When cats are taught to play rough (a common mistake make with young kittens), they don’t understand the nuances of timing and general appropriateness of biting. This is largely due to being conditioned that hands (and feet) are “toys”, which results in a cat attacking your feet and hiding when he wants to play. To retrain those notions, set aside two 20 minute sessions of prey play per day. To learn more about Prey Play:

Cats also often will display the bite-and-run behavior when they are bored. Make sure he has plenty of tall climbing options. This could be a tall cat tree, shelves that lead to a cat super highway, book cases, etc. Cats are more comfortable in high spaces. I recommend having one tall cat tree act as the “safe zone”; when your cat is on it, the rule is you do not touch your cat. The cat tree is “home base”; a place he can go for self-imposed timeouts.

I also find nutrition plays a key role in how confident and secure your cat feels. In a nutshell, don’t leave food out all day, rather feed in a manner that is similar to what your cat would be eating in the wild. Feed canned food so your cat gets plenty of hydration (feeding dry food will dehydrate your cat), feed 4-5 small meals throughout the day, and only feed dry food at night hidden in food puzzles (you can find three in our Behavior Boutique on the website.) For more detailed information of canned food brand recommendations and the whys behind this, listen to What to Feed Your Cat:

I encourage you to also listen to: 12 Ways to Boost Confidence in Your Cat:


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