Cats Who Bite or Scratch People
Sometimes aggressive behavior may be caused by
a medical problem. You should have your veterinarian evaluate
your cat for illness or disease as your first step in addressing
any aggression problem.
Unlike some dogs, cats usually don’t go out of
their way to bite you. If you don’t try to pick them
up or pet them, they’ll generally leave you alone.
The rare exception is the territorial cat. While cats
can be very territorial to each other, they seldom react
this way to people. If you’ve been the target of
a territorial cat, you know it’s a memorable experience.
Territorial cats may chase, stalk, and threaten people
as soon as they arrive, because to them, people are intruders
who need to leave what your cat sees as his territory.
Many bites happen if you or someone else is forcing your
attention on a cat who really isn’t interested. Trying
to pick a cat up, or pet him before he is comfortable with
you may cause him to react defensively and bite or scratch
you. Cats can become aggressive to people when they are frightened by
the things people do.
Cats will also bite or scratch during play. We see this
most often in young cats. People tell us they think their
cats have suddenly turned mean. You can unintentionally
trigger play motivated aggression or make it worse, if
you encourage or allow your cat to think that parts of
your body are play toys. Teach your cat to play with toys,
not your hands, fingers, or feet. Never allow your child
to tease your cat in any way.
Other cats will show “don’t pet me anymore
behavior”. They’ll tolerate petting for a period
of time, even seeming to enjoy it, and then suddenly growl,
hiss or bite your hand.
Redirected behavior is another common cause of cat aggression
toward people. If your two cats are swatting at one another
for example, and you try to intervene, one or both cats
may redirect their anger to you.
Scratches and bites from cats can cause nasty infections,
so the first step in working with your cat’s behavior
is to try to prevent injuries by not putting your cat in
situations where he is likely to bite. Things will go better
if your cat can make the decision about how much contact
he wants with you and others, rather than people forcing
themselves on him.
Supervise and manage every encounter between your cat
and children. Never allow children to
try to pick up a cat without adult supervision. Teach your
children to gently pick up your cat with one hand on his
chest, behind his front legs, and the other hand supporting
his rear end. If your cat’s legs are dangling free,
he can easily use his claws to scratch you.
It’s also not a good idea to try to punish your
cat for biting or scratching, as this can really increase
his aggressive behavior.