As a first time Savannah kitten owner, you may find yourself asking a lot of questions. Though Savannahs share a lot of the same traits with domestic cats, they are still very unique individuals. Due to their wild instincts, many wonder why Savannah kittens bite.
Savannah kittensbite because it is in their nature. Naturally, cats are predators and as kittens they begin to practice the art of the hunt. Thus, there is a lot of stalking, chasing, jumping, and biting, and even as kittens Savannahs have sharp powerful teeth.
Although it is a natural instinct to bite there are ways that you can allow your kitten to practice “the hunt”, without risking your fingers and toes. Throughout this article we will discuss your kitten’s natural behavior and how to redirect it in a healthy way that makes both of you happy.
Why Would Your Savannah Kitten Bite?
In Their Nature
The best place to start with any questions about your Savannah or even domestic cat is to look into natural cat behaviors. Even though humans have been attempting to domesticate cats for thousands of years, they will still always maintain a level of natural instinct. This is true for most animals. Even humans still express certain biological behaviors thatlink back to our early ancestors.
Felines are natural predators, and in the wild it is absolutely essential that they begin learning to hunt as soon as possible. In the wild,serval cubs will start practicing on each other by stalking, pouncing, scratching, and biting one another. For them this form of socialization and survival training is fun and, more often than not, a painless activity.
Hunting behavior will start as early as four weeks in most felines andwill usually involve their littermates. In the wild this eventually leads to cubs or kittens stalking small forms of prey such as mice, birds, snakes, and other small animals. Prey species makequick darting movements, so cats need to stalk slowly but be quick to pounce and deliver a fast and powerful bite.
Savannahs bred in captivity will begin their predatory behavior just as a wild cat would,practicing with their siblings. However, eventually most Savannah kittens will be separated from their mother and siblingsat around eight weeks when they are ready to be adopted. This means they will no longer have litter mates to play with and will likely view you as their new playmate.
A Bonding Process
Once home,you and your Savannah will begin the bonding process that may include you as well as other family members who live in the home. As most of your time will be spent with your kitten, they will begin to associate you and other family as their own. So, it will be natural for them to want to practice their hunting skills with you, specifically your fingers and toes!
When interacting with your Savannah kitten it is natural to want to play along with them and even allow them to bite your fingers. As young kittens their bites may not initially be very painful, but eventually they could cause some real damage. Additionally, this shows your kitten your fingers or toes are fair game.
It is important to establish early on thatfingers, toes,and any otherbody parts are off limits.Otherwise, this behavior could continue into adulthood. The important thing to remember is that this is a natural behavior for your kitten and is almost always “play” related and not an act of aggression. We will discuss more about signs of aggression in the next section.
How Do You Know If It’s Play Or Another Form Of Aggression?
There will be times where you may wonder whether or not your kitten is just playing or being aggressive. Sometimes your kitten may become over-stimulated from play time, which causes an adrenaline rush making them a little extra crazy. This could lead them to bite harder or even start to scratch, but it is still play to them and not aggression. Usually, this behavior is resolved by a “timeout”.
The Fear Factor
With that said, there will still be times when your kitten’s biting could be aggressive, which is more often than not triggered by fear. There are also cases, especially if your kitten is approaching adulthood, where biting may be used to show dominance. Learning what triggers your kitten to bite can also help you determine if it is play or aggression.
As we discussed earlier, our fingers, hands, toes, and feet can mimic the movements of prey, thus triggering your kitten to attack. This could be your feet wiggling under the table or your hand across a surface, but either way this type of trigger is usually play related. These types of attacks can be resolved through play with toys instead of your extremities!
Things that could potentiallyscare or threaten your kitten may be as simple as loud noises like a vacuum, hairdryer, or even a door or cabinet that closes too loudly. There may even be a certainobject or toy that can make your Savannah feel threatened. I myself had a cat terrified of an electronic toy, but that loved to catch mice that moved the same way.
Understand Why They Are Scared
Your kitten is small and vulnerable, and they will often try andprotect themselvesfrom what they may interpret as a danger. Pay attention to your kitten’s body language. It can help you understand how they may feel and what will make them bite or even scratch and hiss.
Signs To Look Out For
When a cat or kitten feels threatened, they will often show easilyrecognizable signs, such as:
- Arched back with fur sticking up (like a classic Halloween cat)
- Ears tucked back
- Crouching or “army” crawl motion
- Showing teeth
- Directly attaching with teeth or claws
- Backing into a corner, while showing other signs of aggression
These types of behaviors are triggered by a threat, and in this case a threat could be something thatscares your kitten or in some instances acts as a threat to its territory or status. For example, if you are the only one that is normally in the house, it may feel threatened by other family members. Much like a dog it may “defend” or “guard” you by attackingthe perceived threat.
For this reason, it is important to establish to your kitten who is a part of the “clan”, including family members and other pets. Although, you want to be sure to introduce other pets to your Savannah kitten slowly for a smooth transition.
If the proper steps are not taken to acclimate your kitten to their new home and establish aclear “alpha” or leader of the house it could result in a dominance response. You may have heard the phrase,“people don’t own cats, cats own people”. This can also be true for your Savannah if clearroles are not establishedearly on.
Encourage The Right Behavior
Your kitten will pick up on your behavior as well. Repeatedly encouraging or not correcting negative behavior could signal to your kitten early on thatthey are the one in charge. This may result in aggressive-like behavior such as biting when you challenge what your kitten has established as normal. This type of behavior typically manifests closer to adulthood.
Your home will be a fresh new start for your Savannah full of strange new noises, smells, and objects unfamiliar to them. Additionally, they just said an unexpected goodbye to their mother as well as littermates. This is alla lot to take in for your kitten and can provoke those fear-triggered responses. This is why it’s a good idea to introduce your kitten to its new surroundings slowly.
Play vs Aggression
Once you have figured out how to read the signs your kitten is showing you, things will become much clearer. Generally speaking, if you are spending a lot of time with your Savannah and establishing arelationship,you will most likely experience play rather than aggression.
What You Should And Should Not Do About Biting
So, now you know the reason your kitten will bite and how to tell play from aggression. The next step is learning the dos and don’ts of correcting negative biting behavior. It is important to keep in mind that you do not want to suppress natural behavior but rather redirect it in a positive way.
First, you want to start teaching your kitten not to bite as soon as it starts to happen. We discussed earlier that it can be tempting to give into your kitten and let them nibble away at your fingers. The problem is that when you eventually do need to correct the behavior your kitten will not understand why it is suddenly a problem. Late correction could also lead to more dominant behavior.
The best way to redirect your kittens biting is to introduce something other than your hands during play time. Finding different types of toys that work for your kitten will give them something else to chase, pounce, and bite. In this instance you are basicallysimulating “the hunt” by providing “prey”. You may have to experiment to find the right toys for your kitten, to see what works best.
Many Savannah cat owners and breeders suggest toys with a chord and stick with some type of toy attached. These are sort of like a fishing line and can help in the effort of keeping your hands out of the play session. Other toys can be tossed for your kitten to catch like small mice, paper balls, or even balls with bells. Hand held or automatic laser pointers can also provide tons of fun.
Make Time For Play
Using toys and playing with your kittenthroughout the day will burn off energy while also redirecting their biting. If these steps are taken early on it will save youheadaches in the future, as it isvery hard to change your Savannah’s behavior as they grow up. It’s recommended to play with your kitten for at least 30 minutes in the morning and evening with shorter play periods in between.
This may seem like a lot of work for a pet, and it is. This is why selecting a Savannah is not to be taken lightly. They have a ton of energy and still exhibit a lot of wild behavior due to their serval bloodlines. Although all cats share a lot of the same traits, as a hybrid,Savannahs exhibit more wild traits than the average house cat.
What Not To Do
You may read about some people suggesting pushing your fingers into your kitten’s mouth as a deterrent. This is supposed to cause an uncomfortable feeling causing the kitten to stop biting. This method isNOT the way to go and can actually result in harming your kitten or yourself. It is also possible your kitten will associate this as an act of aggression from you and retaliate.
If your kitten does struggle with learning not to bite, there are some otherhelpful things you can do. First and foremost, always try and redirect bad behavior first, if they are biting you, introduce their toys into the situation. If redirection isn’t working you may try shouting loudly “OUCH!” or something similar to signal to your kitten you’re in pain.
Another helpful deterrent is a squirt bottle filled with water and maybe 2-3 drops of vinegar. The vinegar is used to cause an unpleasant smell as some Savannahs will ignore the water as most enjoy it. If your kitten is playing too rough or being aggressive, give them a quick squirt between the eyes or at their paws. This should quickly signal to them they are in the wrong.
Remember to also reward your kitten for good behavior by using treats when they ignore their typical biting trigger. Just remember never to give a treat if they have attempted to bite in any instance. You want them to associate the positive actions with reward not the other way around. Savannahs are smart and your kitten with catch on quickly to the rules of the game.
In extreme instances where your kitten is being especially unruly and is not responding to any of the normal deterrents you can resort to a “timeout”. If you are already in a room you feel comfortable leaving your kitten unattended in, simply leave the room and close the door. By removing yourself from the situation your kitten will associate your absence as a result of their bad behavior.
If you need to put your Savannah in a “timeout” room, you can scruff them firmly but gently and carry them to the room. Scruffingyour kitten in addition to putting them in timeout really sends the message home that they are in the wrong. This action is also a way to show dominance and that you are the one in control. Do keep in mind timeouts should be a last resort and only last up to 10 minutes.
Savannah kittens will sometimes bite as it is their natural instinct to do so. More often than not, they will bite when playing, rather than as a show of aggression. Rewarding them for good behavior with treats will help to prevent them from biting you in the future. With that said, they may also bite if they feel threatened or scared, so try to eliminate sources of fear quickly.