How to Stop a Kitten from Biting

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Many rowdy kittens bite and scratch fingers and hands when interacting with humans. What’s the best way to stop a kitten from biting? We have raised dozens of foster kittens who NEVER bit or scratched by the time we adopted them out. Keep reading to find out how we do it!

Why do kittens bite fingers?

Excess Energy

Kittens have a TON of energy. Yes, they also sleep a lot. But when they are awake, they need to be exercising their muscles, their instincts, and their sensory systems in order to stay happy and healthy, and develop appropriately. If a kitten has too much unspent energy, she may release some of it by hunting, biting, and clawing your hands and fingers.

Hunting instincts

Kittens are born with the instinct to hunt ingrained in their souls! Their little bodies are growing into that perfect hunter shape to crouch, stalk, and pounce. Kittens’ attention is drawn to small objects that act or move like prey – insects, mice, fish. Their minds and bodies want them to chase, pounce, and kill, because those instincts are what would have kept them fed and healthy in the wild.

Teething

Kittens have a first set of teeth that grow in over the course of approximately 1-2 months of age, and a second set of teeth that grows in between 3 and 8 months of age. If your kittens are within this age range, they may be wanting to chew on any object that is convenient. This is to relieve some of the pressure of new teeth emerging. Including fingers!

Brown tabby kitten lying on the ground looks up at the camera with one paw raised
But your fingers look so tasty! Let me hunt them!

Do kittens grow out of biting?

As kittens get older, their energy will lessen a bit, and they will be less likely to exercise their hunting instincts on you. Eventually they will be past the teething stage, and won’t be biting anything to soothe their sore gums. However, if a cat learns bad play habits or bad reaction habits as a kitten, they will not easily grow out of those bad habits.

A white and orange kitten sitting in a window giving a big yawn
My instincts are to be a vicious hunter – teach me good manners as a kitten please!

Why is teaching kittens not to bite important?

If you are fostering kittens, your goal is always to end up with a happy, healthy kitten being adopted into a loving home that is a great match for the kitten’s personality. I have always thought of fostering as training up a little social worker. Their job is to bring joy, warmth, and smiles to their forever home. This will also ensure that the future adopters love the cat so much that they will take superb care of the kitten that I have fallen so in love with while fostering them. The best way for your foster cats to advocate for themselves is to get people to fall in love with them. You as the foster get to help bring out their personality, and teach them the skills they need to succeed.

Skills for New Adoptees

One of the best skills that will help your kitten fits in well in their new home is making sure they play well. They need to have good instincts surrounding appropriate use of their claws and teeth. Many people have negative associations with cats because they are afraid of getting bitten or scratched. Many cats have been given up to shelters because of biting or clawing behaviors. Whether your kitten will be your own permanent furry family member, or they will be adopted, you want them to be an asset to the family. This means that no one feels afraid of the cat biting or scratching them.

Lifelong Habits

The habits your kitten learns from a young age will stay with them throughout their life. You want your kitten to refrain from biting or using claws on humans at all times. They should not bite or scratch humans during play or if startled. And if it so happens that the cat ever needs to be rehomed later in life, cats assimilate more easily into a new family if they have good manners. Teaching your kittens not to bite or claw humans from a young age is a vital part of their care. This article will teach you how to help your kittens stop biting.

Small kitten swats at weed flower growing through a cobblestone path.
Teach me to hunt APPROPRIATE objects, like this flower, and not humans!

How to Get Your Kitten to Stop Biting

As you can see, training your kitten not to bite you is an essential skill for them to succeed in the world, ESPECIALLY for first kittens. Here are 4 easy strategies to help your kittens stop biting you

Use Only Gentle Hands When Playing With Kittens

No matter what else you do, you need to teach your kittens that hands are not toys. From a kitten’s perspective, human hands are for giving treats, refilling the water bowl, ear scratches, chin scratches, long slow purr-inducing pets, typing on that cat bed that has all those keys with letters on them, and operating the can opener.

If you play rough with your kitten, give overly enthusiastic belly rubs, jiggle kittens too much, or waggle your fingers at them to get a response, your kitten will come to see hands and fingers as fair game for pouncing and hunting. If your kitten learns to pounce and hunt fingers, even if it’s cute during kitten play time, the kitten may catch you off guard and do it when you’re not interested in playing. And your kitten will grow up into a cat who is used to biting and clawing humans, and sees no problem with it.

A tabby kitten receives gentle pets as part of learning that human hands are not for biting
Human hands are for gentle cuddles and pets!

Redirection

The most used strategy for preventing kittens from learning bad biting habits is to redirect their rough play to an appropriate objects. The behaviors of clawing and biting are instinctive and not inherantly problematic – they’re one of the things we love about cats! The problem is when they are directed at humans.

If a kitten starts to bite or claw your hand (or any other part), make your hand and fingers limp and boring, and remove it from the interaction with the kitten. Then, grab an appropriate toy for the behavior to be directed at. Have your kitten claw, kick, bite, chase, or otherwise hunt-and-kill the toy.

If you consistently use gentle hands with your kittens, and always redirect their hunting energies to appropriate toys, you will see them learn remarkably quickly to sheath their claws when interacting with you.

Help Kittens Expend Energy

As we always say, a tired kitten is a happy kitten. Kittens are a lot like human children. If they have too much energy by the end of the day, they will be more likely to expend that energy with minimal impulse control. Be sure your kitten gets enough stimulation and exercise during the day! Allow him to express his instincts by hunting and jumping for a chase toy for 10 or 20 minutes each morning and evening. If you are home for lunch, or work from home, do this periodically throughout the day. If you are away from the house for long hours at a time, consider bringing home multiple kittens together. That way they can play, chase, and wrestle each other in your absence.

Have Another Cat or Kitten Teach Manners

If possible, adopt two kittens together. As the kittens play, wrestle, and fight, they will use claws on each other and start to teach each other when claw use is gentle, and when claw use is too much. We have found that fostering single kittens is more difficult because they don’t have this feedback from siblings. If you adopt a kitten and have an older cat already, the older cat will almost certainly play a part in teaching the new kitten manners. An adult cat will have very little patience for gratuitous claw usage by a kitten.

If you have only one kitten, feel free to focus on the other suggestions here. Or, get creative! Consider setting up a “kitten play date” with a friend or family member with another kitten or cat. Just be mindful of keeping a safe environment and not stressing the cats out. Engineer careful introductions of potentially territorial older cats with rowdy kittens for everyone’s safety.

Two gray kittens wrestling on someone's lap as an acceptable alternative activity to the kitten biting humans
Together, we learn faster

What Not to Do to Help Kittens Stop Biting

The following strategies are ineffective for getting your kittens to stop biting or playing rough. These actions may damage your relationship with the cat.

Do NOT yell at your kitten. You can yelp if scratched or bit to let the kitten know that his action hurt you, but it’s best to just remove yourself from the situation and provide an appropriate object for his claws or teeth to target. If you shout at a kitten, he won’t understand what you’re saying, and will likely only become scared of you. Being scared will lead him to not want to interact with you in the future. Rather than helping the kitten stop biting, this will raise his stress levels during interactions so that he’s more likely to lash out at you out of fear. Don’t scare your kitten. Provide your kitten with an appropriate learning environment and lots of love instead.

Do NOT hit or attempt to hurt your kitten. I’m thinking of old stories where someone would smack a puppy with a rolled up newspaper for having an accident. This reaction wasn’t effective for that situation, and it will be less effective with kittens. Not only would this lead to the fear-based relationship described above, but your kitten might also think that you’re just playing rough. Then she will play rougher with you if she isn’t too scared to interact at all. Again, provide your kitten with an appropriate learning environment and lots of love instead.

Toys to help kittens stop biting

Kick toys for kittens

Toys that a kitten can wrestle and kick are great for activating their hunting instincts and getting energy out. Examples of these cat include this denim and sisal kicker, these adorable monster toys, these simple catnip shapes, and this fabulous feathered fox. Exerting energy on these toys will help your kittens stop biting your hands.

Chase toys for kittens

Having kittens chase toys is excellent for tiring them out, and for giving them an outlet to express their hunting and pouncing instincts. Great options for chasing toys include this ribbon toy, this feather wand, and this mouse chaser. Some great non-wand toy options include these spring toys and these jangly balls.

Laser Pointers

Laser pointers a somewhat controversial toys for cats. In addition to the danger posed by potentially shining them into your cats eyes, laser toys don’t give your cat the satisfying sensory experience of catching prey at the end of the hunt. Instead, your kitten will chase and chase and chase. He may get frustrated when he can never “catch” the red dot in a way that he can kick or bite. While this will tire your kitten out, and is certainly satisfying to watch as a human, it’s not necessarily the best for your kitten’s frustration levels. I recommend going with some of the options above instead.

You can stop your kitten’s biting behavior!

With a little strategy in your pocket, you can easily help your kittens stop biting. Teach your kittens the skills of good manner with their teeth and claws that will serve them throughout their entire lives. A well-mannered cat is a joy to live with!

Silver tabby kitten with fearsome glare rests happily on a man's chest while receiving pets as an example of gentle interactions to encourage kittens to stop biting
This is my human, and I have only soft paws and purrs for him.

When working to stop a kitten from biting, remember:

  1. Use gentle hands
  2. Redirect to toys
  3. Tire them out
  4. Adopt another kitten!
A close up of a black and white kitty with vibrant blue eyes and the caption "How To Stop a Kitten Biting".

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