Your cat probably plays rough from time to time. That's natural, particularly for kittens and territorial males. Animal behaviorists tout play aggression as one of the most common cat behavior issues. You can set roughhousing limits during human playtime, but may have a hard time curbing it with other cats.
As kittens, cats learn how to bite and scratch during play without hurting each other. In fact, this play aggression is quite common for all young mammals, male and female.
A kitten who isn't raised with littermates or playmates doesn't always develop this tit-for-tat retaliation sensitivity. As adults, these cats may bite or scratch humans or other cats too hard.
Bored or stressed cats often rough up playmates, too. When you tolerate this behavior, you encourage and reinforce it.
Boarder Patrol and Hunting Surrogates
Your cat has a natural, instinctive desire to hunt prey. Male cats -- particularly those who haven't been neutered -- often patrol their territory and instigate confrontation with intruders.
Territorial aggression rarely manifests as play first. Still, a male cat that makes a surprise play pounce attack on another cat that's not playing pretend is in for a surprise.
As a pet owner, it's your job to make sure your cat levels his wild instincts at appropriate targets, not humans or other cats. Neutering is a responsible step in that direction.
Prevention -- Your Cat and You
Pay attention to when and where your cat instigates rough play.
The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends instigating appropriate play prior to regular attack times, using noise deterrents when roughhousing begins, and employing toys that keep your hands at a safe distance from aggressive cats.
Have new toys and treats to quickly end a rough play jag with a distraction. Behavioral changes may be gradual. Training consistency is key.
Never physically discipline your cat when he plays rough. This triggers a transition from faux aggression to the real thing.
Prevention -- Your Cat and Other Cats
The most common cause of aggression between house cats is competition for resources, according to The Ohio State University's Indoor Pet Initiative.
One way to address roughhousing is make sure your cats have equal, non-exclusive access to space, food, water, litter boxes, perches and sunny areas. Your attention is also important. Don't show favoritism.
Play fighting and actual fighting establish feline social hierarchy. However, a cat who wasn't properly socialized may have a steeper learning curve for distinguishing the line between rough play and actual fighting. You can referee, but that may prove ineffective in the long run.
- Cornell Feline Health Center: Feline Behavior Problems -- Agression
- The Ohio State University's Indoor Pet Initiative: Conflict Between Cats
- Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine: Preventing Feline Behavior Problems
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Aggression Between Cats in Your Household
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Cats Who Play Rough