Cats as predators
Cats are hunters by nature. For domestic cats, their prey would be a flying insect or a mouse toy. However, there are some owners who forget about this and mistake it for a behavioural issue.
All cats have a natural instinct to stalk and hunt, this trait is more common in indoor domesticated cats. Indoor cats are usually confined to a small area. Not being able to practice their preying and hunting skills will make them look for other avenues to vent their energy. Unlike wild and stray cats, indoor cats stalk not because of hunger, but to kill boredom, out of curiosity or just to exercise.
Predatory play is one of several categories of play behaviour exhibited by young kittens. However, it is often seen by pet owners as aggressiveness. Normally, when a kitten has playmates, predatory behaviour is rarely an issue. If there is a lack of company, they will turn to their owners for playtime. It is common to find them stalking behind walls or pouncing and chasing approaching feet and ankles, causing scratches and minor bite wounds (rest assured, they mean no harm when they do that).
Adult cats have already fine-tuned their hunting skills and will not be as temperamental, they will only capture and kill small rodents. Just keep in mind that it is a cat's instinct to react this way.
Negative behaviour – playful biting and scratching
Cats may seem docile but they are still predators with a natural instinct to hunt. Know that it is natural for your cat will bite and scratch, so provide avenues for him to channel his energy elsewhere (frequent playtimes, scratching posts, toys, etc).
Animal behaviourists believe that during playtime, some cats can get over-excited and become aggressive and even bite. Here are some steps to follow when your cat turns aggressive during playtime:
- First, observe your cat's body language at play. When his tail is twitching, ears flattened and fur puffed out, your cat is transiting into aggressive play.
- To prevent him from continuing further into aggressive play, slow down and stop the game slowly to calm him down. You can also get up and walk away swiftly.
- Should you get bitten, be loud and yell something like "Ouch!" to let him know you're upset or hurt. Take the toy, stop the game, get up and walk away.
By leaving and ending the game, your cat will eventually understand that playtime is more enjoyable when there is no biting.
Aggressive biting also happens during patting, especially when the owner does not understand his cat's body language. Some cats like to be patted all day but others may have low tolerance. Occasionally, a cat may get over-stimulated and would want it to stop. When the cat narrows his eyes and sways his tail, it is an indication that he is no longer enjoying it. Remember to be observant and understand your cat's body language.
Medical conditions can also be a reason behind behaviour changes. Knowing your cat inside out will help you to foresee potential problems.
Other ways to play with your cat without getting scratched or bitten
- Attach a stick with feathers on its end, and make him chase it.
- Pull a cheese treat or crumpled paper ball attached to a piece of string across the floor.
- Bury dry food treats under a pile of straw or laundry basket, and have him dig for them.
- Freeze bits of raw fish into an ice cube (this will also make good treats!).
- Food puzzles, like a ball that releases dry food as it rolls. You may also use treats, but not too many!
- Make him watch videos of birds, or mice, that has sound effects.
- Place a bird feeder outside the window for your cat's visual stimulation (they love seeing birds!). If you live in a high-rise apartment, make sure that your windows are locked to prevent them from falling off.
- Introducing catnip toys to him once in a while.