Teaching a Cat Good Manners


A cat who doesn't have the benefits of a mother early on in life can often develop a few behavioral issues. Kate D. writes:

I have an eight month old neutered male cat I adopted from a local rescue about a month ago. He was bottle raised with his siblings after his mother passed a few days after having her litter.
The rescue explained that he could have some behavioral issues because he didn’t have a kitty momma to wean him properly or teach him manners.

He likes to snuggle up to my face while I’m sleeping and then he chews on my chin or nose. He also does this when I’m awake and petting him. There is zero aggression behind these bites. His body is relaxed, purring, ears forward, etc. I’ve tried to discourage this by gently pushing him away. When he bites I make a loud “ow!” noise and move away, stop petting, cuddling. But it hasn’t abated in the least, instead he seems more determined to get in my face and get a nibble.

I don’t want to ban him from the bedroom but 90% of these attacks happen at bedtime or the middle of the night. Is there anything else I can do to curb this behavior? I’ve tried playing with him before bed to tire him out (about an hour of dedicated play), but around 3 am he gets the urge to snuggle and bite.

Kate, teaching a motherless cat manners can be a long process. Mother cats basically bop their babies with their paw when they do things like this, which is fine if you're a cat, but when you're a gigantic, all-powerful human, any kind of hitting can induce fear. Cats should never be struck in any way. Even playful strikes will either convey aggression or an invitation to play rough.

Everything you were told is spot on. The only thing I would offer is to stop pushing him away. This is a sign to Rigatoni that you're inviting rough play. The only responses you can have are to indicate your distress (the higher the pitch of your "hurt" sound the better) and walk away. Leaving him alone in the room is the best option, though I realize this presents a problem when you're in bed. Still, these are things than can be reinforced throughout the day. You have to look for the warning signs of aggressive play and redirect it at all times. Every slip up when you or a family member think he's being cute, is a step backwards in his training. When you see him "stalking" your feet or sneaking up on you, simply redirect the behavior with a toy he likes.

In addition, I encourage you not to ever use your hands or feet as a toy for Rigatoni. Always direct him toward a toy that he can eagerly sink his teeth and claws into without hurting anyone.

One other thing that might help is the development of a bedtime routine. If you want to go to bed at 11PM, have a vigorous play session with Rigatoni and his favorite games around 10PM each night. Really get him going and let him exercise his hunting instincts. When he's done playing, feed him his evening meal. Then it's time for bed and Rigatoni should crash out. He may get up again during the night, but the more you repeat this schedule, the better he'll be at following it. 

Wishing you and Rigatoni all the best!