It's hard to believe that cats lounging around the house feel stressed. However, cat behaviorists have proven that they do and that it can lead to aggressive play. "We put cats in abnormal situations when we keep them inside and confine them with multiple cats, " says Valarie Tynes, DVM, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. "We further change their natural nocturnal behavior and feed them fish instead of their preferred red meat diet. It's no wonder they become confused and predatory at times."
To keep cats happy, veterinary behavior specialists suggest that owners play for at least 5 minutes each day with cats individually or in a group. To decide whether you should separate cats for play, watch to see if they sleep side by side and groom each other. Playtime provides mental stimulation and exercise.
To help teach cats appropriate play:
- Follow the rules. Cats that attack moving feet or jump on owners without warning do not understand the rules. Kittens learn if they hurt another kitten, play ends. People need to stop all play when the rules are broken. Start with correct toys (not hands or feet) and games that involve chasing and pouncing. Kitty fishing lines, balls and furry mice are good tools to use.
- Use distraction. Play aggression normally occurs when cats misinterpret owner actions as games (such as kids screaming or chasing each other enticing the cat to join in the chaos). Close the cat in a room when the family is particularly vocal or active. Throw a toy across a cat's line of vision so he will chase it instead of your feet.
- Recognize body language and the limits of your cat. Some cats are finicky about what types of toys they like and are specific about the type of attention they want. Most cats do not like to be held upside down or scratched on the belly. A crouched position, ears thrust backward, twitching tails and low growling noises are warning signs and you should heed them!