Why does my cat try to bite and scratch me?

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Does your cat ever bite or scratch you when you’re stroking them? Toni Shelbourne is here to help.

One of the great pleasures of being a cat guardian is being able to caress and stroke your furry companion. However, if he sometimes bites or scratches you when you touch him, it can be upsetting as well as painful. 

Why does he do it?

There are plenty of reasons why cats can suddenly transform from an adorable kitty who is seemingly enjoying a stroke or cuddle into an aggressive cat. Before you can address the problem, you first have to work out what the root causes are:

Pain: A common cause is discomfort. You might notice that he turns on you when you touch a particular area of his body, or that the skin ripples under your hand as you stroke him. Perhaps he has an area of fur that looks dull or otherwise different from the rest of his coat, or maybe he has been over-grooming causing a sore to develop. Have you noticed him not jumping as well? Sleeping more? Or generally seeming out of sorts? All of these can be indications of discomfort, but even if you haven’t spotted anything in particular, your first action should be a vet check, even if it’s only to eliminate pain as a cause. Remember to take a list with any observations you’ve made along with you, as this may help with making a diagnosis.

Play: Another trigger can be excitement and over-stimulation. If you don’t play with your cat regularly or he’s an indoor kitty, he could have excess energy to burn. This can tip into over-arousal or frustration. Try adding more mental and physical stimulation to his daily routine. Once this energy is burned up, wait a while for him to calm down and then you might find he’s ready for a cuddle session.

Too much: Some cats may find long sessions of petting too much to cope with. Observe his body language, respect his wishes, and don’t overdo things so you push him beyond his tolerance levels.

Annoyance: Feline body language can often be very subtle and it can be easy to miss the early warning signs.

Time spent closely observing and learning to read your cat better is never time wasted, since if you misjudge his mood and emotions you may be irritating him with repetitive petting and stroking when what he really wants is to sleep or be left alone.  

Ouch! Check that static electricity isn’t making your hand contact feel unpleasant. Dipping your fingers into water or misting them lightly before touching your cat will help discharge it so you don’t end up accidentally zapping him.

Predatory: Cats are crepuscular, that is to say they are most active at dusk and dawn. This is a time when he would naturally be hunting and if he can’t satisfy this innate behaviour, he might simulate it by attacking your hand or leg as you reach to pet him or walk past.

Unnerved: While these are the most common reasons, there may be others too, such as if you have awoken him while sleeping and startled him into a defensive action, if he’s been frightened by a noise, or maybe if he feels unsettled or insecure in a certain location.  

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Offer the back of your hand and see if your cat makes contact.

Safe Handling

As well as becoming more perceptive of your cat’s body language and mood, and checking for any discomfort, do practise safe handling methods. This could be as simple as performing a permissions test. Here’s how:

1. Present the back of your hand to your cat and wait for him to move towards you and make contact. This will often be with his chin. Keep your hand still and watch what he does: does he continue to make contact or move away? Does he offer other parts of his body for your hand to touch?

2. If he sticks around, use the back of your hand to stroke the areas he presents for no more than three seconds. Then stop, take your hand away, then re-present it for him to make contact with again if he wishes. Make the strokes slow and use the weight of your hand so it’s neither too light or too firm. Avoid touching those areas where you know he reacts to touch. The reason for using the back of your fingers or hand is that it feels less invasive, it’s cooler, and cats seem to know that this way you won’t grab at them.

3. If he does reconnect after you present your hand, repeat the three-second stroking, then stop again.

4. Stop immediately if you see he is becoming aroused or upset.

5. If after several short sessions he seems settled and content about being touched in this manner, try the same process using the front of your hand.

Read the rest of the feature in the ‘June 2022’ issue, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE or purchase the print edition HERE.


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