There is an interesting video on Instagram showing a young tabby kitten biting their female owner’s hand. She deliberately let’s her kitten bite it, I guess as part of her demonstration that you can stop a kitten biting by growling at them as a mother would (it is claimed). Not a lot is said about this technique, so I thought I’d discuss it here. Please join in by leaving a comment. The topic is about how to communicate with your cat. There are many ways of doing it. I can recall writing about using baby talk when communicating. There was a study on that. You can read ‘fur babies’ by clicking on this link.
The central point about communicating with your cat is that he or she gets used to the sound of your voice and they associate the sound with rewards which elicits a response. Growling at your kitten is different. It is pretending to be a cat!
To be perfectly honest, not much is written about cat mom’s growling at their kittens to stop them biting but it probably happens from time to time as a kitten becomes too boisterous when playing with their mother when, for instance, biting their tail or ear. The mom voices her displeasure with a growl or a similar sound.
I’ve watched F1-F2 Savannah kittens play hard with each other. When one of them feels that it became hurtful, he screamed. It is the same kind of reaction. And let’s be clear when a kitten bites their mom it is in play.
So, I think we can presume that mother cats do tell their kids to stop biting through a vocalisation, perhaps a growl. But can the same technique be effectively employed by a person to achieve the same goal?
The video on Instagram
Note: I can’t show the video here as it won’t play. So, if you want to see it, please click on this link and come back to join the conversation! Note 2: links to external sites sometime stop working over time.
In the video the woman growls at her kitten as she/he play-bites her hand. She growls and the kitten stops. But is this what happened? On watching the video, I see that the kitten had stopped anyway. I am not convinced. However, there is no doubt that if the human caregiver shows signs of displeasure in a loud growl or any other sound indicating the same negative emotion, the kitten will probably stop.
The same would apply to a grown cat biting a hand. I should think it would be fairly successful most of the time if you raise your voice and combine it with appropriate body language. But there is no guarantee, and it depends how and when the ‘growl’ is delivered and under what circumstances. Is there a good, close relationship between cat and person? The closer the relationship, the more responsive the cat will be.
Proactive not reactive
The discussion above is about a reactive action to prevent being bitten by your kitten or cat. Not the best cat caregiving. It is so much better and more sensible to not train your kitten to use you hand as a toy in the first place. This is the point that the lady in the video appears to have totally missed.
The well discussed advice by all cat experts is to avoid informally training your cat to think that your hands are toys to jump at and bite them as a prey animal. Do that and there is no need to signal displeasure when they pay with your hand as they never will.
Playing with kittens
It is easy for a cat owner to allow their kitten to bite their hand in play as it does not hurt. The skin isn’t broken. However, you know that it is not a good idea as the hand becomes a cat toy. Use a cat tease instead. And provide alternatives such as a homemade toy.
Not good to see her video
I have to say it is not good to see her video as it teaches the wrong thing. The growling at your kitten concept is not bad but unnecessary if proactive steps are taken. The video was picked up on news media, but the journalists don’t know better.
Below are some more articles on the human to cat relationship.
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