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Moxie’s Mom

Dear Tabby,

This summer, after our kids were finally old enough to be safe and responsible with a kitten, we adopted our first little one from Purrfect Pals. Moxie is about 16 weeks old now, and she is the sunshine of our lives!

After years of only owning older cats, I confess we didn’t really know what we were in for with a kitten, and we’ve had a lot of adjusting to do to get used to the change in energy around here! For the most part, it’s been a delight, but we’re having one issue with Moxie I’m hoping you can help with.

Moxie is a bit of a biter and scratcher, especially when we’re playing with her. It never seems mean or vicious; it always seems like play. But she’s drawn blood from both the kids now and I can see them growing a tiny bit afraid of her, especially when she jumps out at them suddenly from behind something, like a scary ninja cat. She never means to hurt them, and she’s never hurt them badly (just little scratches), but I’m worried she might accidentally do worse when she gets bigger, stronger, and sharper.

We really want to help Moxie learn how to play safely with everyone. What can we do?

Signed, Moxie's Mom

Dear Mom with Lots o' Moxie,

Ah, the joys of baby cats, the cutest little terrorists nature ever did make. I still remember the day the Unholy Terror moved into my house; he was about 10 weeks old and the bane of my existence, what with his manic energy, his total disregard for even the most rudimentary rules of etiquette (cover your poops, kid!), and his obnoxious attention-hog tendencies. “Oh, look at the cute little kitten, awww!”
Pfft, whatever, humans.

Wait, what was your question again? Oh right, NINJA CAT!

What you’re describing here is classic play aggression, and if you ever get a chance to see a litter of kittens play with each other, you’ll see they’ve all got a little Moxie in them. Aggressive play is one way kittens learn to stalk and capture prey, and that’s exactly what Moxie is doing when she hides behind stuff and pounces on your kids’ ankles. She’s practicing!

Obviously, though, this is no way to be a successful housecat, and you’re right that while those tiny claws aren’t too dangerous right now, they’re going to grow into bigger claws, and a bigger problem, with time.

So, let’s fix this!

There are some simple ways to address this behavior, especially since you’re getting on it so early. Good job, you! And the best part of what I’m about to suggest is that you can enlist your kids to work with Moxie on this too, which will be a great way for all three of them to bond. Fun for the whole family!

First and most important thing first: No playing with your hands! A lot of people think it’s fun to wrestle with their kitten, tickle her, play “stalk and pounce” with their fingers under a blanket, that kind of stuff. But that only serves to confuse her, making her think your hands and other body parts are fair play. Playtime should only involve actual toys – things Moxie is allowed to bite and scratch. No exceptions! This alone is going to make a big difference, as Moxie comes to learn that toys are for biting, hands are for snuggling.

Next up, if Moxie does bite or scratch, interaction with her needs to stop immediately. You’ll see this rule in action amongst a litter of kittens too — if one of them gets too aggressive with a littermate, the littermate will often correct that aggression by hissing and moving away. That’s what you guy will do too: give Moxie a stern “NO!” (and that’s it – you should never do anything like bop her on the nose), then put her down, walk away, and don’t engage. She’ll quickly discover that biting/scratching means less attention, not more, and if there’s one thing kittens want, it’s more attention!

Third: Play hard, play long, play often! Make sure you have lots of toys of all varieties, and change them up periodically so she doesn’t get bored. Show your kids how to play effectively with her too. For example, don’t just whip a feather on a string around, hold it still sometimes so she can stalk and pounce on it. Then whip it away at the last second, like a bird finally getting a clue it’s about to be lunch.
Play with Moxie until she’s panting and she flops, and do that often! You want to help her expend all that crazy kitten energy in a safe, healthy, fun way, rather than let it build up in her until she can’t help but tackle your ankles.

And finally: Enjoy your Moxie! We kitties just want to be with you guys. We want to snuggle and play and be a part of your life. Give as much of yourselves to her as you can, and she will reward you with purrs, snuggles, and a lifetime of best friendship with your children.

Kids and animals, I tell you what. That is one awesome combination.

For more on how to take care of your new baby cat, be sure to check out the wealth of helpful resources on our website. And thank you for adopting a little one from Purrfect Pals!

Love and nose boops,
Tabigail van Purrin’

Have a Question for Dear Tabby?  Email it to her Purr-sonal Assistant at meg@purrfectpals.org!