Tips for when your cat is biting or scratching humans

Here are some quick thoughts about domestic cat scratches and bites. When your cat is biting or scratching humans, including yourself, and if it goes on in a consistent manner, the major damage is done to the relationship. It is the emotional connection between the person and the cat which is chipped away. It can get to the point where there is a breakdown in that relationship. This can, in turn, lead to the cat being given up to a rescue centre. Or simply abandoned. That happens too often.

Unwanted feline aggression but what is the cause? You need to analyse.
Unwanted feline aggression but what is the cause? You need to analyse. Pic in the public domain.

Analysis through observation and thought required

If the person living with a cat is the kind of person who would abandon their cat under these circumstances then this article is probably useless because it requires some effort to rectify the problem.

Unpredictable aggression or a pattern?

You might think that your cat bites and scratches you and other people in the home unpredictably, out of the blue and randomly. You might put this down to your cat becoming rogue and simply behaving badly. This won't happen. There will be a natural reason. It is just finding it.

Medical issues?

The first tip is to try and step back and not think emotionally (damned cat!) about it but to analyse the situation to get to the bottom of it. The professionals always say that you should check that your cat is in good health and not feeling pain or discomfort under certain circumstances before you go to the next step in the analysis. 

This is because a cat in pain becomes irritable because they are stressed by the pain. And then when they are touched or picked up the pain is probably exacerbated. They translate this as the person picking them up causing the pain. They strike out at that person in defence; defensive aggression, but the person picking up the cat doesn't realise it.

A cat might be injured, if they are indoor/outdoor cats, on their flank or on one of their legs. You can't see it because the injury is covered by fur e.g., if their is a broken bone. It hurts when they are picked up. Or they are ill with a disease that shows no immediate apparent symptoms. This might be cancer for example.

You've got to have a good look at your cat's health and rule out the medical issues that might be present.

When does the biting and scratching occur?

The next stage is to see whether your cat's aggression occurs at certain times of the day. You are looking for a pattern of behaviour. Your cat has body rhythms just like people. They will be more active at certain times of the day than others. During those more active times they will need to release their energy. This would normally be in the form of hunting. The substitute for hunting, for indoor cats, is energetic playtime.

So perhaps, your cat jumps at your ankles in the late afternoon when you are pottering around in bare feet. This is the time when she would be outside hunting if she was allowed outside. She finds some object to hunt and it happens to be your ankles. Her body rhythms drive her to be active at dusk.

You can take proactive steps to meet her desire to be active and hunt at those times by playing with her instead. That should stop attacks on your ankles.

Play in the world of cats is not a luxury but a necessity. Particularly so for full-time indoor cats. It is something which I feel most cat caregivers don't give enough time to. I am poor at it myself. It is one way traffic really from the caregiver to the cat. The cat is thoroughly enjoying it and the human is discharging their responsibilities but rarely do people enjoy playing with their cat and certainly not to the same extent that their cat enjoys it. This is why humans don't instigate play sessions enough from the cat's perspective.

Where does the aggression take place?

And your analysis should look at, if applicable, where this aggression takes place. It may, for example, take place after your cat has been looking out the window and seen an intruding cat on her territory. This is territory outside the home which she might never use but from the cat's perspective it is her territory nonetheless. 

A stranger on it is an invading cat. The resident cat should chase the cat away but they can't do it. Therefore they have to be aggressive towards their human caregiver instead. This is normally described as redirected aggression or displaced aggression. The human is the innocent bystander under the circumstances. So this analysis will help you find out whether the aggression is linked to the location where the aggression takes place.

Play turns to hunting hands?

Play sessions with cats can develop into aggressive sessions. I guess everybody knows that by now. There is a limit to how much roughhousing you can deliver to a domestic cat before the reactive behaviour of the cat becomes frankly dangerous and harmful to the person especially if hands are used inappropriately. This is overstimulation and petting becoming provocative from the cat's standpoint. It is described as 'putting your hands in the blender'.

Trim nails

Another thing you can do is to keep your cat's nails trimmed. And you should train your cat not to see your hands as toys. That means using a cat tease to play with your cat rather than thrusting your hand into the blender as mentioned.

Defensive aggression from timid cat?

Some cats are going to be timid and some domestic cats are going to be more confident. Timid cats may feel more threatened under perhaps innocuous circumstances. And when threatened a timid cat might become an aggressive cat.

One way to avoid timid cats becoming defensive and aggressive is to allow them a space where they can hide or avoid others by climbing vertically. So this means a hiding space on the ground and/or a vertical space high up to where they can retire to feel safe and to perhaps avoid the unwanted attentions of other cats, another cat or people in the home when it is a multi-person home and there's plenty of noise and where maybe one person is not so great in handling cats.

Tell me your tips please.

I hope these thoughts help someone and their cat.

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