Before going into further detail about how to address kitten aggression, it is important to first bear in mind that all members of the cat family – no matter what their size – share common traits. One of those traits is that they have a naturally aggressive side to their nature. This stems from the fact that all cats are hunters, and even though a domestic cat will most likely not ever have to go out and hunt for food or fight for survival in the same way as her wild cousins, the basic instincts are still there. Understanding what triggers a kitten to behave in an aggressive manner is in fact the key to learning how to stop her from directing her aggression at you.
The first golden rule is never to use your hands as a “toy” when playing with your kitten. As soon as your kitten sees your fingers dancing around on the floor in front of her, they are no longer a part of your body. They are quite simply prey.
Kittens and cats love to chase moving objects. What they are in effect doing is fine tuning their hunting skills. So rather than using your hands as the “target”, try keeping some distance between you and the kitten and let her chase a soft toy attached to a piece of string instead (or even just a piece of string on its own!) A small soft ball that your kitten can bat and chase around is another good substitute. Just keep her well away from you when she is in hunting mode and she is less likely to view your body parts as something she should attack.
The second golden rule is respecting the fact that although kittens may look cute and cuddly they do not always want to be picked up and stroked. A good indicator of the kitten’s mood is to keep your distance from her in the first instance and hold out your hand to her. If she comes across and sniffs your hand then that suggests she may be more receptive to being petted. If she ignores you, then take that as a signal she wants no further attention at the moment. If you push ahead and pick up a kitten when she clearly does not want to be fussed over, the kitten will retaliate in the only way she knows how… by biting and scratching you.
The third golden rule is to observe the kitten’s body language. If a cat is in “hunting mode” he or she is likely to react aggressively to anyone or anything that gets in the way. If your kitten displays any of the following behaviours, the best thing you can do is keep out of her way.
The kitten is crouched down on all fours and has a steady gaze
The kitten shows her teeth when you attempt to touch her
The pupils start to dilate
The fur fluffs up
The ears are turned down
The tail starts swishing sharply from side to side.
Once a kitten develops into an adult they become less playful and excitable and usually any aggression shown towards their owner subsides. They also find other ways to develop their hunting skills once they have access to the great outdoors – and this is something that continues for the rest of their life.