What is Play Aggression? This is when playful bites, scratches and ambushes become more serious and can actually cause injury. It’s something cat parents tend to notice more when the aggression is directed toward them, usually in the form of ankle attacks, ambushes or biting and scratching that break the skin. This type of aggression is usually seen in kittens and young cats. As most everyone knows, cats are hunters and that instinct kicks in at a very young age as kittens play by stalking, chasing and pouncing each other. Although rough play and miscommunication may happen as kittens play with each other, this is an important time of learning. This time spent together helps them develop healthy play skills as they take turns being the mock aggressor and learn to control the intensity of biting, scratching and wrestling. During play with littermates, kittens learn to keep their claws sheathed and not inflict injury. Kitten play also teaches necessary skills needed for survival and hunting as adult cats. Kittens who had the benefit of being raised around littermates, learn these valuable lessons in order to keep the activity well within friendly play mode. Kittens who are orphaned or taken away from their littermates too early, miss important social lessons and may then develop play habits that include more aggressive biting and scratching. Kittens who don’t receive adequate socialization, are played with improperly and roughly by humans, or not given appropriate objects or opportunities for play may also develop play aggression behavior. These cats may be less inclined to keep claws sheathed or control biting intensity. Play aggression is one of the most common forms of aggression displayed toward human family members. Cats will engage in the postures associated with hunting such as stalking, ambushing, biting and scratching with the target being the human’s moving feet or hands. Playtime Early in Life is Important Playtime is important throughout a cat’s life, but for kittens, it’s a time they’re learning about their skills and developing balance, speed, accuracy and coordination. Playtime can involve solo play, where the cat focuses on toys such as the fake furry mice strewn across the floor or the open paper bag just waiting to be pounced on. There’s also social play, where the cat engages with another companion cat, other animal or a human. When a kitten bites a littermate too hard during playtime, that kitty’s reaction lets him know he crossed the line. This important time together for playtime lessons is just one of the many reasons kittens shouldn’t be taken away from the mother cat and littermates too early. Photo: istock Rule Out Other Forms of Aggression A cat can exhibit aggressive behavior for other reasons. Before you decide that the behavior is play aggression, it’s important to rule out other potential causes such as fear, pain, illness, redirected, petting-induced and so on. Pay attention to the circumstances leading up to the aggression to help determine the type. Make sure you have your cat checked by the veterinarian in order to determine if the aggression is the result of pain, injury or illness. With play aggression, you typically won’t hear any hissing or growling and although the bites or scratches hurt, the cat’s face won’t look as if he’s fighting for his life. As mentioned before, play aggression tends to occur more often with singleton kittens, young cats or ones played with too roughly by humans. Let’s Start With What Not to Do Never use your hands as toys. Wiggling fingers may seem like a very innocent and convenient way to entice a kitten to play but it’s a dangerous precedent to set. This method teaches the cat that biting flesh is acceptable. Even if the bites and scratches don’t hurt you now, they may as the kitten grows. You also don’t want your cat engaging in that type of play behavior with your young child or elderly relative where injury could almost certainly occur. Training messages should always be consistent throughout the cat’s life so never use your hands, feet or any other body part to serve as a cat toy. If you don’t want your cat to bite you when he’s upset, then don’t teach him that biting a human during playtime is an ok thing to do. Be consistent in your messaging. Don’t pull away. If your cat has grasped your hand with his teeth and won’t let go, don’t pull away from him because that’s what prey does. Pulling away will trigger the cat to bite down even more. Instead, gently push toward the cat to momentarily confuse him and this will cause him to loosen his hold. When he does let go, either stop all play motion and ignore the cat for a few moments or move away from him completely. The lesson you want to get across is that biting or scratching you will result in an immediate end to the game. Photo: Fotolia Don’t punish. Don&#