When I was a kid I used to go into school with my hands torn to shreds. Other children used to wonder what was going on. I’d tell them it was my cat, Tiger, and that we were playing and they’d just look at me oddly. Looking back at their reactions, I can understand why they were a little perplexed but to me, back then, playing with cats and puncture holes in the hands were just part of the whole cat-ownership experience.
As you mature though you look at things differently. When I became more aware of how cats think I became upset that my cat may have been biting me because he wasn’t happy and he wasn’t just playing. Tiger has long since departed and I now understand it’s better to stop a cat from biting instead of allowing one to chew your hand to pieces.
How do you stop a cat from biting? Cats love predatory play and will take every opportunity to stalk, pounce and bite into anything prey-like that crosses their path. Quite often this happens to be our hands as we attempt to have a game with them. In order to stop a cat sinking its teeth into you, you need to understand why it bites in the first place.
Why do Cats bite?
There are of course a few reasons why a cat might decide enough-is-enough and bite your hand (or anything else in the vicinity). Your cat might feel the need to respond to a perceived threat, whether justified or not. You might be playing with them and they will feel they’re out of control, you might get a nip as it’s their way of showing you who’s actually in control here. Cats have also been known to bite as a form of communication, although I have to say I’m yet to see this. Apparently, they may give you a little nip and then lead you in the direction they want you to go. This would actually be pretty cool if true but as I said, yet to see it.
Another reason is due to the previous association with the activity that leads to the biting. For instance, if something bad happened, a few times when someone was stroking them in a certain area then they may associate this with the bad event, and react accordingly, pre-empting it.
The cat may not be happy and you may not be picking up on the signs, they may be too subtle. They may just not be in the mood and become frustrated, this is followed by the biting.
Oh, one last thing. Please, never punish your cat by using any physical force. It’s cruel, the cat doesn’t understand it and you will actually only make the situation far worse.
So, with that said, let’s now go straight to the point of this article…
1. If a Cat Bites, Remain Calm
The worst thing you can do, although I appreciate this is easier said than done, is start screaming in pain and wiggling your hand around! She will see this as a reaction and will actually enjoy it. She may even think you’re enjoying it also and will reinforce the urge inside her to do it next time. What you need to do is remain absolutely calm.
Don’t make sudden movements and if possible don’t try and jerk your hand away. Her instincts will kick in if you do this and it will be as if a rodent or a bird is trying to get away, she will dig in even harder. You will find that if you remain calm and still, she will stop and then possibly lick your hand.
2. Move Away From a Biting Cat
You don’t want to react to the biting and you need to demonstrate that you’re not interested and this isn’t part of some elaborate game. If she bites you then remain calm and when possible just stand up and calmly walk away. Don’t show her any attention that she may perceive as positive feedback. If you show no response and move away calmly then she will not be getting the response she was hoping for.
Your reaction will be a bit of a disappointment and, although this may take a few goes, if it’s not much fun then she’s a lot less likely to do it. This tactic is quite a common one with animals and can also be used with dogs. Actually, I’ve used this with my son also and it worked with him also!
3. Don’t Trap a Biting Cat in a Corner
Cats hate having no escape route. If they think they’re cornered then they are more likely to lash out as a ‘last resort’ if they think it’s their only option, resorting to natural instinct. When you play with your cat, do it in the middle of the room with all her toys in the same area.
This way when things get a bit too much for her (for whatever reason), they will be more inclined to just run off rather than lash out. Of course, you’d rather they didn’t just run off either I know. If they do this then they’re obviously not happy about something but it’s certainly better than them going into attack-mode and turning your hand into a scratching post.
It’s easy to demonstrate this actually if you ever try and play with your cat when she’s in a box. She’s far more likely to bite and scratch you as she has four ‘walls’ around her and she probably feels defense-by-biting is her best option.
4. Rather Than Biting You, Give It Another Option
If you’re in a situation where you think they may bite you, give them something else to kill instead! When you go in to play with her, take a little toy mouse with catnip. If they start getting a bit aggressive then drop the toy into them and you will find their attention will most probably be switched to this.
What we’re trying to do here is give your cat some other option rather than your hand! It should be the same toy every time though if possible. She will then start to associate the feelings she has when she wants to attack with the toy. She will even start to expect it in these situations. Keep this toy separate from the others though and only let her see it when this situation arises. Of course, the problem is you always have to have it ready, just in case!
If you’re after an idea of what to use, then I can really recommend this Cat Charmer toy. Mine absolutely love it and they are so cheap they are easily replaced.
5. Firm and Steady Help Stop Biting
Another idea is to be firm and authoritative with your cat when she becomes aggressive. If she starts to bite you, pull your hand away gently and at the same time say quite loudly (but don’t shout), “No!”. Point your finger at her, look annoyed and stare at her directly in the eyes for a few seconds, without blinking.
Try and remain staring until she blinks first or walks away. When this happens, stand up and just walk away, don’t interact any more for some time. Cats will feel intimidated if you do this and on this occasion, this is what you want. You need to let them know who is actually in charge here and this behavior is not acceptable.
6. Clap Your Hands if You Spot a Bite Coming
This is a strategy that should only be used with cats that aren’t timid. If your cat is going to be seriously freaked out by this then there are other things you can do instead, so give this one a miss. However, if you think your cat can handle it then try this. It’s a technique related to mental association. The theory is quite simple. Whenever your cat goes to bite you, you clap, making a loud noise.
This won’t hurt the cat of course (don’t do it right next to their ears!) but it will startle them and it is this that you want. You want them to associate the loud, horrible noise with what happens every time they go to bite you. Eventually, and it will take a few goes, they will realize that this happens every time and they won’t enjoy it, so they’ll stop! It’s probably one of the simplest methods but has been known to work so if you think it might work, give it a go.
7. Ignore a Cat That Bites
If your cat is timid then this might the alternative to the clapping technique. Again, the procedure is simple and is similar to the technique where you remain calm and walk away. Here though, when they attack you the response is slightly different. You deliberately look away and pay them no attention. Make a deliberate act of turning your head away from them and then turning your back on them.
Just face the complete opposite direction and ignore them for 15 minutes. They won’t like this. Your cat wants your company, is sociable and wants your attention. She won’t be getting any of these things every time she bites you and eventually she’ll put two and two together and associate the biting with the lack of attention. Of course, she may have to bite you several times and you might have to react several times for this to work but hey, none of these is a quick solution.
8. Avoid Bites By Using Toys NOT Your Hands
Okay, this one might sound a bit obvious and I don’t mean tie your hands behind your back! Just stop playing with your cats with your hands! There are so many other options available to you. How about this one? Get a stick and tie some string to it, sorted! If you go for this option then really doesn’t it take the problem away?
They’ll just attack whatever dangly thing you’re using. So just to be clear, this idea doesn’t involve any kind of training whatsoever. You’re simply coming up with another option. Let them do what they like and pretend they’re ‘killing’ whatever thing you happen to be dangling in front of them. This might actually be the best option for the older cat where it’s a bit too late to think about training.
9. With a Biting Cat – Play More and Get Hurt Less
Spend a little more time playing with her. It is possible that your cat is anxious and this could lead to behavioral problems, such as the biting and scratching that you’ve been experiencing. If a sociable cat is left alone for too long, doesn’t get enough stimulation or just isn’t played with then they may start suffering from anxiety and stress. If you think this may be a problem then there’s a simple solution to it.
Think about how much time you’re spending with your cat each day. Do you think you’re spending enough time with her? Your gut instinct will tell you the answer to this. If the answer is no then you know what to do. Spend at least 20 – 30 minutes solid with her each day playing. Buy some toys if necessary. Use a piece of string if you don’t want to buy new toys. Either way, it’s easy to play with cats, just get her running around a bit and make sure she knows it’s you doing the playing.
10. Is Your Biting Cat Neutered or Spayed?
This is something that would typically be performed before you acquire your cat but if not you should certainly get this done, there’s hardly an argument against it these days. Neutering / Spaying calms a cat down, this is a fact and if you are a new owner with a little kitten and haven’t done this yet then you’ll find your wandering, fighty, scratchy cat may well turn into a little loving bundle of fur lap-cat after the procedure. You shouldn’t be concerned about doing this, it’s a common operation that’s performed cheaply and safely.
11. Respond to a Bite With a Squirt of Water
Personally, not my preferred option but some people have seen results with this. Have a water-sprayer handy by the play area and if you get a nip then you can give her a little water spray. Do make sure it is just water though and doesn’t have any other ingredients in and definitely not soapy liquid. The cat will really dislike this and will be, most likely, off in a flash.
They will associate the shock with the biting and eventually, hopefully, will stop doing it with the fear of a guaranteed soaking afterward. The thought is that they will not associate the spraying of the water with you of course but I’m not so sure about this. After all, the water will be coming from your direction and it may well be the case that they associate this punishment with you directly, possibly spoiling your relationship.
Should I smack my cat?
No, you should not. It serves no purpose apart from helping you to vent your anger at something for a couple of seconds. Not only will you hurt her, both physically and mentally, but you will undo any progress you’ve made building up your relationship. It will have a negative effect and your cat will trust you and want to be with you less then she did before you hit her. Will it get her to stop biting and scratching you? Yes, most likely it will. It will because she’ll be scared of you, do you want that?
Of course, you don’t. There are other ways, other better ways to achieve the same goal without having to resort to violence. When I was a kid and my cat bit me particularly hard one day I smacked him. He stopped and ran away and here I am, 40 years or so later still regretting and remembering how one day, a long time ago, I hurt my little friend. I learned a lot that day and like to think I actually became a slightly different person from that point onwards.
Also, if you’re wondering whether cats can (and do) cry – check out my article here.
Finally, if you have had this problem and would like to make any comments, please do so below. We would genuinely love to hear from you!