How to Deal with a Cat That Scratches or Bites

Learn how to deal with a cat that scratches or bites from board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E'Lise Christensen, DVM in this Howcast video.

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Thinking of getting a cat -- or need some advice about caring for the one you already have? In these videos, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E'Lise Christensen, DVM, answers all your questions -- and some you didn't even know you had.

 
 

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Do you have a cat that gets aggressive when you play? Most of the time those are young cats, and it's a super common problem. When you think about it, it's no wonder that they do because, most of us are actually taught to play with cats in a way that will cause them to scratch and bite you, and in fact ,we roughhouse with kittens all the time. Unfortunately, when you roughhouse with a kitten with your hands or your feet. You are really teaching that cat to go ahead and target predatory play towards your fingers and toes, and that's pretty much the last thing that people want on a regular basis. So, it's so important that when you are going to teach your cat about how to play people that you play with remote toys. So that they're more interested in playing with objects rather than your hands. If you're going to try and work on a cat that is already started doing some aggressive play behaviors, then you want to start by making sure that you have appropriate toys to play with cat. One of the most common toys that cats enjoy are called wand toys, and they look like fishing poles and they have a great little object at the end, and there is a variety of companies that make them and these are called Nico flies and they have a lot of really great interesting ones. And what you want to do is really focus on all of your play with your cat, being with toys like this, rather than your hands on your feet. So when you think about it, a lot of cats really enjoy predatory play of all different types and that might be like moving the toy along the ground like this, dangling the toy at the top of the cat so they can bat it around, and if I were on the floor we could do this with the long wand but here's the reason to use it. And I can see that she's really liking this. See how her whiskers are a little puckered out and their forward, she's really interested in this particular toy. Which is common this particular toy is really popular with cats and also throwing the toy so the cat can chase it, and than moving it at different rates. The other thing that you can do to play with kitty cats is put toys that have food in them on the floor and roll them around so that when you roll them and the cat rolls them treats fall out. So those are things that are really fun for cats that don't involve your hands as the trigger for the aggressive behavior. The other thing to keep in mind though is that when you play with a cat, even with these types of toys, you may find especially in a cat that's had a lot of experience doing aggressive play that they target your hands and feet right often bat. So if you can get one or two seconds of appropriate play in, that's a great way to go play for a couple of seconds and if you feel like you need to end the session so that your cat doesn't get too agitated and then start to bunny kick, hiss, or growl. Than go ahead, give them a treat and come back later. When you do that you're teaching the cat we can have play sessions that don't involve aggressive behavior, in addition you can continue to play until your cat starts to have troubles, but the problem with that is that then the cat might get too aggressive and every time you end your session the cat is learning that "oh well I just get more and more agitated when we play" instead we like the cat to always be playing and having a good time. So really focus on ending your session before your cat gets aggressive, but if there's any moment where the cat starts to bite at you, or certainly hiss at you, or grab at you than "say too bad" and end the session completely, and that's one great way to help your cat learn to play less aggressively.

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  • Dr. E'Lise Christensen

    Dr. E'Lise Christensen DVM is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and an international lecturer and author. As the only veterinary behaviorist in NYC, she sees patients with a variety of issues. Dr. Christensen has contributed to articles in Cat Fancy, Dog Training Solutions, Real Simple, Newsday, and other print media. She has been a contributor and guest on Foxnews.com's Pet Health, ABC News’ Nightline and other newscasts.