Ask Crystal: Biting Kitty

a yellow cat yawns showing off all their teeth

Welcome to “Ask Crystal,” where you can ask your pet behavior questions! You can submit your question for Crystal at the bottom of the page!

a yellow cat yawns showing off all their teeth

Dear Crystal, 

l actually have many questions…Currently, one of my young cats who is about 1 year old, wants to bite on the back of the necks of basically all the cats, from our 3-month olds, to our other young adult cats (we have 12 who are strictly indoor kitties.). He just started acting like this yesterday. The little ones started meowing loudly and the bigger ones growled and swatted at him. Normally, this seems like a mating gesture. None of them are in heat, and he’s biting the necks of the boys as well as girls. He hasn’t been fixed yet either. But this just started and I’m concerned for the smaller 3-month-old ones because he’s hurting them. It’s like he has to bite on someone. He doesn’t bite me though. He is normally sweet and kind of quiet.  He is not dominant but now this seems like bullying behavior. What do you think?? Thanks. 

Sincerely, 

Biting Kitty

Dear Biting, 

White kitten with grey ears sits on the examine table with a male vet working in the backgroundAny time a pet begins acting out of character, a vet visit is in order. It is always best to rule out any potential medical concerns for a sudden change in behavior. In general, behavior doesn’t change overnight. It is usually a more gradual change. It could be that a change has been bubbling under the surface for a while.  If the vet finds your kitty to be healthy, then we need to look at the kitty’s life and see what you need to change to help maintain the peace and harmony in your home. 

Behavior problems usually have a deeper cause than most people realize. Until we address the root of the problem, the behavior will not improve. It can be helpful to think from the perspective of the cat.   

We should look at the cat’s environment from the cat’s needs.  One of the biggest causes of stress in cats is resource availability. You may be providing enough resources technically but it may be in a way that the cats feel competition or stress in relation to those resources. 

Food is a big resource that can cause stress. You may be technically providing enough food but are you doing it in a way that the cats don’t feel like they must compete or possibly one of them can guard it from others? They may just each need their own bowl or maybe set up multiple feeding stations in different places. 

Litter boxes are another resource that need to be considered. It is recommended to have a litter box for each cat and in a variety of locations that are quiet and safe. A cat having to enter another’s area can be a source of stress. 

Territory is a huge resource to cats. Each cat has its own personality and needs. Some cats need to be up high and some need to hide. Some cats may want to do both. You can drastically increase the territory in your home by offering a lot of vertical spaces. You may add cat trees, window shelving, wall shelving or cat pathways along the top of the wall. Create hiding spots in the house if there aren’t any already. If you have the resources, consider building a catio for some additional space and enrichment. 

Many problem behaviors such as stalking, mounting and biting behaviors can be attributed to boredom and inactivity. Cats will often turn on each other if they don’t have a proper outlet for their energy. Some behavior problems can be attributed to a lack of attention or environmental enrichment in the cat’s surroundings. People often think that cats will entertain themselves but in fact they need mental stimulation and exercise just like a dog would. If not properly exercised on a daily basis they may find ways to entertain themselves which are less than desirable.  

Grey and white cat lays on the floor with a mouse toyDedicate time each day to individual play sessions with him. Do this is a room alone where he won’t have to compete with the other kitties. Later, you may want to try having sessions with multiple cats playing with multiple people at the same time so that they begin to have a more positive association with each other. Wand toys are the best option for this play as they mimic the behavior of prey so they can help cats to express that predatory behavior. 

Be sure to provide a lot of different type of independent play toys in a variety of locations. Some cats really like mice toys because it gives the satisfaction of the kill. Different cats prefer different types like plush, rubber, squeaky or those with bells so try different kinds out. Large stuffed animals can be a good alternative to bite on. 

Food puzzles and treat dispensing toys can be used to release pent up energy as well. Again, you could place the cat in a room by himself so that he doesn’t need to compete with other cats. Playing with food releases dopamine in cats which can help them to feel happier and relaxed.  

Adding new cats can be an additional source of stress so it may be that the addition of the kittens is a source of stress for the kitty. He may be trying to establish his rank in the changing hierarchy of your household.  

Chronic stress can really take a toll on a cat’s behavior. Sometimes a home environment may be chaotic and that is frightening to the cat and contributes to the cat’s stress levels. 

Sexual frustration can also be a cause of this neck biting, bullying type behavior. You said he is not neutered yet so regardless of whether or not the females are in active heat, he still may be experiencing behavior problems due to his not being neutered. Consider taking advantage of Henderson County’s low cost spay and neuter project, SNIP, to take care of that as soon as possible. There is a waiting list so it’s best to get on the list now. 90% of sexually related behavior problems are fixed by neutering. 

You may consider separating him from the other cats and starting over on your introductions. Have short periods of time of interacting with the other cats and then separate. If the behavior is stress related, it could also help for him to have some quiet time away from the other kitties. You might consider separating the vulnerable kittens from him while you work on his behavior.  

Tortoise color cat with a bell on their collarIf he likes to do a sneak attack on the other cats, consider putting a bell on his collar. If the other cats know he is coming, that could stop some of the fun of the sneak attack. Sometimes a cat has excess energy and is bored and even playing inappropriately is better than no play at all in their opinion. It can be extra fun, if the other cats run away so that he can chase them. If the cats normally get along but get over aroused during play which tips into aggression, you can try interrupting it before it tips over by getting out a wand toy or tossing some treats to redirect them. 

If you aren’t sure if a cat is playing or fighting, here are some guidelines for appropriate play. Their claws should remain sheathed. The ears should be in a normal position and not pinned back. No growling or hissing. Any biting should be minimal and be done without causing pain or injury. 

It can be easy to miss the signs that are going on between cats that indicate tension. One cat may walk away from the food bowl when another approaches. There might be a cat that hogs that laps of the humans. Or maybe one that seems to get all the playtime.  The social dynamic between cats will go much more smoothly when all of the cats feel they don’t have to compete for resources. Take a good look at your environment from the perspective of the cat and see where you can make changes. Once he is getting all his need met, you should see improvement. 

Until next time, 

Crystal 

 

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