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Cats' Aggression Toward People

Help for Curbing Aggressive Biting and Scratching by Cats

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Jaspurr and Dad Bonding

Jaspurr's Dad Teaching Bad Habits

Franny Syufy

Filed In: Cat Behavior & Training > Cat Behavior 101 > Cats' Aggression Toward People

It's always sad to hear of a cat being tossed out because of uncontrollable biting and/or scratching behavior. While this aggressive kind of behavior is painful and frustrating to deal with, try to remember that cats never do anything without a reason. They are actually very predictable creatures, and biting and scratching are cause and effect behaviors just as most undesirable behaviors. There are two basic kinds of biting and scratching behaviors in cats, and both of them are often originally caused by our own human failings. I'll explain more about this later. But for now, remember that biting and scratching are perfectly normal behaviors.

Playful Biting and Scratching

Kittens learn biting and scratching as an important part of their development. After all, these activities are cats' only means of defense, as well as their natural way of killing prey in the wild. Cats' main form of play involves biting and scratching in "winner takes all" battles, whether with another cat, a toy mouse, or a hapless human who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of the first rules for human companions is "do not teach your cat that hands are toys." If you ignore this advice, those tiny claws and teeth will soon grow into razor-sharp "meat hooks," and you'll bear the scars of your hubris. The man in the photo above (my husband, Asa) steadfastly ignored this advice, and had the scars to prove it. However, my cats do know not to bite my hands.

Okay, so you didn't learn your lesson the first time around. What do you do now when a couple of pats on your cat's tummy are rewarded with bloody scratches? There are a few things you can do to distance yourself from these play attacks:

  • Trim His Claws
    Hey, Rome wasn't built in a night, and it will take quite some time to retrain your cat. Meanwhile, you might as well protect yourself from damage. Claw trimming should be done regularly, anyway, to keep claws from becoming ingrown. There is no need ever to declaw a cat because of scratching behavior.
  • Yell "Ouch"
    Don't scream it, but say "Ouch" loudly and clearly. While you have your cat's attention, slowly remove your hand from his clutches. Don't yank it away or he'll think play is on, and he'll grab it again.
  • "Scruff Him"
    This is one of the most effective forms of discipline of cats. It mimics the punishment given a kitten by his mother when he became unruly. Grasp him by the scruff of the neck and firmly push him groundward, while saying "No!" in a firm tone of voice. Hold him in this position for only three or four seconds and release. Chances are, he'll slink away, thoroughly chastened, to bathe and recover his dignity. But he'll remember this lesson for a long time.
  • Redirect His Attention
    Often playful biting of hands or feet occurs simply because your cat is bored, and is looking for a play object. Give him 15 minutes of active play with an interactive toy. Da Bird is a great choice. For several years it has defended its position as the top interactive cat toy.

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