Playing with kitty - that's why we become cat owners, isn't it? But what happens when play turns to pain, when kitty starts biting and scratching and drawing blood? Animal behaviorists call this play aggression, but who cares about the big words? What really matters is how you can get rid of it? First, you need to know what causes cats to become aggressive when playing with you. Once you know what causes the problem, you can learn how to fix it.
Play aggression normally occurs in kittens which are taken away from their mothers too early in life. A normal kitten, raised with littermates, quickly learns to bite and scratch with less intensity. They learn that playing rough will either cause their playmates to retaliate or to stop playing. You can recognize this behavior from the kitten's posture. It lashes its tail, flattens its ears and its pupils dilate. This is soon followed by biting and scratching.
To correct this behavior, you need to redirect your kitten's attention to another acceptable object. Drag kitty's toy along the floor, or throw the toy around and let kitty chase after it. A good choice for this would be a ping pong ball or something similar which bounces nicely. A soft, stuffed toy the same size as your kitten is also good. This lets kitty wrestle with it, closely simulating the way young kittens play with each other. Encourage play with this wrestling toy when your kitten starts to play rough.
You need to keep things under control. Set up 3 or 4 consistent times everyday to play with your kitten. This conditions your kitten so that it knows not to bother you at other times.
When playing with your cat, do not encourage it to chase after your hands and feet. This can also cause play aggression. In addition, if your cat tries to play with you outside your scheduled playtimes, you should ignore it. Otherwise it will start ambushing you when you climb down the stairs, or go around a corner, or when you go to bed. That would be an accident waiting to happen.
Sometimes, just ignoring kitty does not help. In this case, try using some kind of noise maker. You just want to startle it, grab its attention and break its momentum just before it pounces on you. Never physically strike your cat. A painful strike will make your cat afraid of you and avoid you. On the other hand, a harmless strike will just encourage it to continue its behavior. Either way, this is not what you want.
To enjoy playtime with your cat, you need to contain its aggression. Follow these tips consistently and with patience, and you will be able to have fun playing with your cat.