Do you have a cat who will bite or scratch, seemingly out of nowhere? Rest assured it’s not out of nowhere. Our enchanting pets have their reasons. We just have to learn what those reasons are so that we can be prepared to avoid triggering an aroused or anxious cat into a harmful response. Cat bites and scratches can have serious consequences for loving owners. (See below.)
The reasons cats lash out
Here are the two main reasons cats use their teeth and claws on people.
Pain. Any illness or painful physical condition such as arthritis can increase a cat’s reactivity, just like it can for a person. Cats are less likely to be in a calm, trusting mood if they are in a lot of discomfort. Even the most mild-mannered house cat will be more like-ly to strike if someone touches a part of her body that’s in pain. She’s just trying to protect herself. Does she lash out when you lightly touch the same spot repeatedly? Take her to the veterinarian to see if she has a medical issue.
Fear. People tend to think that a fearful cat will always be cowering in a corner or under the bed. But fear can also result in aggression as a mode of self-protection. She’s telling you: “I’m scared. Keep away.” Aggression is often instinctual and not premeditated, so it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. She’s not trying to hurt you out of spite.
Sometimes the fear trigger is not a touch but instead “a loud noise or a frightening stimulus such as an unfamiliar cat outside the window,” says the Head of the Tufts Animal Be-havior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM. “Redirected aggression is one of the most common reasons cats bite or claw people. Strangers in the home can also be frightening to a cat and may make her become aggressive,” she adds.
Are you fluent in feline?
There are a number of signs that a cat is getting ready to let you know she doesn’t want your attention. Once you know them, you can back off to avoid getting hurt — and make for a happier cat.
- Ears pinned.
- Hard stare.
- Freezing in place.
- Twitching tail.
If you see any of these signs, don’t try to get closer; it is almost guaranteed you will not be able to get the cat to calm down. And “if you are moving from one room to another and a hissing, snarling cat blocks your way, give the cat an escape route by stepping aside to let her pass,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. “The cat may feel trapped and threatened and, to defend herself, compelled to lash out.”
Dr. Borns-Weil also recommends paying attention to the kind of petting your cat does and doesn’t like. “Many cats do not appreciate petting below the neck or become uncomfortable with prolonged petting,” she points out. Whatever the trigger, avoid it. By the same token, she adds, if your cat is fearful of visitors, confine her to a separate room when you have people over. It will make her feel safe, not trapped.
If You Do Get Scratched or Bitten
The wounds carry a significant risk for infection.
Deep scratches from exceptionally sharp, curved nails can break flesh. If you are bitten or scratched deeply, wash the wound immediately. Then apply direct pressure with an absorbent dressing or bandage.
See a physician as soon as possible, too. You may need antibiotics. In some cases, a wound may need suturing, and a tetanus booster might be recommended as well.
Says Tufts veterinarian Stephanie Borns-Weil: “I always advise my clients or coworkers who have been bitten or severely scratched to take it seriously and immediately seek medical attention. I also recommend people quickly ascertain whether the cat who bit or scratched them