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Biting--where the heck do I start?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hello, all. I just introduced myself in the New Cats on the Block forum, and now I am here to post about my cat's behavior problems.

To put it simply, he is a BITER! So far, he has never bitten hard enough to break through anyone's skin (although his long, sharp canines have been known to leave some scratches on occasion), but he's so big and strong that he could easily do serious damage if he ever decided he wanted to. His size and strength make his aggression much more stressful to deal with than it would be if he were a kitten. Also, the fact that he was an adult and somewhat set in his ways when we got him complicates things. With a kitten you have the opportunity to start from the ground up, whereas this guy has come to us with some less than charming habits set pretty firmly in place.

As I posted in the New Cats forum, Logan is about two years old. (We adopted him from a shelter, and they didn't know his exact age.) He was neutered when we got him, but I don't how old he was when it was done. We had him checked out by a vet shortly after we got him and found out that he has one health problem: medial patellar luxation. It doesn't seem to slow him down at all...he has no visible problems with walking, running, jumping, climbing, etc. But I keep wondering if perhaps it could be causing him some pain. I think it would probably be fairly obvious if he was in severe pain, but mild or even moderate pain might not be...and even mild pain could affect his personality.

Anyway, as I mentioned, he bites. I have read the long post about handling aggression in cats, and it says to start by determining the type of aggression the cat is engaging in. That makes sense--but this guy's biting is occurring in so many different types of situations that I can't figure out where to start.

The first kind of aggression mentioned in that post is pain or fear induced aggression. As I mentioned, there's a possibility he might be in pain, at least some of the time. But how can we tell for sure?

The second thing mentioned is aggression in response to overstimulation by petting. This is definitely happening, but it doesn't always occur at the same point in the petting. Sometimes he will bite after being petted for a while...but other times, he will try to chomp on your hand as soon as you touch him. (And not just if you touch him in sensitive areas, like his tummy--sometimes just stroking his head is all it takes to set him off.)

I don't even try to pet him anymore unless he is making obvious overtures. This has resulted in fewer "attacks," but there are times when he seems to giving off all kinds of signals of wanting to be petted, yet as soon as you touch him--CHOMP! It's so confusing! I hate to just not pet him at all, because there are times when he really seems to want it and enjoy it. The problem is that you can never tell for sure whether he's going to enjoy it THIS time, or if he's just going to start chomping on your hand as soon as you try. This is frustrating, to say the least!

Next on the list in that post is play aggression. He's got plenty of that going on, too. This is the one area that I feel most comfortable dealing with--if this was the only time he was getting aggressive, I wouldn't be nearly so troubled by his behavior. I was already doing some of the things that post suggests, like distracting him with toys and withdrawing attention when he starts to get bitey. I wasn't aware of the "puff of air" technique, so I will add that now that I know about it. This one is the least of my worries--I'm a lot more concerned about all the other stuff...especially one that's not mentioned in that post at all....

This one last thing I call "retaliatory aggression," because it occurs in response to his not getting his way about something. For example, once when he was up on the kitchen counter, I scooped him up and set him down on the floor (gently but firmly). And he got this really p.o.'d look on his face and then hauled off and nipped me on the ankle, as if to say "I don't care for what you just did AT ALL, and this is what I think about THAT!" Yikes--was that a shock! He's also been known to nip when refused a share of something someone is eating. He's a terrible beggar, and if you're eating something he wants, he gets downright ticked off if you don't give him some. With cats we've had in the past, we've always ignored any attempts to beg while we were eating, and they learned not to pester us...but this guy will chomp on you if you don't hand over what he is demanding.

I've had a lot of experience with cats, but I've never had to deal with a cat with this many "kinks" in his behavior. I'm feeling rather overwhelmed. Lately, I've come to the realization that I've been getting in the habit of letting him have his way more than I probably should, because I'm literally afraid of what he might do if I don't. He could turn into a real bully if that trend continues, and I sure don't want that to happen. I want to start trying to turn things around, but as I said at the outset, the problem seems to be so complex that I can't figure out where to start with trying to solve it. I just don't know what to do first.

Any suggestions, thoughts, or advice will be very welcome!

Oh, one last question: that post on aggression mentions Prozac might help. Is that available in some form other than a pill (like something that can be mixed with food)? The idea of trying to cram a pill down this guy's throat is downright scary!

post #2 of 8
Hi Sharon and welcome to the board.

Goodness, it sounds like you have your hands full with Logan and you have already done what needs to be done in that you went to the aggression thread and read up on it, therefore filling in the gaps so that we have more of the situation outlined for us.

Are they sure on the diagnosis of Medial Patellar Luxation? For others who may not know, this is like a trick kneecap for a person. It is also a primary cause for an animal to be open to arthritis and other bone diseases. Did they put him on any medication to manage his discomfort? For biting is indeed a response to the stimuli of pain a lot of times. Do they have him on Cosequin or anything at all?

The fact that he is biting you in different scenarios indicates to me that he may very well be in pain and this is one way to show you that he is. Plus being a shelter cat, he has probably been through some experiences that would cause us to have nightmares, so you are fighting all of this and more.

If he isn't on medication, I would call your vet and ask him why? As for interactive play, if he does suffer from this injury or hereditary disease, playing with him in an interactive way will just tend to make him hurt afterward.

There are natural remedies you can buy and drop it in his water or put it on his tongue that will calm him down. Bach's Flower Remedies work well. You might investigate an essence called Vine to help Logan relax. If he was owned by someone who delighted in playing with him with their fingers (a natural reaction from humans toward kittens) he could have been taught that this was *acceptable* play and does not understand that now it is not. If he locks down on you, don't pull away, instead push your hand into him , this will help disengage his teeth and claws and will also puzzle him - then scream once, high pitched if you can and he should release. Then just ignore him after he has released you for about 5 minutes. Don't get mad, don't scold, don't spank, ignore.
post #3 of 8
I'm curious about why this would be considered agression. My cat Sam bites, or tries to. I never took that as agression, I just took that as his way of playing, he thought that putting his mouth on my hand was an acceptable part of playing. And that behaviour needed to be redirected. I never thought it was agressive though, and then did not try to see a pattern in when he would bite. It was just part of how he played with me, and it would happen when my hand was near his mouth.

I worked with him to redirect this "game". When he would close his mouth on my hand, I would try to meow like a kitten, and I would say "ouch" in a high voice. And he would immediately stop. Now if he starts to bite me, he will often stop right away, and start licking instead.

Not that this works with all of the agressions you outline above. But it did work to teach him that I didn't like that game. And he never broke skin, like you, I would sometimes get scratches because his teeth were sharp, but if I just stayed still, and stopped playing, he never bit down any harder. That's why I didn't think it was intentional or agressive, it was just part of his playing behaviour.
post #4 of 8
I am not an expert on cat behavior, but my cat is a biter, too. I have two questions for you - 1) is Logan declawed, and 2) how long have you had him?

The reason I ask the first is that my Simba was a stray who had been declawed by someone before we found him. I think cats that are declawed will sometimes take up biting since their defenses have been taken away.

As for my second question - Simba has gotten better (i.e., biting less) since we first took him in. I think he tended to bite more when we first took him in due to the fact that he had come from a rough life (he was quite starved), and was brought into a completely new environment, and we have a couple of big dogs that he was pretty scared of at first - I'm sure he was pretty stressed out.

When we first got him he would bite all the time for almost any reason - not terribly hard, but it's unnerving all the same. But with time he has visibly relaxed here, and the biting has become much more infrequent at the same time.
post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for your suggestions and comments! I will answer each reply in the order they were posted.

First, to hissy, thanks for the tips on what to do when he clamps down and doesn't want to let go. He does do that with hands sometimes. I know better than to try to yank my hand away when his teeth are gripping it, and I can often get him to disengage by distracting him. But it's good to have some additional ideas to try.

As far as him being on medication, no, he's not on any at this point. I think the vet felt he was not showing signs of being in chronic pain and preferred to take a conservative approach as long as he didn't seem to be having problems. She did mention the possibility of arthritis and/or other complications developing later on, but she said that many animals can live with this condition for years before they have real problems and some never do. Her approach seemed to be, "Let's wait and see and not doing anything unless he's really demonstrating that he does have a problem." I guess he could be in more discomfort than she thought, so I suppose another visit might be in order.

I am not familiar with the Bach flower essences, but I'm certainly willing to give them a try. Are those sold in stores? I know you can order them online, but if I could just run out and pick some up somewhere, that would be my first choice.

To Sammie5, as far as labeling Logan's behavior aggression, I had actually not labeled it that way myself until I started researching online and discovered all the information I could find about cats biting was usually under the heading of "aggression." It really doesn't make much difference to me what it's called--whatever label you slap on it, this guy's behavior is problematic as far as I'm concerned. The way you describe your cat, he only bites when he starts playing too vigorously. What I described in my post about Logan is much more extensive and complex than that. If you had to live under the same roof with this guy, I think you would be able to see why I feel we have a problem!

Lastly, to Suzy--I know that declawing can make some cats neurotic, so that was an apt question. Logan is not declawed, so that's not a factor here. Good point, though.

How long did have you had Simba, and how long did it take him to calm down after you brought him home? I've been hoping the passage of time might help settle Logan down some. I don't know how long it should take for an adult cat to fully adjust to a new environment, but we've had this guy for about a month now. I think his life here is pretty calm and predictable on the whole, which I would think would help. We're a pretty quiet household--there are only 3 of us and no small children or other animals.

I guess that's all for now. Thanks again, everyone. I will definitely be trying some of your suggestions.
post #6 of 8
I don't know how long it should take to adjust either - there are probably a whole lot of factors that make it pretty unique to each situation. We've had Simba for 2-3 months now, and it's really only been in the last couple of weeks that he has lightened up on the biting. In those few weeks he is showing other signs of being more comfortable here - he snuggles and purrs with me at night now, seems to be walking around with more confidence. So I'm hoping the really frequent biting was somewhat indicitave of his stress at the new situation.
post #7 of 8
Bach Flower Essences can be brought from natural health food stores or from pharmacies, (drug stores), in Australia. I hope it's a similiar situation in where you live.
post #8 of 8
You can also ask them to special order the essences you want.
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