Meow Much is Too Much? Finding the Purrfect Balance in Playtime Roughhousing

Introduction

Rough play is a normal part of cat behavior, especially in kittens and younger cats. Kittens learn important skills through rough play with litter mates, such as bite inhibition and social skills. For adult cats, rough play allows them to exercise natural behaviors like hunting, pouncing, kicking, and biting in a safe manner. However, at times rough play can cross the line and turn into true aggression. So how rough is too rough when it comes to playing with cats? This article will cover what constitutes normal vs. problematic rough play, risks of overly-rough play, and tips for managing rough yet safe play.

Normal Cat Play

Play behavior is very common in kittens and young cats. It allows them to practice important skills like hunting, pouncing, leaping, and stalking. Kittens especially benefit from play as it helps them develop coordination, social skills, and gives them an outlet for their energy.

Normal play in kittens and cats often involves chasing toys and objects, pouncing on moving things, jumping and leaping, mock fighting, and gentle biting or scratching. Some common types of play include:

  • Stalking toys, hands, or feet as if they are prey before pouncing
  • Chasing balls, toy mice, or other objects that mimic prey
  • Pouncing on and biting or bunny kicking soft toys
  • Wrestling and play fighting with other kittens or cats
  • Chasing laser pointers and trying to capture the dot
  • Jumping at and batting dangling toys

Kittens especially benefit from having access to safe play outlets and toys that allow them to practice their natural hunting behaviors in acceptable ways. Play is an important part of normal development.

Sources:
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/kitten-behavior-and-training-play-and-investigative-behaviors
https://lakeolympiaanimal.com/kitten-play-behavior/

Rough Play vs. Aggression

While rough play may seem aggressive, there are important differences between play and true aggression in cats. According to cats.com, play mimics predation but involves inhibited bites and swats that don’t cause harm [1]. Play usually occurs between cats that know each other well. It may involve stalking, chasing, pouncing, swatting, grabbing, and biting, but in a playful, not harmful way. Cats playing will often take turns being the aggressor.

In contrast, cats demonstrating true aggression will be very vocal – growling, hissing, spitting, and yowling. Their body language will appear threatening – ears back, crouched posture, direct stare, and puffed up fur. Aggression involves intent to harm through uninhibited biting, scratching, swatting, and body slamming. Unlike play, aggression is not mutual and one cat is the clear victim [2].

Appropriate Roughness

While cats do naturally play rough, there are some signs that play has crossed the line into inappropriate roughness territory:

– Hissing, growling, or swatting with claws extended ([“Does Your Cat Play Too Rough? Here’s Why, and How to Fix It,” Sparkle Cat, September 15, 2022](https://www.sparklecat.com/special/does-your-cat-play-too-rough-why-how-to-fix))

– One cat frequently ambushing or chasing another who doesn’t want to play ([“Does Your Cat Play Too Rough? Here’s Why, and How to Fix It,” Sparkle Cat, September 15, 2022](https://www.sparklecat.com/special/does-your-cat-play-too-rough-why-how-to-fix)

– One cat constantly dominating play and not letting the other “win” sometimes

– Play that results in wounds or limping

– A cat that hides or avoids the other cat after rough play sessions

While play fighting is normal, ongoing rough play that distress one cat is a red flag. Make sure both cats look happy and willing to play.

Risks of Too-Rough Play

Overly rough play can pose risks of injury to the cats involved (https://hawaiianhumane.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Feline-Behavior-Resources-Rough-Play-Play-Aggression.pdf). Frequent intense wrestling and biting during play can sometimes lead to wounds, scratches or even puncture injuries. Cats have sharp teeth and claws that can accidentally cause damage, especially if the play escalates too much. Eyes are particularly vulnerable to scratches. Rough play that gets out of hand could potentially result in injuries to the face, ears, legs or tail. Kittens and smaller cats are especially susceptible to harm from larger or overly zealous playmates.

In addition to physical injuries, rough play that is too intense can cause psychological stress. Some cats may become fearful or skittish if play repeatedly escalates into aggression. The anxiety associated with rough play can cause cats to hide or avoid the other cats in the home.

Managing Rough Play

Kittens and young cats often get carried away during play and can end up being too rough. While it’s normal for cats to play-fight and wrestle, biting or scratching that’s overly aggressive needs to be redirected. The Seattle Humane Society recommends using aversives like a squirt bottle or compressed air can to discourage biting and attacking (https://www.seattlehumane.org/resources/managing-your-kittens-rough-play/).

When play gets too intense, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise or distraction. Then redirect your cat’s energy into a more positive activity like chasing a toy or treat-dispensing puzzle toy. Giving them an appropriate outlet for their energy can prevent problematic roughhousing. Rotate through different toys to keep them engaged and entertained.

It’s also important to set aside dedicated playtime. Kittens especially need active play sessions multiple times per day. Having a routine schedule of play makes them less likely to act out from pent-up energy. Allow interactive play to end on a positive note, concluding the session before your cat gets overly tired or frustrated.

Safe Toys for Rough Players

Kittens and high-energy cats that like rough play require sturdy toys that can stand up to batting, chewing, pouncing, and wrestling. According to The Best Cat Toys According to a Few Feline Experts – Rover.com, some great options for rough players include:

  • Balls – Look for balls made of hard plastic or rubber that are too big to swallow. The PetSafe Funkitty Egg-Cersizer is a treat-dispensing ball good for rough play.
  • Tunnels – Tunnels let cats wrestle and zoom through with minimal damage. The Auoon Collapsible 3-Way Cat Tunnel is made of tough polyester.
  • Mice – Plush mice with crinkle material inside can withstand energetic biting and chewing. The Hartz Dura Play Mice are made with reinforced seams.
  • Springs – Spring toys with elastic coils or loops allow cats to grab and bunny kick. The Hartz DuraPlay Leap n’ Catch Spring Toy has a sturdy base.

In general, look for toys labeled “tough”, “durable”, or “indestructible” when shopping for rough players. Supervise play sessions to ensure toys remain safe over time. Rotate toys to keep cats interested and prevent destructive chewing on any single toy.

Providing Appropriate Outlets

Kittens and young cats have a strong natural instinct to stalk, chase, pounce, wrestle, and bite. Without adequate outlets to express these behaviors in acceptable ways, they may resort to rough play that risks injuring people or other pets. It’s important to provide appropriate outlets to satisfy their need for energetic play and exercise.

Be sure to play with your cat actively using wand toys, balls, and toy mice at least twice daily. Let them chase, jump, and pounce to their heart’s content. This will help satisfy their predatory drive and need for physical exertion. Rotate toys to keep them interesting and novel. Interactive play sessions should last at least 15 minutes, or until your cat seems tired.

Consider getting a second kitten or young cat as a playmate. With another feline companion, they can engage in healthy rough play and wrestling together. Make sure to monitor their interactions and intervene if play escalates into aggression. Siblings or cats familiar with each other from kittenhood tend to play best together.

Cat trees, tunnels, scratching posts, and climbing platforms allow opportunities for safe rough play alone. Place these around your home so your cat has access whenever they feel energetic. Providing appropriate outlets can curb problematic rough behavior towards humans or other household pets.

According to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, “None of these methods will be effective unless you also give your kitten/cat acceptable outlets for their energy, by playing with them using interactive toys.” https://www.arl-iowa.org/news/pet-help/managing-rough-play/

When to Seek Help

Rough play can sometimes cross the line into aggressive behavior that requires intervention. Here are some signs that the roughness has gone too far and professional help may be needed:

Your cat is consistently drawing blood when scratching or biting, even when you try to redirect their energy. Cats playing roughly shouldn’t be breaking skin (source).

You have multiple cats and one cat seems to be victimized, avoids the other cat(s), or hides to try to get away from rough play (source).

Your cat is aggressively biting or scratching you or other family members – this can signal something beyond playfulness. A behaviorist may be needed.

Your cat almost seems to be in a frenzy when playing rough, to the point you worry they could self-harm by accident.

Your interventions to curb rough play are not working and the behavior is continuing or worsening. A professional assessment could identify potential causes.

You have tried various solutions but your cat continues to be overly rough with you or other pets. An expert may spot behaviors or triggers you missed.

Overall, if rough play seems to be impacting your cat’s wellbeing or relationships with you, other pets, or family members, seeking help is wise.

Conclusion

Rough play is common in cats, especially young kittens and adolescents. While energetic play is normal, overly aggressive or rough behavior can become problematic. The key is understanding the difference between playful roughhousing and true aggression or violence.

Moderate rough play, without hissing, growling, or injuries is usually okay between cats that know each other well. But kittens should be supervised and unwanted roughness redirected. Providing appropriate toys and outlets can satisfy a cat’s need for rough play. If play escalates into violence, or a cat seems stressed or hurt, seek help from a vet or behaviorist.

With patience and proper training, rough play can be managed. But signs of true aggression should not be ignored, for the health and safety of people and animals. Understanding typical cat behavior helps owners nurture healthy, happy kitties.

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