About 8 months ago, my wife and I adopted a cat from a shelter. She was about two years old at the time (meaning she's approaching three now). We love her a lot and do what we can to teach her how to be more sociable, but she unfortunately has some bad habits from her life before we adopted her. For context we are in a relatively small apartment, and so I suspect that she gets annoyed with us being close all the time (she usually feels much better after her time outs and goes back to being nice). She is usually nice, and has learned to be ok with us picking her up for a little while, but sometimes her mood seems to swing quickly to being very aggressive.

For example, if she gets bored and we aren't paying attention to her at the moment, she will come over and bite us on the leg. Usually not very hard, but sometimes hard enough to break skin. From advise I found online, we normally handle this by firmly telling her no, then going back to what we were doing (so that we don't reinforce that as a way to get attention). If she is then good and doesn't bite anymore, we will go and play with her to relieve the boredom. However, sometimes she decides to keep biting us harder until we have to react (breaking skin and sometimes drawing blood). In those cases we take her into another room (a room with her food, water, and litter box) and close the door for a little while to let her calm down and learn that that isn't acceptable (a time-out of sorts).

However, recently, she has sometimes become even more aggressive. When we move her into the other room and put her down, she either runs out quickly (understandable since she doesn't want a time out), or she will attack and really try to hurt us (biting and latching on and scratching).

I can live with a few scratches and scars, but I feel that all of us would be better off if she would learn how to communicate without biting. Do you have any suggestions on techniques that could help?

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    Royal Canin makes a "calm" formula food that might be worth a shot. I've never tried that particular formula but I've had nothing but spectacular results with their other foods. chewy.com/royal-canin-veterinary-diet-calm/dp/101609. RC is the brand the local animal emergency hospital uses, the doctors there seem to think very highly of it. I've also been impressed. That particular formula requires a prescription though so you'd have to ask your vet. – Jason C Feb 24 '17 at 15:59
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    @JasonC Thanks Jason, I'll have to look into that. I'm wary of anything that claims effects like calming since I would want to make sure it isn't some sort of sedative that could be unhealthy for the cat, but it looks like that brand needs a vet prescription first anyway, so I may talk to my vet about it – Kevin Wells Feb 24 '17 at 23:24
  • That food's active ingredients are l-tryptophan and alpha-casozepine, two normal nutrients, thought to combat anxiety in cats. Tryptophan is a metabolic precursor to serotonin. You can actually get it in non-prescription treats, which is another thing to try. It also is in turkey, so you could try a more turkey-heavy diet if you want to try something more "natural". The other one I don't know much about except it's metabolized from milk, but Google for "cat" plus the name for more and ask your vet. RC has a write up on both as well, which, granted, is non-neutral. – Jason C Feb 25 '17 at 0:07
  • Btw, inferred from Lee Danks' write-up, if you do choose to go the supplemental prescription food route, you'd expect at least 8 days before noticing a difference, if there is one ("The anxiolytic effects tend to be observed by cat owners from the eighth day of administration", re: alpha-casozepine.) – Jason C Feb 25 '17 at 0:14

I think it's very likely your cat just has too much energy, and is using that energy in inappropriate ways. Using normal methods of dissuasion will be less effective if the cat is also being rewarded in some way, like in the case that it's managing to work off its excess energy and boredom by pouncing on you. So I think in addition to what you are already doing, you need to try to get your cat to play in appropriate ways more. Get more toys, especially ones the cat can pounce and destroy. Feather lures are usually good, or maybe laser pointers. Most cats play only in short bursts and then lose interest, so you may need to try periodic short play sessions during the day.

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    We do certainly try to keep her entertained and play with her whenever she isn't napping. She loves chasing her toys across the room and hunting her feather lures around corners. She has seemed a bit less engaged by those recently, so we will try to get new and interesting toys that might be more engaging to her again. Thanks! – Kevin Wells Feb 23 '17 at 19:32

Cats are not generally social animals like dogs whose behaviour can be modelled to our way of life.


It is however true that they tolerate us if we feed them and keep them comfortable.... why shouldn't they!

I agree with the first answer that your cat has too much energy, especially when you describe the behaviour after his outings. Being out, probably hunting satisfies his instincts and his purpose in life.

Don't be fooled, cats are hunters and predators. Even if they live together, it's for mutual benefits.... that's how they consider us too.

Of course some are more cuddly than others but if you think about it, always on their terms.

However, the biting is not acceptable. There's a trick that I used on puppies and kitten: if you feed the cat by hand, from time to time, he will learn to lick your hand but not bite. If he bites, take the food away. If he licks, give him more.

After that, if he comes to bite, do your negative acceptance from the behaviour and make him lick your hand. Maybe keep something handy around to put on your fingers to reinforce this behaviour replacement therapy.

I also suggest more interaction in the house with toys, climbing areas...

Good luck!

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  • Thanks, she won't actually eat out of our hands, even with treats she waits for us to put them on the ground before eating them, but I appreciate the advise – Kevin Wells Feb 23 '17 at 19:34
  • She would if you enticed her enough or reduced her food a little. Without being cruel, of course. It just sounds like your cat has kept the wild side. I had one like that once. We just cherished when he was cuddly – user33232 Feb 23 '17 at 19:38
  • Yeah, she does well with free feeding (not gaining weight or over-eating), so it's been easier on us to do that, though it does make her less interested in treats. It's been a worthwhile trade-off for us. She definitely is a little wild still, and we really enjoy her cuddly moments, they are just less good when they end with her biting your arm (or sometimes your nose) – Kevin Wells Feb 23 '17 at 20:01

I have a cat who nibbles and will bite but not leave marks while petting her. She is then telling me she needs to play. I'll pick out a few of her favorite toys or sometimes she'll choose one and we will play until she basically drops. Then she picks a spot near me, not on me as she isn't really a lap cat, and will sleep only to start the process later in the day. Sometimes she prefers to play alone, sometimes she just races from one end of the house to the other getting her energy out or sometimes she'll pick up one of her mouse toys and will throw it around to play with it. So it just might be she gets bursts of energy and needs to get it used up before being cuddly again. The other older cat looks for any and all excuses to sit on people and cuddle. She thrives on having a warm lap to sit on and a warm body to lick. There is no biting coming from her or claws being used but instead lots of love. Different cats, different reactions with different needs.

As for treats, I leave her treats on her cat tree until she's ready to eat them. She won't eat out of my hand too but my other cat will eat off my plate or out of my hand without thinking twice. Both were strays so while I think the older cat was a family pet, the younger I'm thinking was discarded and it had something to do with a plastic bag as she's petrified of the sound of plastic bags even after having her for 9 months. I just work around whatever the cat's personality is and go with it.

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  • Yeah, unfortunately my cat very much does leave marks when she bites, and will turn from cuddly to hard biting without much warning. Sometimes she lets us know she wants to play nicely, but usually not – Kevin Wells Feb 24 '17 at 23:22

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