How to Stop a Cat from Biting and Scratching

Three Parts:Reacting to Bites and ScratchesPreventing Biting and ScratchingUnderstanding Why Cats Bite and Scratch

The majority of cats are by nature relaxed and peaceful creatures. They don't want to bite or scratch and will usually go to great lengths to avoid a situation where this is necessary. However, there are times when a pet cat does strike out and injure its owner. Apart from being painful, a cat bite or scratch can introduce infection and is best avoided. It's useful to learn how to prevent biting and scratching, as well as how to react when this happens.[1]

Part 1
Reacting to Bites and Scratches

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    React calmly. Never hit, shout, chase, or lose your temper with a cat. You will simply terrify the cat and cause it to become nervous and confused.
    • Never call a cat to you and then punish it. The cat hasn't got a clue why you're responding negatively to him. In fact, the cat probably expects a pleasant response if you call it.
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    Remove yourself from the situation. The first thing to do is stop touching the cat and then hold your hands well out of striking range. If he doesn't calm down within a few seconds, stand up slowly so you can remove him from your lap. Walk away and do not return until he has calmed down.
    • Avoid soothing your cat after biting or scratching. Instead, signal your displeasure to the cat. After you've disciplined it, do not begin cuddling and petting him. This will confuse your cat and give him mixed signals. It may even begin biting you in order to get a cuddle.
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    Give the cat a way out. If you are trying to get from one room to another and a hissing, snarling cat blocks the way, look at the situation from his viewpoint. The cat believes he is trapped and you are walking towards him, which he perceives as a threat. He wants to run but there is no escape route so he must defend himself by attacking. The simple solution is to step aside, let the cat pass (which he will do at speed) and then go about your way.[2]
    • Don't feed your cat for 20 minutes following a biting or scratching incident, as this might be wrongly taken as a reward.
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    Understand what encourages a cat to change its behavior. Cats respond best to positive reinforcement, namely praising and rewarding appropriate behavior, while ignoring and withdrawing from inappropriate behavior.
    • Hand the cat a catnip mouse to bite instead of you. Then, praise the cat for biting the toy.
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    Try the voice and body method. As soon as the cat bites or scratches, say "NO!" in an authoritative tone. At the same time, point your finger at the cat. Stare at the cat directly with an unimpressed or fierce look. Stares are regarded in the cat world as a threat of dominance.
    • It also helps to remove yourself from the cat's vicinity after doing this, or to ignore him for about 10 minutes.
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    Try the hand clapping method. When your cat bites or scratches, clap your hands and say "NO!" firmly. Remember, don't shout at your cat or clap directly in your cat's face. It can scare him and leave him nervous. Repeat this whenever biting or scratching occurs. Your cat should learn to stop.
    • This method works with a dominant, aggressive or cheeky cat. It's not recommended for use with a timid or nervous cat, since it can reinforce these traits.
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    Try to ignore the cat. The moment your cat stops biting or scratching you, stand up and walk away in a dismissive fashion without any further interaction. Make sure that the cat is all alone in the room with no human interaction for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat this each time he tries to bite or scratch you. He will quickly associate the bad behavior with being ignored.
    • This method won't work with all cats, but works well with very affectionate cats, since they'll miss the attention, and with kittens, since they're still learning manners.

Part 2
Preventing Biting and Scratching

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    Teach your kitten acceptable limits when it comes to playing. Learn to play act. When he gives you a nip while playing, let out a loud squeal and pull your hand away. Then, stand up and walk away, signalling the game is over. If you do this consistently, the young kitten will soon learn that biting ends the game and will avoid doing so.[3]
    • If your cat is giving you love bites and you want to discourage this, press back gently against the bite. Pressing back makes it uncomfortable for the cat, so he/she will stop biting down. Pulling away fast from a play bite or grab is when you're most likely to get clawed from playing rough.
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    Give your cat toys to play with instead of using your hands or fingers. A cat in middle of playing often forgets to be gentle and you may get a painful scratch or the cat will continue to play later, scratching you unexpectedly. To prevent this, provide toys that are clearly not part of you, such as fishing toys on strings, a laser-light pointer, or a catnip mouse.[4]
    • Cats need to bite, chew and scratch for fun and practice, just not on you or any other human. Try playing with the cat using a fishing pole toy, so your hands will be free of bites.
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    Let your cat have plenty of play time. Build regular play sessions of 5 to 10 minutes into your day. Get the cat moving after a fishing toy and continue playing until the cat is worn out.
    • The idea is to mentally stimulate your cat with chasing behavior and physically wear it out. A tired cat is a lot less likely to attack than a bored cat with excess misdirected energy.[5]
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    Consider neutering your cat. Cats that are not neutered are more territorial than their neutered counterparts. While being entire (or not neutered) doesn't automatically mean a cat is aggressive, neutering does have a calming effect and tends to make the cat more sociable and home-loving.[6]
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    Learn to recognize pre-strike signs of aggression. Watch for clues like dilated pupils, skin rippling, or ceasing to purr. The cat may vocalise and give a low, throaty growl, or a quiet, ululating, whine, or hiss. He might tip his ears back and flatten them against his head. Its whiskers may bristle forward and he may draw back the corners of his mouth and open his mouth slightly (often while hissing).[7]
    • A cat that is playing will also have large round pupils, because he is excited. Take this into account when considering the cat's other body language - so a cat on your lap should not be excited and not have large pupils.
    • If the cat is cornered, he may often crouch and look anxiously from side to side, as if seeking an escape route (which is what he is doing).[8]

Part 3
Understanding Why Cats Bite and Scratch

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    Determine if your cat was hand-reared, or orphaned and raised by humans.Hand-reared kittens missed the roughhousing associated with litter life and did not necessarily learn how to moderate their play attacks. These cats often grow into adults who seem to lash out viciously for no reason.[9]
    • Hand-reared cats that are aggressive usually give subtle signs for humans to back off. Learning these cues can prevent biting and scratching.
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    Figure out if your cat is stressed or anxious. A cat that is stressed and has no escape route is likely to lash out. Stress can come from being cornered by a noisy toddler, change in environment, or new people, so obviously it is important to be aware of your cat's emotional needs and reactions. Avoid labeling the cat as aggressive; it may simply be responding to stress.[10]
    • The best response is to restore calm and a settled atmosphere. Turn down noisy TVs, ask children to be quieter around the cat, and if anyone is upset, ask them to cry or shout out of the cat's hearing.
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    Decide if the cat is simply being overly playful. If you encourage the cat to attack moving hands, feet, or fingers when playing, don't be surprised if the cat later attacks a foot, even though the game is over. The cat may assume it's still play time.[11]
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    Check to see if your cat is sick or in pain. A cat that is in pain or is ill can become defensive making it more likely to attack. Cats showing signs of sickness (losing weight, thirstier, vomiting) or pain (short-tempered, yowling, scratching, biting) should be checked out by a vet. It could be their bad behavior will improve once the underlying health issue is corrected.[12]
    • An older frailer cat that may resent being picked up or cuddled and might bite or scratch to get some peace. Ask family members to be mindful of the cat's age and need for gentler handling. Giving the cat plenty of space should help any behavior issues.


  • Teach children how to hold and stroke cats and kittens correctly. Good handling can prevent many problems.
  • Give the cat a toy to play with instead of your hand. This way he learns your hand is not a toy.
  • If your cat continues to bite or scratch you, tap your cat firmly but gently on the top of the nose. This does not hurt your cat; rather, it annoys him.
  • This tip is slightly risky––see if it's possible to do with your cat. The instant your cat moves in to bite or scratch, firmly grab the scruff of his neck (try to gather up the fur, it's easier with fluffy cats) and force his head down. Say "NO!" with authority.But don't shout at the cat. You're not being rough or hurting the cat. You're only stopping his action for a moment. He'll likely wriggle out (in this case, let him go before he tries using his claws), but he will know you didn't like what he tried to do. If the cat stays still for a couple of seconds, let him go yourself. You need to appear fair but firm.
  • A can of air works far better than a spray bottle. Cats don't like the hissing sound it makes and furthermore, it doesn't harm your cat.
  • There are numerous suggested ways of discouraging a cat from striking out and these usually involve water or making an unpleasant noise. Far from being helpful, these are likely to make the problem worse by raising the cat's anxiety levels. At best, the surprise of a water spray may stop him the first time, but if repeated his response will be to give you a wide berth. If this is what you want (at least he doesn't scratch if he doesn't come anywhere near you) that's fine, but it's not great if you want an interactive, affectionate relationship with your pet.[13]


  • If your cat reacts badly to any of the methods, stop doing them at once.
  • If there are any children in your household, make sure to tell them about being safe around your cat. (No pulling tails, no hitting, no yelling, no using the spray bottle unless it is absolutely necessary, etc.)
  • Cat bites can easily turn infected. Monitor your bites and seek medical attention, if needed.
  • If the biting is totally out of character and sudden, take your cat to the vet for an immediate check-up. There may be an underlying medical condition that needs treatment.

Sources and Citations

  1. The Cat's Mind. Bruce Fogle. Publisher: Pelham Books.
  2. Feline Behaviour for the Veterinarian. Bonnie Beaver.Publisher: Saunders. 2nd edition
  3. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioral Medicine. Horwitz & Mills. BSAVA publications. 2nd edition.

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