Your puppy or kitten is all snuggles, at least until they’re not. Why do the cuddles from young fur-babies so often lead to bites and nips? If you’re trying to determine why your new puppy or kitten is biting you, fret not. Fido and Mittens are probably not biting to be mean or malicious. In fact, they’re going through a developmental phase of being a fur baby. Rarely is biting and nibbling a sign of aggression.
Why So Bitey?
Most kittens go through their biting stage until they’re one or two years old. Puppies typically phase out of the biting stage between eight and ten months of age.
Puppies and kittens are naturally wired to attack moving objects — they’re predators, after all. Therefore, one of the primary reasons your pet may be nibbling is because they’re wanting to release playful energy. Other reasons include teething, saying, “No!” to something or adjusting to the new world around them.
When kittens or puppies are in groups, you’ll commonly see them wrestling, growling and biting as part of their normal playful behavior. If you’re a single-pet household, you may notice your kitten or puppy turn to you as their playmate. When they get too rough with fellow kittens or puppies, their playmates will let out a yelp or distance themselves from the offender. This social cue is sometimes missed when a kitten or puppy is playing with their human.
Downsize the Bites
To help save your skin, redirect your pup or kitten’s attention to a toy and reinforce good behavior with treats and words of affirmation. You can also walk away and ignore your pet for 30–60 seconds after a nip to send a message that they were getting too rowdy.
If your pet is really wound up, put them in a safe space to calm down. Place them in playpen or a designated space in the house or yard for 5–10 minutes. After they’ve calmed down, greet them with love and affection to reinforce good behavior and to not confuse them after they’re being good.
Avoid physical punishment while they’re in their biting phase — e.g., muzzling your pet, holding their mouth shut or pinning them on their backs. Physical punishment can lead to fear and aggression, neither of which you want for your pet.
Also avoid rough play such as wrestling or roughhousing, because it encourages biting behavior. While playing with your pet, keep this in mind to avoid teaching him or her these negative nibbling habits.
Is there a time when you should be concerned about your puppy or kitten’s biting?
Yes. Consider visiting with your local vet if your pet:
- Shows signs of aggression
- Consistently breaks your skin when they bite
- Exhibits signs that they’re in pain
- Stiffens up and stares at you before biting
- Gets aggressive around new people (in a non-playful manner)
Veterinarians can help determine if the biting is an underlying health issue or a behavioral challenge.
Your pets are learning new things each day, especially during their developmental phase. Stay consistent with your training and always reinforce good behavior.
And lastly, note that just by researching this topic, you’ve already shown you have what it takes to be a great pet parent.
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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.