Behavior Tip: Play-Related Aggression in Cats

Play-related aggression is seen most often in kittens and young cats, though it may persist into adulthood. Usually human-directed aggression during play occurs in single-cat households where the opportunity to play with other cats in unavailable. It often involves predatory behavior, including stalking, pouncing, biting, and targeting moving objects (including humans). Sometimes boisterous play leads to human injuries accidentally. You might recognize body language in your cat which indicates that aggression may occur, including tail swishing, ears back, and a direct stare with large pupils. If you notice these signs, end the play session immediately.

Provide appropriate amounts of play for your cat so that individual play sessions might become less intense.  Be sure that you initiate all play sessions, not your cat.  If your cat attempts to initiate play, ignore it to prevent escalation of attention-seeking behaviors and aggression. You may need to leave the room and close the door if your cat is persistent. Try to provide enough play that your cat does not feel the need to initiate sessions.

Use toys which allow the cat to pounce and chase, like wands, cat dazzlers, and bouncy ropes. You can throw small toys for your cat to chase and capture. Experiment with different toys to see which your cat likes best. Rotate toys throughout a play session to maintain interest.

If you see signs of aggression while playing, stop the session and leave the area immediately. The message is that aggressive behavior makes the play session end. Do not use punishment because it could escalate aggression, inadvertently reward the behavior, or create fear of humans.

You may need to place a bell on your cat’s quick-release collar to know where your cat is and avoid sneak attacks. Carry a small cat toy in your pocket and throw it if you are being stalked to redirect your cat’s behavior onto an appropriate play item.

If your cat displays play-related aggression and you need help, consider contacting me for a consultation.