If you are playing with your cat and he suddenly rolls onto his back, grabs your hand in his front feet, and starts biting you, you have been the victim of what is called play aggression.
Although this behavior is a natural reaction based on the cat's instinct to stalk prey and defend himself, it is an unwanted behavior that must be corrected.
So, what are the causes of cat biting and grabbing? Kittens learn to stalk their prey by practicing their hunting skills on their littermates and their mother. They roll around wrestling and even nipping each other. This rough play stimulates the kitten, and he seems to go wild kicking his back feet, biting and clutching prey with his front feet.
This is what your kitten or cat is doing when he bites or grabs your hand while playing. To some owners, it might be cute to see their kitten attacking their hand but when the kitten grows up, he will continue this habit. You will not find it cute when an adult cat latches onto your hand.
So, what are the solutions? To prevent your cat from using play aggression on you, never pretend that your hand is a toy and allow him to attack your fingers. Always use a cat safe toy when playing with him, and he will not see your hand as something that can be pounced on.
If you are playing with your cat and he becomes over stimulated and grabs you, do not pull your hand away. It will only make him grasp onto you harder. Let your hand go limp and say no loudly. After a few seconds, he will relax his claws and you can move your hand.
Redirect your cat's pent up energy toward his scratching post or a toy, and let him wear himself out. This also will show him the right objects on which to vent his energy. After a few moments, he should calm down.
A cat who stalks you and then grabs your ankles when you walk past is also showing a sign of play aggression. Most cats will just grab your ankles with their front paws and hang on for a second, then run away. In this case, the cat is not trying to hurt you but he is bored and is looking for someone to play with.
However, some cats sink their claws in and kick with their back feet. Although they are just playing, this behavior can be unnerving to guests and may frighten small children.
Learn the signs of play aggression so that you will know when your cat has had enough stimulation. If his ears go flat against his head, his tail puffs up, and he rolls onto his back, stop play immediately and let him calm down.