Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: How to Handle “Love Bites,” Cat Obsessed with Wand Toy

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Dr. Marci Koski is a certified Feline Behavior and Training Professional who received specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior from the Animal Behavior Institute. While Marci has been passionate about all animals and their welfare, cats have always had a special place in her heart. In fact, Marci can’t remember a time when she’s been without at least one cat in her life. She currently relies on her five-member support staff  to maintain the feline duties of her household.

Marci’s own company, Feline Behavior Solutions, focuses on keeping cats in homes, and from being abandoned to streets or shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. Marci believes that the number of cats who are abandoned and/or euthanized in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand what drives their cats to certain behaviors, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage appropriate behaviors instead of unwanted ones.

Do you have a question for Marci?
Leave it in a comment, and she’ll answer it next month!

How to handle “love bites?”

I adopted a 4 year old kitty who had one previous owner (who sadly passed away). She is settling in well and is an only kitty, but she bites! They are “love bites”, but my previous cat did not do this and while I am watching her cues, it’s tough to know when she will chomp. Any advice on how to handle this? – – Christiane Grando

Hi Christiane – aww, I’m so happy that you have been able to give this kitty a new home under sad circumstances. It sounds like she’s settling in, but that you probably have a lot to learn about each other! In time, you’ll get to know those subtle cues that she gives that indicate that she’s about to give you a love bite, or little nip. She’s not breaking the skin, right? Does it happen while you’re cuddling or stroking her? The best thing to do is pay close attention to her body language. Sometimes kitties who are about to give love bites will raise their heads and their mouth will hover closer to your hand or arm, or sometimes they will start to lick you before giving you a nip. I have a feeling that you’ll soon learn those subtle cues that your kitty is giving you before she gives you a love bite. When she does, don’t yank away or make sudden moves or noises; this can scare the cat and cause her to actually bite hard, or develop a fear of you. Treat her like a momma cat would – when kitty bites too hard (or bites at all), get up and walk away without giving her any attention; the nips should soon disappear.

There’s an important distinction to be made between love bites (which don’t break the skin) and actual bites given in response to being over-stimulated by petting. A cat who is being over-stimulated by petting may exhibit subtle shifts in body language including the ears twisting back, body weight shifting, the end of the tail starting to twitch, and cessation of purring. Cats who get over-stimulated and bite as a result usually appear to be more irritated and less “blissed out” like cats who give love nips appear to be. If your cat is getting over-stimulated, when you notice those subtle body language changes, stop what you’re doing and either sit still without touching her to let her relax, or get up and walk away. It’s ok to do that – you’ll keep yourself and your kitty from getting more than either of you wanted.

Cat is obsessed with wand toy

I have a cat obsessed with his mouse wand toy. He’s begun to make me feel like his playtime servant. He used to greet me when I came home, but now he’ll just run to his toy and start meowing. If I stand up, he’ll start meowing to play. Nag, nag, nag. I try putting it away but he’ll just go to where we normally use it and meow. I play with him once in the morning and once in the evening. How can I get him to stop being so fixated on it? Thanks. – Karen

Hi Karen – I’m really glad that you have a cat who is interested in playing, since play is such an important part of being a feline. Cats are predators, and play allows them to express predatory instincts, relieve stress, exercise their minds and bodies, and just have fun! It’s awesome that you make time to play with him twice a day, and I wish everyone did this with their own kitties. But I completely understand you feeling like a “playtime servant” – after all, what are we but servants to our cute feline overlords? We live to please, right?

All kidding aside, I think it will help you if you start changing up your playtime routine a bit. Please do continue to have morning and evening play sessions, but perhaps you can play with him in different locations and switch up the lures on your wand toy. I understand that he really likes the mouse, but try feathers, fuzzy worms, bugs, and other lures that you can interchange on your wand toy (Da Bird and Dezi & Roo have long wands that you can put various lures on). Move the lures as that type of prey item would move, too. You can also completely change up the routine – start with a laser pointer to wear him out and then end with a toy that your cat can physically grab and chomp (either a wand toy with a lure, or a catnip kicker toy). Or toss paper balls (or other small toys) for him to play with, like a goalie practicing with soccer balls.

Additionally, there are a number of battery-operated toys out there that cats do enjoy; mine like the Mystery Motion (it’s a circle of cloth with a wand that moves randomly underneath it) and Hexbug toys, but there are others as well. The important thing with battery-operated toys is to put them away when not in use; only bring them out during play time and put them away so that your cat doesn’t get bored with them. And that goes for the rest of your cats’ toys as well! Rotate them every few days so that they are novel when you bring them back out again.

Make sure that your play sessions are long enough and that he’s worn out, not just wound up! Cats will often go back to the first step in the prey sequence – staring (followed by stalking/chasing, pouncing/grabbing, then performing a kill bite) – several times while playing, so don’t get faked out if he stops. Take a 30-second break or change the toy and keep going. Younger, active cats can play for a long time, so make sure he gets his needs met. It may also help to feed him a meal or snack after his play session to initiate the hunt, eat, groom, sleep cycle.

Changing the location of your play sessions (and keeping the wand toys in different locations safely out of reach), changing the toys he uses, adding some variation to his play routine, and playing long enough will likely bump him out of his habit of being so fixated on one toy. I hope this helps and that you continue to play with your kitty – he’s lucky to have such a devoted servant, lol! 😊

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8 Comments on Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: How to Handle “Love Bites,” Cat Obsessed with Wand Toy

  1. JoAnne
    February 27, 2019 at 2:31 pm (5 months ago)

    My 8 year old male kitty is obsessed with any wand toy, but it’s not the toy itself that he wants, it is the string or wire that it is attached to that he wants. He grabs it in his mouth and chews. He won’t let go until he breaks it (takes maybe 60 seconds to chew through a braided cord). I have to physically remove the cord/wire from his mouth because he won’t let go of it. I’m concerned that he will damage his mouth with the wires, especially if he were to break one. I never leave the toys around; they are kept in a closet on a high shelf. He repeatedly goes to closet door and cries until I take out wand toy and play with him. He’s so fast that it’s a challenge not to let him “catch” it and then start chewing on the string/wire. He’s not very interested in any other type of toys. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  2. Carolyn
    February 27, 2019 at 1:05 pm (5 months ago)

    As for the cat that wants to play all the time…consider getting another cat.

    Reply
  3. dora reed
    February 27, 2019 at 11:36 am (5 months ago)

    My cat is 7 years old and has often pees on the floor next to the box, even when first clean box. how do i stop it.

    Reply
  4. Janine
    February 27, 2019 at 8:41 am (5 months ago)

    Thanks for answering the question about cats with obsessions with certain toys. We got through that here too. We love playing with them too, but I want to make sure they are eating and sleeping and not wanting to play all night long. Mine will forgo dinner time to play sometimes.

    Reply
  5. Janine
    February 27, 2019 at 8:38 am (5 months ago)

    I have a couple cats with obsessions too. My youngest is obsessed with her wand toys. She has several and when she wants to play, she drags one through the house and drops it at either mine or my husband’s feet (which ever one of us she wants to play with). We laugh when we hear her dragging one through the house with the wand scraping across the floor and just laugh trying to figure out who will be her play buddy next. One of my other cats was totally obsessed with certain toys and she would cry and cry and even skip meals just because she wanted to play. One of her worst obsessions was the Cat’s Meow toy. I had to put it away at night just so she would go to sleep or to eat and not keep crying to have it turned on. I guess like children, they have their favorite toys and just want to play with them all the time.

    Reply
  6. darlene
    February 27, 2019 at 8:16 am (5 months ago)

    I have a cat who will be 8 yrs old she a little girl spayed but she put on some weight so when she uses the bathroom she doesn’t clean herself that good so she wipes herself on towels that I leave on the bed for her. Once a day or so I wash her behind and use some powder stuff that the vet gave me. My question do you know if they make powder so i can put on her behind after I wash her butt?

    Reply
  7. NorrinRadd
    February 27, 2019 at 7:53 am (5 months ago)

    My new kitty is a nipper. Sometimes they are over-stimulation bites, but usually not. And when they are, she does not give the common “tail-swish” cue. She just stops purring and suddenly nips.

    More commonly, she “attacks” to get my attention. She will walk up, eyeball my leg for a few seconds, then pounce, then jump back. Repeat ’til I get up to see what she wants. But sometimes instead of pouncing, she’ll just face-rub my leg.

    Sometimes she’ll get into bed with me, but instead of cuddling or settling in, she’ll stare at my hands and arms for a few seconds, then pounce, then jump back. In that mode, she gets progressively more forceful until I shove her away firmly. She sits a few feet away for several minutes, then returns with a better attitude. She has never come close to breaking the skin, but she will grab, hold, and tug. That smarts.

    I have never encouraged her to view my hands or arms as toys. I’ve had other cats that I *did* raise that way, and none became bitey.

    Reply
  8. Valeria
    February 27, 2019 at 4:22 am (5 months ago)

    My oldest tomcat will turn 12 years soon. At about 1 year of life he suffered a psychological trauma (because of jealousy someone wanted to kill him). Since then he acts like a guard pitbull: as soon as anyone (woman or man) enters my apartment, he attacks – he growls, hisses a bit, then attacks. If the new person is willing and strong-willed enough and makes 4-5-6 visits, he accepts the person and does not attack that much. But if the person stays overnight (as a friend did) he will step over the person then lick their face and that’s it, no more attacking. He is a doll with other cats. He is the alpha male so he will slap a new cat then lick the newcomer and that’s it… He might hiss, but I think this is normal. Would there be any solution to improve this behavior, also keeping in mind that he is not young anymore? Thank you

    Reply

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