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I adopted a 5 month old kitten back in September and aside from the normal adjusting and kitten behaviour everything was fine. He turned a year old in April and around this same time I noticed a change in his behaviour. Specifically, he started doing something he never did before and I am having trouble now getting him to stop this behaviour. It started one night, right after I fed him and I was going about my business as usual. He followed me into my room and then jumped up and bit my leg. It wasn't hard or anything, but he never did this before and I was surprised. I tried to gently say no to him, but he kept jumping up and attacking me. I think that I probably reacted the wrong way and may have been a little rough with him while trying to get him to stop. Since then this biting behaviour has gotten worse. At first it wasn't too hard, but then he started biting me even harder, as if he really wanted to hurt me. I have scars on my arms from his bite marks, but luckily I have always had long sleeves on so his teeth haven't really broken skin much, just scratched it. I don't know what started this behaviour and why he just suddenly decided I was a giant toy for him to attack, but it needs to stop. I have tried various ways of getting him to stop already, and so far no luck. I admit in the beginning it was getting me very mad and I may have reacted a bit too harshly, yelling at him a bit and even picking him up roughly to 'toss' him out of the room. But I have since tried to be patient and I even attempted the whole 'go limp' act, but that does not work. When I stop moving all it does is make him adjust his hold on my arm and then he bites down even harder! Making a loud noise like saying 'OW' in a high pitched voice also really doesn't work. It might stop him briefly, but he goes after me again after a moment of shock. And using a toy as a distraction is also only temporary, he still comes after me.

I don't believe he is doing it from a truly aggressive mindset, I just think he wants to play and he's letting out that energy the wrong way. He has never growled or hissed at me during any of these 'attacks' and after a few minutes when he finally calms down he is on my lap purring, so he obviously doesn't think he is doing anything wrong. Nonetheless, he is hurting me and it needs to stop. I don't have any other cats or pets, only him. I am home most of the time and I live with my dad, so he does get attention from either of us and we both play with him. Maybe he isn't getting enough play time? He doesn't always seem in the mood to play though, and sometimes when I do try to play with him he will just sit there and not move. But then 5 minutes later when I sit to relax he acts like he's ready to play. I really don't know what he wants or how to properly keep him entertained. He does have a lot of toys and he will play on his own as well. He also loves sitting and looking out the window, so that keeps him entertained too. He will watch TV sometimes too. I think maybe having another cat would help, but I can't afford that right now. What can I do to teach him that my arms and legs are not toys? It will become more dangerous for me soon when I'm wearing short sleeves in the summer. Please help. Thank you.

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    Welcome to pets.SE! When did your cat saw last time a vet? Suddenly change in behaviour is lots of times a sign for health issues. And is he neutered? May 31, 2023 at 9:27
  • His last vet visit was in November, that was the first and only time I took him. It was his initial visit with me and I wanted to check if everything was okay. He is neutered. I want to try and rule out a possible health issue because I was not happy with my vet visit and I will need to find a new vet now. So going to the vet is the last resort for me. Other than this behaviour he seems fine and healthy, aside from occasional issues with his bathroom habits, but I think that stems from the food and is a separate issue. May 31, 2023 at 22:20
  • changing bathroom habits is also a powerful sign for health issues :( Jun 1, 2023 at 4:19
  • About cats peeing suddenly elsewhere: pets.stackexchange.com/questions/13599/… Jun 1, 2023 at 4:58
  • His bathroom habits did not change and he is not peeing outside of his litter box. He has a sensitive stomach and sometimes has issues with going a little softer. This is a separate issue which I am trying to address by changing the food I am giving him. Jun 1, 2023 at 5:08

2 Answers 2

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It's hard to give advice without seeing your cat's behavior and body language leading up to the attack, but I do have experience with cats that do this out of play (I have experience with cats that show clear signs of play aggression leading up to the person's approach followed by suddenly jumping up and grabbing the legs/arms with a strong bite). First off, I'd be wary of introducing a new cat, as if this is an only cat and he's already playing this aggressively, he'll probably be playing too aggressive with the new cat too (but if you must do this and think it will help, get a young kitten as they'll quickly adjust to this level of aggressive play).

To lower his overall aggression, you can try playing with him more, tiring him out. If he shows any signs of boredom (such as vocalizing, pacing around the house, or any signs of playful behavior in response to fast and exciting movements), then that's time to play. And another thing that might help but I don't do this and so don't know if this will actually help this method work more, is to feed your cats in meals and to always play before these meals. This establishes a routine so he'll come to expect big play time at specific times of day before eating (though even without the meals, just playing at specific times should establish this routine), but it might also make your cat more tired and want to rest so as to digest their meal.

Choosing the types of toys are also important. For your cat I would definitely not use your hands or any body part to play with him AT ALL. You want to teach him people aren't toys, so even the briefest wiggle of your fingers should never be used. I would experiment with different toys, see which ones he likes best. But cats generally like to play with things that make fast and sudden movements such as wands (though as a side note I would avoid feather toys, the feathers tend to fall off easily and can very easily get stuck to your cat's tongue and end up being swallowed). Toys that encourage a lot of running would be good to tire him out, I use small fluffy balls that can easily be thrown for them to chase. Cats also love novel objects, I use many small human made objects and just throw it for my own cats to chase (downside is these toys are much more dangerous and I'd only recommend playing with them when you are there to closely supervise, but they are cheaper and more convenient). And I've never used these toys but if he likes to grab onto your arms and legs, then kickers are probably a good toy to try as it would give him the same feel of playing with your arms while bringing you none of the pain.

Also I'd like to add something I have used in the past to avoid being attacked IN THE MOMENT. If you notice your cat is about to attack you, then try imitating aggressive sounds cats often used with each other on your cat (a hiss is probably easier to produce than a growl, though a cat-like growl is the better sound since it can be sustained and you can adjust pitch and volume to lower or increase your threat). I've hissed at my cat before, and he was running right at me but as soon as I turned in and hissed, he stopped his full-on charge. But if you notice your cat is hunched down and waiting for you to pass by before attacking, a growl lets him know you see him and will respond aggressively if he tries anything (that made my cat stop and just relax or even move off).

One last point is that if this happened suddenly, then you might consider taking him to the vet and making sure nothing else is going on. This good just be him growing up, he is only 1 years old, but sudden changes in behavior are worth looking into. And if something physical is wrong with him, then anything I mentioned above is likely to not work. And is your cat neutered (I'm assuming he is cause its typically done and you said he was adopted which usually implies a shelter pet)? But if he isn't than a vet trip might not be warranted then because at 1 year old (especially depending on breed with larger, longer-haired breeds maturing later) this could just be him growing up and maturing, in which case I'd recommend definite play times and also increasing the size of his territory using things such as cat trees.

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  • Sometimes he gives warnings and sometimes he doesn't. His eyes will get really big and I know he's ready to pounce, but these attacks happen more often in the early AM hours and it is darker in the room so I can't always see if there is a warning sign. Also, he tends to hide under my couch and springs at me as I'm sitting down. I have tried to play with him before meals, but he doesn't always want to play. I don't really use my hands to play with him, I did briefly when he was younger, but stopped because I know that can teach them bad behaviours later. May 31, 2023 at 22:35
  • His favourite toy is a wand toy, with a fish attached. No feathers, I never buy feather toys. He also loves these little wool balls and he does chase after them. He goes nuts over them. I have a few human objects too, like the empty roll from a taper. I do have one kicker toy for him, but he doesn't seem to be too interested in it. Which surprises me because he loves to grab and kick at the little wool balls, but they are too small. He prefers to grab and kick the paper towel roll. I may need to buy more kicker toys and see if this helps. May 31, 2023 at 22:44
  • I actually have tried hissing at him before, but not in a while. I will definitely try the hiss/growl thing and see if that works. I suppose I haven't tried it because I was worried about sending the wrong message, but if you have done it and it works it's worth a try. Yes, he is neutered. And I have considered the possibility of a health issue, but I want to try and rule that out before taking a trip to the vet. I also believe it's just him growing up. My dad just bought him a second cat tree for his birthday, so now he can look out the back door at the birds. Thank you for all your advice. May 31, 2023 at 22:50
  • If the hiss or growl works you can try slapping out at him (though be careful not to hurt him). Basically just imitate how cats act aggressively toward each other. The only message it sends is that you want him to back off and are willing to defend yourself if he won't, so I would definitely try this. But it really only works to stop the attack right before it happens, so you need to try other things to prevent attacks in the first place. As a side note, hissing in cats is more of a fearful reaction (and therefore less threatening) and a growl is a more aggressive message.
    – user25771
    Jun 1, 2023 at 0:20
  • Thank you so much for all the helpful advice! I will definitely try these tactics. Jun 1, 2023 at 1:30
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I had a cat that did this. I would keep a water bottle with a stream spray option, not mist, handy at all times. When he jumped up and bit me, I sprayed him. This stopped the play attack immediately. If I noticed he was about to jump- crouched position, ears twitching, tail swish, big pupils- I would hold the bottle and say No! very firmly. This worked for me.

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