Sometimes my cat seems perfectly relaxed but then bites or scratches me out of nowhere — and it really hurts! What is that about?
Taos, New Mexico
Dear Ms. Hawke,
Your cat is not lashing out at you out of nowhere. Cats often use their teeth or claws on people when they are in pain or when they are feeling afraid. If she has arthritis pain, for example, and you stroke or touch a part of her body that’s causing her discomfort, she’s going to tell you in her own cat-like way: Hands off! In fact, if she lashes out predictably every time you go to lightly touch a certain spot on her body, you might want to take her to the veterinarian to check for a medical problem.
As far as fear, a lot of people think feeling afraid translates to the cat running under the bed. But fear can also result in aggression as a way for a cat to protect herself. It can be her way of saying that she’s feeling scared and to keep away from her. Sometimes the fear is not about being touched but about an unpredictable influence, like a loud, startling noise outside the window right as you go to pet her. You just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s not always easy to tell when your cat is about to lose it, but if you see her ears pinned, a hard stare, or freezing in place, keep your distance. It means your cat is not feeling calm, and you are not going to be able to soothe her with a gentle touch.
A final note: Some cats are not in pain or afraid but simply don’t like being touched on certain parts of the body; like us, they have their preferences. Avoid those particularly sensitive areas. You’re not going to get her “used” to being stroked in those spots.