Pet Tips

Cats Biting Humans – Pet tip 187

Although when we normally think about aggression in pets we tend to think about dogs, some cats can also exhibit aggressive tendencies. Cats exhibit this aggression primarily through hissing, scratching and biting. Scratching and biting are particularly concerning as cat scratches and bites leave harmful bacteria under the skin and both require medical attention (usually antibiotics) as soon as possible. As responsible pet owners, the best thing we can do is figure out what is going on and try to deal with this issue as quickly as possible.

Cats exhibit aggression for many reasons and the most common reason is play aggression. This usually happens when owners play roughly with their kittens and the kitten gives them cute bites. This is a HUGE mistake as kittens quickly become cats and cats like to hunt and bite for fun. Do not play this way with your kitten or your cat. Let your cat/kitten hunt a feather off a pole but don’t let it bite you or your body even if it is protected with a glove. If you do, you are reinforcing that it’s okay for the cat to play with you by biting.

Petting aggression happens when cats bite you when you pet them. To humans it seems counter-intuitive but this is a very common behaviour. It’s not well understood why they do this but normally they give you warning signs. Normally the cat starts off calm, but after a certain period of petting time, the cat’s tail may start to twitch or it may start to look at you intensely. This means it’s time to stop the activity immediately. Normally cats won’t break the skin with bites like these, but you still need to discourage it if it happens. A loud “NO” and walking away and ignoring the cat are good punishments but being keenly aware of the cat’s body language and stopping before the bite happens is the best solution. Cats don’t do this to harm their owners on purpose.

True aggression that escalates to biting or scratching humans is fairly rare for cats. Most times this type of aggression results from aggression that is actually redirected. A common example is a cat that sees another cat through the window and gets all riled up and attacks whatever is closest. Sometimes what is closest is the owner or another family member. If you’re around to witness this, you’ll often notice hissing, unusual vocalizations and possibly even low growling noises. If your cat approaches you in this type of manner a loud “NO!” or dropping a heavy book on the floor will usually send the cat running in a different direction.

Cats are smart creatures and they won’t normally bite the hand that feeds it except for the situations mentioned above. If you feel your cat is exhibiting aggressive tendencies completely out of the blue, then contact your veterinarian as there may be an underlying medical condition. If there isn’t one, then your vet may well have a behavioural explanation, or he/she can refer you to a behaviour specialist.

11 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar Lynn tomusiak says:

    Do cats sleep with their eyes open

  2. Avatar Liz says:

    One of my cats is a 3 year old neutered male. He purrs, drools , and gives me little love bites on the chin.

  3. Avatar calicat says:

    I have a 7 year old male tuxedo cat named Charley that I adopted at 6 weeks from local shelter. I have moved this cat with me after job and marriage loss 1200 miles and in the process had to foster him for 4 weeks till I could find an apartment. It’s just me and Charley now. Something terrible happened on Christmas day. I live alone and as usual it was just me and Charley on Christmas Day and I went to take the big trash bag out of kitchen garbage can and as I was doing this, I blocked one of 2 exits from the kitchen with the garbage bag on the floor. Charley tried to get by the garbage bag and I said “No, Charley, just wait one minute”. He tried again as I was turning the trash can upside down to empty stuff on the bottom into the big green garbage bag on the floor…Charley then, with no warning; as my hands were on the upturned garbage can; leaped up and sunk his fangs into the back of my hand and his claws went down the entire arm. The pain was excruitating and my hand immediately swelled up with blood everywhere. I chased him into spare bedroom and closed the door. I scrubbed the wound out and poured peroxide on it. Within a couple of hours it was so swollen I couldn’t move my hand. I could not sleep that night from the pain and went to the ER early the next morning. No Insurance and no job they started me immediately on IV of antibiotics, did an xray and told me to stay on anti biotics for 10 days. I still can not feel my thumb and still have a huge puncture wound on the back of my hand. Why would Charley attack me? He has been spoiled rotten since he is all I have. Part of me thinks that he was mad because I rarely say NO to him and he couldn’t get his way when I blocked his exit from the kitchen. Or did he think I was going to hit him with the garbage can when I had it turned upside down. I have cryed and cryed from the pain and expense from this wound he inflicted on me and now I don’t trust him and am kinda afraid of him. If he could do it once, he could do it again. He has never been friendly to visitors and I have to put him in another room when my 2 year old grandson comes over. My ex husband played really rough with him as he grew up…kinda of like hand wrestling with him..but I have always been gentle with him. Do you think Charley is depressed since he has seen my crying a lot lately?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      No this does not sound like the cat is depressed to me…just my opinion though.
      If i had to bet why he attacked you, it is because something spooked him and he felt cornered. maybe he thought the big garbage bag was a creature. The blocking didn’t help.

      years ago our cat got lost outside and when we found him to bring him in, he hissed at my wife and displayed aggressive behaviour – something he almost never did.

      I’d suggest that after a few weeks in his new environment the cat will feel more comfortable therefore less chance of getting spooked.
      good luck!

      • Avatar calicat says:

        Thanks Marko, I think you are right about charley being “spooked”. I just want any one out there to know that if they get a bite like I had…do not mess around with it. They will need to get antibiotics. I think my cat is easily spooked. Recently, as I was preparing to leave for errands, I had my sunglasses and a baseball hat on and suddenly Charley’s tail bushed up and he arched his back. When I took the sunglasses off, he calmed down. I have had cats all my life, but this is the first time I only had 1 cat. I feel that cats do better in pairs, as I never had any problems with my other cats. At this point, I would have to introduce a rescue cat that was much younger then him if I were to get another cat. What is your opinion on introducing a new cat to a solitary cat? Would it help or hurt his behavior? When he was in foster home for 4 weeks, the lady had 2 little 3 year old, scrawny little rescues as well, and she said he had a lot of fun “chasing” and playing with them.

  4. Avatar John Vanderheiden says:

    Our cat is a male that is 2 years old, when my wife brush’s him he will turn on her and bit her after she is done. This is done when we come out from the bed room in the morning. If I brush him he doesn’t attack me. We use the clamming unit that puts a smell in the air and that helped a lot. We play with him with all toy listed, he will grab the toy on a string put it in his mouth and do his dance.
    His whole aggression is to my wife. need help.

  5. Avatar RI says:

    I have owned a very large Maine Coon Cat for about 10 years and out of no where last night I was petting him on the couch like I do every night and he sat up and and put his head back and attacked my arm with his claws. He did some pretty bad damage to my arm and now I am shocked that he would do anything like this. He has gained weight rapidly lately. We had a stray cat show up a few week ago that is blind and deaf so we have been taking care of him. Is it jealousy or just plain aggression? I called the Vet today because I can’t have a cat that can’t be trusted in my home. I have company coming and there well be an elder person and I can’t take the chance that the cat well attack her also. I simply don’t trust this 23lb. + cat anymore.

  6. Avatar Becky and Taz says:

    My mom has a cat whom she has had for years. When she first got him I lived at home and we trained him to only scratch or bite during playing-anything else would get him scolded and ignored for awhile, and since he loves people he responded quickly to that. He is about seven now, and I have been living away from home for the past four years. If this had happened right after I moved I might think it was because of me moving away somehow, but just over the past two weeks he has bitten me three times very hard, like when they are fighting with another cat. The first time, I thought it was an annoyance response because I was petting him too much, so I scolded him, stopped petting him, and put him on the floor and ignored him as usual. The second time, again I had been petting him and thought it was an annoyance response and did the same thing, but this most recent time I lifted him up from my knee because he was sleeping and I needed to go do something. He has been biting so hard on my wrist every time that I lose feeling in my hand temporarily, but I can’t seem to figure out why this is happening. It is not normal for him to bite this hard when annoyed, and I am wondering if you have a guess what is causing this? I would say that it is his reaction to our step dad passing away, but that happened over a month ago and our step dad was in the hospital for three months before that, so it would have surfaced earlier. It also seems like this is directed towards me only, which I also am not sure why it would be. Any ideas why this might occur?

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Yes – This might well be occurring……because human hands are not a cat toy!

      we trained him to only scratch or bite during playing

      If I am reading this right, you are allowing the cat to bite and scratch during ‘playing’….but you neglected to describe the playing.
      If the cat is playing with your human hands and you let the cat bite and scratch you, then you have simply TRAINED your cat that it’s okay to bite and scratch which is a HUGE mistake. Stop doing this!
      Play with the cat with a feather at the end of a pole NOT your hands.

      If you are petting your cat and it bites you out of nowhere, then this is different. But when this happens, the cat’s tail will normally start twitching and/or it’s body language will change – this is the cat telling you to stop petting it. If you listen you will never get a bite.

      If I’ve misinterpreted what is going on, please post this in our forum where additional members will see this and give you personalized advice.
      Good luck!

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