Almost all cat owners will be scratched or bitten by their cat at some point. If this behavior is just occasional, it may not cause too much of an issue. However, some cats scratch and bite to the point where their behavior could be described as aggressive. In extreme cases, the owner may even feel that they have no option other than to re-home their pet. Aggressive behavior incidents are stressful for you and for your cat. However, cats usually lash out for a reason. If you can learn to understand the cause of their aggression, you can begin to deal with it and make a happier home environment for everyone.
Why Does My Cat Scratch Me?
Scratching may be part of play, or it may be the result of true aggression. While both are painful, it’s important to understand the difference between playful scratching and aggressive scratching and the possible reasons behind both. It’s also important to bear in mind that no matter how much we love them, cats are predators and scratching is part of their natural, in-built behavior.
Scratching as part of Play
A lot of feline play is based around chasing and catching games. When a cat catches whatever it’s chasing, it will scratch, bite and kick the object. This is an instinctive and natural behavior for a cat and is not truly “aggressive.” This type of scratching isn’t a problem if your cat is chasing and catching a toy. However, it can be extremely painful if your cat is chasing and catching your hands or feet.
Why Does My Cat Scratch Me When I Pet Her?
When a cat attacks hands and feet in play, it’s usually because the owner has played rough-and-tumble games with them using their hands. Over time, the cat has learned that it’s OK to bite and scratch that person in play because it has been encouraged to in the past. People often play with small kittens in this way, not realizing that the habit will continue when the cat is an adult and capable of inflicting real pain. You may notice that your cat only scratches the hands and feet of people it knows have engaged in this type of play with it in the past.
Managing playful scratching
The most effective way to discourage playful scratching is to never allow anyone to play games with your cat where it catches and scratches hands and feet, even when it is a kitten. Instead, make sure that you have alternative toys available so you can enjoy these types of games with your pet, preferably on strings so they are well away from your body.
If your cat has already developed the habit, you will need to deal with playful scratching consistently every time it occurs. When your cat attacks your hand, say “ouch” loudly and firmly, slowly moving your hand away so it realizes this is not part of the game. You can also try distracting your cat with a more appropriate toy such as a mouse on a string. This can help to minimize boredom and lessen the need for your cat to seek to play inappropriately. Over time, the cat will learn that hands are not toys.
If a cat suddenly attacks you in an aggressive way, it can seem like there is no reason. However, aggressive scratching is rarely random. Cats usually react like this because they have become overstimulated during petting, they are afraid or are ill or in pain.
Cats usually give a series of physical cues that will let you know they are unhappy and likely to scratch aggressively. These include:
- Stopping purring
- Flicking ears
- Growling or hissing
- Tail waving
- Narrowed eyes
These are all a sign that the cat wants you to stop what you are doing (for example, petting them) or that something in the environment has made them feel threatened. If you ignore these cues, it’s likely that your cat will scratch or bite you aggressively.
How to stop cat from scratching me
The most important step in dealing with aggressive scratching is to watch out for cues that your cat is unhappy. As soon as you see them, you should stop what you’re doing immediately and move away from them to give them space. This will usually diffuse the situation. It’s also a good idea to think about what triggered your cat’s behavior so you can avoid it in the future. For example, many cats have an area on their body where they just hate to be touched and will react aggressively if you do. Once you’ve learned what stresses your cat out, you can make sure that you and the rest of the family avoid it. This prevents aggressive outbursts and is far more pleasant for the cat.
If your cat is reacting aggressively out of fear, for example, if they hear a startling noise, the best course of action is to move away from them. A cat will not usually continue to be aggressive due to fear if you give it space. If the aggressive scratching continues, you can’t identify a cause and it doesn’t improve with any of these strategies, you should take your cat for a check-up with your veterinarian. Your cat may be scratching you because they are sick, injured or in pain.
The bottom line
Hopefully, you now know some of the main reasons why cats scratch. By trying to understand your pet’s behavior, you can find strategies to reduce unwanted scratching and create a less stressful atmosphere for you and your cat.