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A beautiful velvet-soft cat sits blinking, sleepy-eyed on the sofa. Her coat is so invitingly sateen and her look so relaxed that you can’t help but reach out and stroke her. But ten seconds later, out of the blue, she undergoes a personality change and lashes out, badly scratching your hand.
At some point in our lives we’ve all met a cat like this. It might be our own cat or a friend’s, but the overwhelming urge to stroke and fuss a cute cat is repaid by a vicious rake of claws that draws blood. Or it might be your cat bunts against your legs, asking for a game, only to sink her teeth into your ankles when she gets over-excited.
As a cat lover, this leaves you with a dilemma. You want to interact with the cat but don’t trust her to behave and not draw blood. What can you do to stop your cat biting and scratching during playtime and encourage something more appropriate?
You can’t make a cat do anything, and this includes relax. With cats you have to accept that less is more and you must back off to keep the peace. The first lesson in retraining an over-reactive cat is to know that you have to back off when you see signs she’s becoming over-aroused during petting or play.
These signals include:
- Fidgeting tail
- Leaning away from you
- Flattening the ears against the head
- Drawing the lips back
- Growling or hissing
- Running away
See any of these and know that kitty is respectfully telling you to stop or she won’t be responsible for the consequences. If you were another cat you’d recognise these as ‘distancing signals’ and know this was a step through moment to back away or choose to engage in a full scale fight.
There is nothing to be gained by forcing the cat to accept your attentions because this will only end in tears. . . yours! Bear in mind the cat isn’t asking you to stop, she’s telling you.
Know Your Cat
Now you know the warning signs, work out how long you can play with the cat before she loses her cool. Play or pet the cat but always stop slightly before her fuse is lit. This helps avoid a cascade of fight-or-flight hormones which prime her up like an unexploded bomb just waiting to detonate. This means eventually she’s more likely to associate petting with pleasure than annoyance.
Now for the cunning part. You’re going to teach the cat to play nicely or enjoy petting, by associating your attention with an ultra-tasty treat.
If you don’t fancy your fingers chances close to the cat, then put the treat on a spoon and offer it to her at a distance. This might be something she adores such as tuna or ham. Or, you might wait until just before her next mealtime so she’s hungry and then offer her usual cat food on the spoon.
Start to stroke her and offer out that must-have snack on a spoon. Take it in baby steps so that each session stops before she becomes bad mannered. Gradually, she’ll begin to associate the game or petting with a good thing, and rein in her bad temper. You can use a similar technique to show her that being combed and brushed is a good thing to have happen.
However, always keep yourself safe. If you have one of those unpredictable cats that can be content on your knee one second and lash out the next, take special care. Learn to be alert for that tell-tale tail flick and then stand up, tipping the cat off your knee rather than put your hands at risk of a savaging.
Some cats get so caught up by the thrill of the chase that your hand becomes a mouse and she moves in for the kill. If it’s a case of the cat being genuinely over-excited, then avoid using your hand in play. Instead, use a wing-on-a-string type toy so that the cat can pounce and do the death-kick to her heart’s desire.
The same goes for the cat that likes to ambush your ankles as you walk along. The chances are she takes your cries of pain for encouragement, in the same way a distressed mouse squeals. Try to be prepared and keep a squeaky toy in your pocket so that you can distract her with the noise and toss it to a safe distance, hence saving your ankles.
And finally, avoid punishing the cat. Whilst it might be tempting to shout or smack the cat, this only increases her anxiety and makes matters worse. Rather than learn to accept your loving touch, she will have her fears confirmed that petting leads to pain, and she’ll become more short-tempered not less.
When all else fails know that we love cats for their independence, and cats will be cats, claws and all.
Do you have a cat that tends to play rough? We’d love to hear if these tips to stop your cat biting and scratching during playtime work for you, or anything else you’ve tried with success.