Play aggression is most common in
cats two years old or younger, although it has been noted in some
older cats. The aggression is usually initiated by the movement of
the victim and is perhaps time of day and location specific
(examples: when owner returns from work or wakes in the morning).
The victim may be only one specific person or may be any person
that passes through a selected area. This aggression may involve
stalking, ambushing, or closely following a person and then
quickly, silently rushing at the person and attacking them. The
feet and legs tend to be the common target areas of cats engaging
in play aggression. During the attack the cat may wrap itself
around the victims limb, swat, claw, bite and kick. The cat may
frequently run away from the victim after the attack is over.
WHY DOES PLAY AGGRESSION DEVELOP?
Play aggression tends to develop
when a kitten has no other young cats to interact with. This
commonly occurs if the kitten is weaned from its mother and litter
mates too early and is placed in an environment with no other cats
or the only cats the kitten has contact with are too old to play.
Early weaning deprives a kitten of
proper social interaction. Social interaction between kittens is
important and allows them to engage in play which includes
behaviors used in fighting, stalking and killing prey, exploring
and investigation techniques. Playing kittens may seem like they
are being aggressive to one another, but they are continually
giving each other signals to indicate that the interaction is
meant as play and not as aggression. If one kitten gets carried
away at play (bites or scratches too hard), the other kittens will
usually correct the offender. The correction may be in the form of
a growl, a serious bite or the play will simply stop. A kitten's
mother also plays a role in socializing the kitten to interact
properly with other cats and even with people. If a kitten bites
the mother too hard while it is nursing the mother will correct
the kitten with a swat or a low growl. This will teach the kitten
to inhibit its bite so that it learns how to bite others without
actually hurting them. The socializing that occurs between kitten
and siblings, and kitten and mother allows the kitten to learn how
aggressive the kitten can be before it hurts its playmate. If a
kitten successfully learns social behavior, the kitten is less
likely to hurt a playmate. Unsuccessful socializing is not the
only component leading to play aggression. It can also be caused
by an active cat being confined and not allowed to release its
energy often enough. This is evident when play aggression occurs
after periods when the cat has had little interaction with the
owner (after owner returns from work or when the owner wakes in
the morning) and the cat has had little opportunity to play.
CAN ANYTHING BE DONE ABOUT PLAY
Play aggression can be treated.
Treatments could involve a companion for the cat or center around
behavioral modifications that tend to redirect the aggression,
interrupt the aggression, reward appropriate behavior (calm) or
wear the cat out so it has no need to express the behavioral
If the owner can anticipate when
the cat is going to be aggressive the owner could do two things.
The owner could present the cat with an alternative victim or
choose to scare the cat and interrupt the behavior. An alternate
victim may be presented as a toy that distracts the cat and
demands a vigorous response from the cat. The owner may also
choose to attempt to scare the cat so that the behavior is
interrupted and will hopefully, eventually cease.
The owner may choose to reward the
cat with food treats and attention (interactive playing with a toy
or petting) only when the cat is behaving appropriately and ignore
the cat (walk away) when it displays aggression. This will
hopefully teach the cat that it will only get the interaction it
seeks if it approaches the owner in a calm manner.
The owner may wish to actually
increase the amount of time spent vigorously interacting with the
cat in an attempt to decrease the cats desire to be aggressive.
This can be done with toys that move, or toys that are small
enough for the cat to carry. The owner could also engage in
indirect wrestling between the cat and owner through a toy. It is
important that the owner does not give the cat the opportunity to
bite and scratch them. If the cat does bite or scratch the owner
the cat may be encourage to repeat with those acts later.
An owner may also choose to provide
a companion cat for the problem cat. The companion should be of
approximately the same age. The companion may be helpful in
decreasing the problem cats desire to attack the owner by giving
the cat a play mate.
HOW CAN PLAY AGGRESSION BE TREATED?
It is important that the owner
understand that, no matter what mode of treatment they choose to
use on their cat, they must be consistent and always react the
same way to the cats behavior.
If redirection of the cats
aggression is chosen, it must be implemented before the cat is
actually engaged in aggressive action. For example, as soon as the
owner notices signs that the cat is going to be aggressive, the
owner must create an alternate victim for the cat. This can be
done by throwing a toy out to catch the cats attention so the toy
will be used instead of the owner as the target for the
If the owner decides to interrupt
the aggressive behavior and attempt to stop it, the owner must
also be able to recognize when the cat is intending to become
aggressive. The owner should implement some means of startling the
cat before the aggressive behavior actually commences. The owner
must use a humane method of punishing the cat. Noise making
devices (fog horn), water pistols or compressed air may be used on
the cat. It is important that the mode of punishment not be
directly associated or physically related to the owner or the cat
may experience fear aggression toward the owner.
Rewarding proper behavior and
ignoring or avoiding inappropriate behavior are also possible
treatments for play aggression. The owner should control when the
cat can have contact with the owner by only giving the cat
attention (treats, petting, interactive playing) when the cat is
behaving appropriately. When the cat is about to become
aggressive, the owner should minimize any contact with the animal,
so that the owner can not be the victim of the cats aggression.
Again the owner must always react the same way to the cats
behavior, and must never tolerate or encourage aggressive
The owner may be able to schedule
specific play times for the cat. These play times should be at key
points in the cats day in order to increase the cats activity and
decrease the cats tendencies to be aggressive. The owner may
choose to interact vigorously with the cat early in the morning
and again later when the owner gets home from work. The owner
should always to be sure to only initiate the interaction while
the cat is being good and before the cat has the opportunity to be
A companion for the problem cat may
discourage the aggressive behavior. A companion may decrease the
cats boredom in the hours of the day that the owner is not
spending time with the cat. If the companion is a good play mate
the two cats will play together and wear each other out so that
the problem cat will only seek affection from the owner instead of
attacking the owner, because the cat is more tired.
A problem cat that displays play
aggression can become a nice cat if the owner is willing to spend
the time to help the cat correct the aggressive behavior of the