Game aggression in cats: what's behind it?

As long as they are babies, game aggression is cute in cats, but later the bites and scratches can end up being very painful when playing. Find out how this form of aggression occurs and what you can do about it here. Game aggression in cats arises from their natural behavior - Shutterstock / Kolomiiets Viktoriia

The game aggression in cats has its origin in the natural behavior of the animals. When playing with their siblings, kittens usually learn how to behave towards their peers, how to behave in future territorial battles, and how to approach potential prey. But how can aggression arise?

Instinctive causes of game aggression in cats

Playing with kittens helps to measure strength, but also to learn social and hunting behavior. The kittens alternate in their roles as "attackers" and "victims" and learn to use their powers, claws and teeth in such a way that they do not harm their peers. Cats naturally know how to communicate when their peers have gone too far while playing.

The cat mother nudges her high-spirited kitten gently with her paw when it is too wild. The kittens notice among themselves if the siblings bite too hard or their claws do not break in during play, and in this way learn to restrain themselves. If the kittens were separated from their family too early or grew up as an only child, they had no option. They then do not know how to use their instincts and "weapons" without hurting others, and game aggression occurs in cats.

Improper parenting can promote game aggression

But even if cats grew up with siblings, were well socialized and stayed with their cat mother long enough, game aggression can occur. The reason for this is mostly the cat owner himself, because he accidentally taught the kitten to play aggressively. For example, when kittens use human hands as toys, it is cute at first and the pain for humans is limited.

However, your pet learns that play aggression in cats is ok and fun. The result: your fur nose believes that even with full-grown teeth and claws it is allowed to scratch and bite while playing - and that can end in a hospital visit for the owner.

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What you can do about game aggression in cats

If your cat has already developed game aggression, you have to show her that this behavior is undesirable, but also offer her alternatives. If your little fool clutches your hand while playing and bites into it, clearly say "Ouch!" and push the arm forward a little. The "codeword" for the pain limit reached must always remain the same so that your cat can understand it as a stop signal. Your reaction briefly irritates your fur nose so that it loosens the grip and you can slowly and carefully withdraw your hand. Then ignore your cat for a few minutes or walk away. So she gradually realizes that the game ends when she becomes aggressive. Alternatively, use toys that keep a safe distance between your hand and the cat's claws: game fishing is ideal for this.

In addition, intelligence toys, food toys and a cat-friendly furnished apartment ensure that your cat has enough opportunities to deal without aggression. A companion can still be a good idea if your cat has been living alone and feels lonely. You can find more tips on how to enrich the environment for your cat in our guide "Environmental Enrichment: Improving the Living Environment for Cats".

Caution! Never pull your hand back suddenly when your cat shows aggression. That would irritate her hunting instinct and she bites even harder. Do not punish your cat for her behavior - she doesn’t know that it hurts you and doesn’t mean badly.