How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site.
    Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Cat Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 24444
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
55012488
Type Your Cat Veterinary Question Here...
Dr. Michael Salkin is online now
A new question is answered every 9 seconds

I picked up a 11 month old kitten last week from the cat

Customer Question

I picked up a 11 month old kitten last week from the cat home and he wants to sleep by my face and head and has bitten my head. Can you suggest how I can get him out of this habit I'm thinking of having children in the next few years and I know it can be dangerous.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Cat Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. We need to consider his biting behavior in a larger context. If he only bites when he's sleeping next to you, simply not allowing him to sleep with you should suffice. When aggression toward the owner becomes a common occurrence, however, understanding why this occurs and what you might do about it is essential.

I have advanced training in feline behavior and I need to preface my discussion by telling you that feline aggression toward the owner can be challenging to manage. Many cats display aggression toward their owners when displaying assertiveness. Cats that have this type of problem usually display a confident temperament. They exhibit assertive or status aggression by biting or threatening when the owner attempts to approach or handle them or to simply show their displeasure or anxiety with their place in the hierarchy in your home. The bite behavior may be an attempt to control these situations. Assertive displays, pushy attention-seeking behavior and attempts to control the environment by blocking access to doorways and refusing to be moved from perches or sleeping areas may also be displays of social status. One sign that might signify this type of aggression is aggression toward members of the household that a cat can control (you), avoiding aggression with family members that control the cat and do not routinely give in to its demands. The prognosis is guarded as these cats may be dangerous and the problem may have both innate (he may have been feral as a kitten) and learned components (he may not have been socialized prior to the important age of 7 weeks). Too many of my owners have ended up hospitalized due to cat bites. You must decide whether his risk to you is warranted vis a vis attempting to manage his inappropriate behavior. If you're willing, management involves the following:

Make the situation safe - identify stimuli leading to aggression - avoid confrontation and any stimuli or interactions that elicit aggression - teach simple commands such as "come" or "sit" by using food lures whenever he is receptive to food or play.

Withhold rewards unless earned - heshould be taught to defer to you for any treats, affection or play. For instance, play, affection and treats should never be given on demand but can be given if he responds to a command. After a few weeks of teaching deference, he can be taught to accept stimuli that have triggered aggression. You would need to begin by performing a behavior that has triggered aggression in the past but in such a muted way that no aggression is elicited. If no undesirable behavior is exhibited, he is given a very tasty food reward or play. Once he's conditioned to accept a mild level of the stimulus, the sessions can progress with stimuli that very gradually become stronger.

Punishment must be avoided but undesirable behavior can be interrupted with alarms or a can of compressed air. Care must be taken with this approach since some strong stimuli can make a cat more aroused and aggressive.

Uninhibited aggressive displays that appear impulsive, explosive or excessive may be reduced with psychotherapeutic drugs - SSRIs - such as paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac). I prefer not to prescribe these drugs for what, in essence, is normal behavior for many cats. Drugs, however, are an important resource for the determined owner.

As mentioned above, he is a significant danger to you and others to whom you might rehome him. If you're highly motivated to keep him in your home, I would suggest your seeking council with a board certified veterinary behaviorist who will come to your home and examine the dynamics therein. His vet should be able to refer you to such a specialist in your area. I like the idea of keeping these cats sequestered in a quiet and dimly lit room until their level of arousal abates or perhaps allowing him outside more - where he needn't socialize to an extent past that which he's amenable.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.