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Advice on persistent mild nipping?

gyrfalcon
February 29th, 2008, 12:14 AM
This summer I adopted two barn kittens from a nearby farm's barn cat colony, so they're about 7 months old now, male and female. Not entirely clear whether they're littermates or not, since the place had a lot of kittens around the same age running around together and sharing moms.

The farm family said these guys were about 8 weeks when I took them, but after a few weeks, the vet was pretty sure they had been younger than that, maybe as young as 6 weeks. (Harder to tell with undernourished barn kitties, apparently.)

Anyway, I expected some of the usual behavior from kittens removed from their mother too soon-- lots of kneading sessions in particular. Both kittens like to lick my hand, or my face, if they can reach it, after I've petted them for a bit. The female is very polite, gives a half dozen friendly licks and that's it.

But the little male, Mr. Johnson, carries on longer and also bites-- not hard, but hard enough to be unpleasant. He never does this in play, only when he's purring and snuggly and feeling especially warm and fuzzy-- like first thing in the morning in bed when I'm still groggy! When he was very little, he would come snuggling up to me in early AM, purring like a freight train, grab my earlobe or tip of my nose or my eyelid and suck on it, then bite pretty hard. I finally just started pushing him away fairly forcefully when he did that, and he's stopped the sucking. But he still does the lick and nip A LOT, and it's always when he's happy and relaxed and wanting affection from me.

I'd sure appreciate any insight you wise folks may have on why he does this. (The little female, Maggie, has never done it, nor has any cat I've had in the past) And also any advice on the best way to discourage him from doing it.

I'm concerned because the nipping always is associated with purring and snuggling, and I don't want to discourage the snuggling, just the nipping! I did get him to stop the early morning ear sucking/nipping, but at the cost of also stopping the early morning purr/snuggle, too, which I really regret. I very much don't want him to jump to the wrong conclusion about what I want him to stop doing, but I don't know how to clearly separate the two things in his mind, since he always does them together.

This isn't huge on the general scale of things. He's a lovely little cat and we enjoy living with each other. But I'd sure like to find a way to get him to stop those nips to my face particularly before he accidentally breaks the skin. (He did break the skin on my earlobe earlier, and it was hard explaining to folks who noticed why I had these little scabs on my earlobe!)

Any and all advice greatly appreciated!

badger
February 29th, 2008, 09:23 AM
Don't worry, he won't take your corrections as rejection, these are behaviours that would usually be taken care of by the mother cat and his littermates. At 7 months, he should be getting it. But you have to be consistent. I would be shoving him off the bed. You could also try hissing loudly when he does it.
And of course, be quick to respond when he is a good boy. Play with him without your hands getting in the way (laser tag, etc.).
If he's not neutered yet, get it done. It's not a magic solution but will probably help settle him down a bit.

gyrfalcon
February 29th, 2008, 12:51 PM
Hi, Badger. Yes, was neutered at 5 mos, but it hasn't had quite the effect on him I was hoping. (He still sometimes tries to hump the older neutered male cat in the household from time to time, and the look of bewilderment and growing irritation on the older cat's face is very comical.)

I should emphasize that he doesn't nip at any other times, never has done with play or aggression of any kind, just when he's being affectionate, often when he's the one initiating the affection, very slowly and calmly, not over-stimulated from vigorous petting at all. I've seen cats do this to each other, but I never had one do it to me before.

Any idea at all where this behavior would come from? Surely his mother would not have appreciated having her nipples bitten while he was suckling!

He's clearly the dominant personality among the three cats (his 7mo neutered female littermate and a 5yo neutered male), probably the whole household, really, and a very active little guy. He's also very bright and quick to learn and cares keenly about my approval and disapproval. He started bringing me his ball to throw for him over and over when he was still quite tiny and learned immediately not to get up on the kitchen counter (in my presence, anyway), which the female persists in doing from time to time right in front of me with perfect aplomb and unconcern.

My worry about stopping the suck/nip thing stems from another cat I had who was similar in temperament and intelligence, just smart enough to derive broader rules than I had intended. With that cat, a devoted lap-snuggler, I had to stop him from getting up in my lap when I was working in my office when he got too big, but he took the lesson to be that he should never, ever get up in my lap under any circumstances anywhere, and it took more than a year of reassurance and coaxing before he would risk it again.

It's funny, isn't it, how some cats are completely oblivious to your approval and others so desperately need it.

phoozles
February 29th, 2008, 05:29 PM
My kitten does that too - she's about 6 months now and hasn't really stopped. She actually mostly only bites me - she licks my boyfriend, but with me, it's licking and biting. It's usually when she's purring, in the same situation you are - rarely during play.
I've tried blowing in her face, hissing and shouting "No", to no avail.. (well, it has tapered off a touch). I'm hoping she'll just grow out of it - I'm trying to be consistant - and blowing in her face gets her to stop - if even for a moment.

Good luck, and if you find a better solution, let me know!

gyrfalcon
February 29th, 2008, 07:22 PM
My kitten does that too - she's about 6 months now and hasn't really stopped. She actually mostly only bites me - she licks my boyfriend, but with me, it's licking and biting. It's usually when she's purring, in the same situation you are - rarely during play.
I've tried blowing in her face, hissing and shouting "No", to no avail.. (well, it has tapered off a touch). I'm hoping she'll just grow out of it - I'm trying to be consistant - and blowing in her face gets her to stop - if even for a moment.

Good luck, and if you find a better solution, let me know!

Oh, it's great to find someone else with the same issue! I did a fair amount of Googling and found nothing on this particular kind of circumstance for nipping.

I'm curious, do you spend more time with her than your BF does? In other words, I'm wondering what relationship this has to dominance stuff. Thinking about it, any time I've had more than one cat, the one that's dominant over the other/s has been the one much more eager for my approval. In other words, the cats lower down are more concerned with avoiding the dominant cat's disapproval, and the top cat, in turn, worries mainly about mine.

Does that make any sense?

Don't know how that would fit in with the nipping thing, unless maybe there's a subtle attempt there to test the boundaries and see if he can get one up on me by being sweet and then sneak in a couple of bites when I'm not expecting it. I don't know! My vet said the surest way to insanity is to try to psychoanalyze a cat.

I'll try blowing in his face for a while and see how that goes.

Another habit I'm trying to break him of is leaping from a chair onto my back when I'm working in the kitchen. This was cute when he was little, not so cute now he's bigger. I make a point of giving a sharp scream of surprise when he does it now and immediately backing up to the chair and leaning over to dump him off, but he still can't resist from time to time.

badger
March 1st, 2008, 12:59 AM
I should have mentioned that I also have a nipper/biter, a little female calico I found in the alley last autumn, she's probably about 6 months by now, maybe older. Even when I just quietly scratch her behind the ears when she's resting and relaxed, she still bites me in the end, when she licks my hand I know a bite is coming :laughing: But it is less likely than in the past. She has managed to carve a place among her much bigger brothers through sheer attitude and cussedness. That's just Coco. I predict she will never be a lap cat but I have been wrong before :laughing:

gyrfalcon
March 1st, 2008, 01:44 AM
Oh, my God, she's GORGEOUS! Wow!

How old was she when she came into your house? They say feral kittens are beyond complete socializing after about 12 weeks, but I haven't any direct experience.

When i was a kid, we had a kitten from a shelter who was quite young, but because he had a bad URI and, um, "digestive" problems for quite a while, my mother wouldn't let us touch him and he lived shut up in the kitcheen for the first month or so. He was very, very attached to us, but we'd definitely missed the period when he could have gotten used to being handled. So he liked being petted, but never, ever sat in a lap voluntarily. He was still a wonderful member of my family growing up, and I adored him. (Don't think he ever nipped anybody even once, though)

gyrfalcon
March 1st, 2008, 01:51 AM
Meant to particularly remark on what fabulous whiskers she has. I'm a sucker for great whiskers on a cat.

badger
March 1st, 2008, 10:04 AM
I would say Coco was under 12 weeks when I found her but really I have no idea. You can get a general idea from the teeth but Iíve had spreads of five years and more from two different vets. If food is scarce, their growth is compromised, at a time when they should be experiencing a growth spurt. But they catch up; Iíve had adult cats double in size over a period of months, not just belly fat but length and height.

Did I mention Coco is looking for a home? Notwithstanding her mouthiness, she is a complete delight, with enough character for two cats (and more than most humans). Here she is when I found her:

zztopp
March 24th, 2008, 12:47 PM
We have an almost 2-year-old semi-ferral cat who lives in our barn. I say semi-ferral because she is socialized with humans, but lives "wild" in the barn coming and going as she pleases ... but always coming back to her kitty kibble and litterbox ;)

When I pat her head, she'll start purring and weaving around to get plenty of pats and scritches ... then when she's really happy, she'll turn around and nip your finger, then continue purring and weaving around for pats!!! :eek:

Not the most polite! Since it's been winter I've been wearing my thick deerskin gloves and her love bites haven't bothered me, but now that summer is coming again methinks I'm going to have to start Biting 101 with her! I like the idea of hissing at her, as she and her buddy are very vocal towards each other.

So, I can't offer any help ... but you aren't alone!! :thumbs up