We love playing with our cats, and they sure love it, too! But sometimes, what starts as an innocent game ends in arms covered in bites and scratches.
Just as human babies tend to learn about their environment through oral and tactile interaction, cats will learn about the world around them by biting, scratching, and licking.
However, what begins as harmless curiosity can turn into a problem if not dealt with appropriately.
Why is my cat biting and scratching?
Most of the time, cats will scratch and bite during play to test boundaries, socialise, and have fun. But, depending on your cat's age, personality, and socialisation, biting and scratching can be due to numerous other reasons.
To explore and engage
We know that cats explore their environment by using their mouths and teeth to interact with the world around them, and biting things or picking up objects with their mouths teaches them how that object will react to their stimulus. Cats are quick learners; so they will learn cause and effect pretty quickly.
When they don't feel well
Cats will also bite when they are sick, in pain, stressed, tired, or grumpy. Due to their independent nature, when cats are injured or in pain, they prefer to be alone, which means that they might scratch you to try and get you to leave them be.
If you tend to have visitors around the house fairly often, watch to see how they interact with your cat, especially kids, as they often don't realise that they might be hurting your cat when playing with it. If you believe your cat might be injured or ill, examine them gently and see how they respond to your touch.
Additionally, make sure to avoid touching areas of your cat's body that you know might be sensitive, such as their paws, face, or stomach.
When they're nervous
If your cat is scared or on edge, their instincts can kick in, and they will start scratching and biting to get the stressor to back off.
When they're play fighting
Kittens will learn how to interact with other animals through their mothers and siblings, and they will quickly discover that a bite or a scratch can be painful. So, if you adopted a single kitten, there's a higher chance that they will bite and scratch recklessly in play. This may be cute when your cat is small, but as they get bigger, this can become a worrying issue.
So, if you're thinking of getting a cat, it's advised to adopt or buy a pair if you can.
When they want attention
Cats need stimulation. So, when they feel bored, even negative attention can be interpreted as good attention. When they're bored, they may find it entertaining to see you squeal or cry out in pain as they bite and scratch; for them, this is better than being ignored!
Training your cat to stop scratching and biting
Here's our three-step guide to help train your cat to stop scratching and biting.
When you see that your cat starts biting, interrupt it right away. Cats have a short attention span, so they need to be able to associate the action to the consequence. The goal is for them to understand that your hands are not toys, so be sure to interrupt the bite with a loud "OUCH!" to get your cat to understand to back off.
Cats are triggered by movement. So, with this in mind, avoid pulling your hands away during the bite. Instead, once you've yelled, sit still until they release the grasp. If your hands are caught in your cat's mouth, apply some pressure to get them to open their mouth. Once they release your hand, stop the game and don't give them any more attention. They need to understand that if they bite, playtime is over.
Make sure to divert your cat's attention to their toys. Encourage them to bite and scratch the toys instead of your hands, so they know what's appropriate to bite and scratch and what isn't. And when you see them biting the toys, praise and reward them for it.
It's essential to train your cat to understand that attacking someone's hand is not a game, but the steps above will not eliminate biting and scratching entirely. So, here are some tips to help you overcome this behaviour:
Trim their claws: Claw trimming, different to declawing, does not injure your cat, and cats should have their claws trimmed regularly. You can purchase nail clippers from the pet store, or you take your cat to a groomer to get this done.
Implement timeouts: Putting your cat on a timeout can be an effective method to get them to understand cause and effect. Once they've released your hands from their mouth, you can either leave the room or put them in a dark, quiet spot with no distractions. Leave your cat for 15 minutes and if they're asleep when you get back, leave them there until they wake up. When they awaken, you can show them some love.
Avoid roughhousing: Avoid playing rough with your cat, as it's sure to encourage this behaviour.
Encourage active play: Make sure you give your kitten enough active play. Short, 15-minute sessions with interactive toys multiple times a day can be enough to make your cat feel stimulated.
Get a scratching post: Purchase a scratching post and teach your cat the appropriate objects that they are allowed to scratch. Try different scratch toys, like horizontal or vertical posts, that have different textures to keep your cat entertained and engaged.
Remain consistent: Training a cat is not an overnight process. So, make sure you stay consistent with the way you choose to discipline your cat, as consistency will get them to understand where they're going wrong.
These tips and tricks are not a one-size-fits-all approach, so you should try different techniques as necessary and remember to remain consistent in training. If you've tried everything under the sun and you notice that your cat is still scratching and biting, consider taking them to a vet. A playful bite or scratch may be cute when they're still a kitten, but allowing them to do into their adult years can cause real behavioural and social problems down the line.