Why Does My Cat Scratch Me?
There is a huge size difference between cats and humans. Humans can be scary to a cat, especially one who may not have had adequate socialization to humans when they were a kitten.
Humans make different noises, quick motions, and even smell different to a cat which can become overwhelming. Humans use their hands to play, and so do cats, except they have sharp nails.
Human and cat play styles differ, and cats can quickly become overstimulated by us if we play for too long (which for some cats is only a minute or two) or too rough. When a cat becomes overstimulated, they become defensive and use their claws more freely in an effort to change the situation. If your cat starts to use their nails during play, this may be an indication to give them a break or to move on to a different game.
What to do
Playing with your hands can be very overstimulating to a cat, so it is recommended that you use toys instead of your hands. String toys are a great option for play time as your hands are far removed from the cat’s claws.
Create scenarios where the toy is moving like a mouse or a bird for added entertainment. Hand play is not an ideal way to play with the cat, but if you do decide to use your hands then you can train your cat to play without using their claws.
If your cat is using your claws during play, take your hands away and remove them from reach of the cat. After a few moments, return to playing. Anytime the cat uses their claws, play stops. If the repetition of your cat playing with their claws and you ending play happens three times, then end the play session and give your cat a chance to take a break.
Over time, your cat will learn that when they use their claws, play stops, and that isn’t a fun game. If the cat constantly feels the need to use their claws, then its likely that the play is too rough, or the session is too long.
Does your cat run up to you sometimes and grab onto your leg with their claws out? Or swat you as you walk by the couch?
This may be because your cat is bored, and they are trying to get your attention or simply use you as a you. Cats are predators and they are enticed by movement, so they will find their own fun if they don’t have enough activities to keep them busy. They need enrichment activities that activate all their senses and give them mental and physical exercises.
What to do
Be creative in finding different things to keep your cat busy. Scratching posts that have catnip sprinkled on them can encourage your cat to use their nails in appropriate places.
Interactive toys that are battery operated, putting a bird feeder outside your window or playing a Youtube video of birds, and puzzle feeders encourage your cat to use multiple senses that are used in hunting. Mimicking natural behaviors with toys and enrichment activities can reduce their need to “find fun” in inappropriate places.
While petting or grooming?
If your cat scratches you while you are petting them, then you will need to evaluate what is causing the cat to become overstimulated.
Many pet guardians try to pet their cats in the same way that they pet their dogs, but cats have different preferences. If a cat is laying on their back exposing their belly, this is a sign of trust, not an invitation to pet them.
Just like humans, some cats have different levels of tolerance for attention than others. There are cats who would cuddle all day if they could, and others who only want to be pet for a few seconds. It is important to determine what your cat’s level of tolerance is and then stay below it. If your cat allows ten seconds of petting and then like clockwork swats at you, only pet your cat for seven seconds at a time. Compared to dogs, most cats prefer multiple micro sessions of attention throughout the day, instead of fewer long sessions.
Cats typically enjoy their heads and shoulders to be rubbed and scratched, but each cat is an individual and will have preferences on where the best spot is. Avoid the belly, tail, and the length of their back. The same goes for grooming, some cats enjoy it and others do not.
What to do
Allow your cat to initiate interaction with you so that they have control of the situation. Try petting or grooming them in shorter sessions so that they don’t become overstimulated.
Avoid restraining them or picking them up as this can be frustrating to the cat, which makes them more likely to use their claws on you. Interact with them when they are calm, as they may be too excited to allow quiet petting or grooming.
Besides focusing on petting, some cats prefer attention in other ways. They may appreciate a play session with you and their favorite toys over a petting session.
Cooperative care is a technique that is used to make handling, grooming, and vet care a positive and stress-free experience.
This method allows the cat to stop the session if they are uncomfortable, but they are rewarded for allowing the task, such as nail clipping, to go on. Cooperative care is a great way to desensitize your cat to grooming, if you would like our free nail clipping guide, sign up for our email list!
The most important thing is to read your cat’s body language to determine if they are unhappy before they feel the need to use their claws on you. Then, respecting your cat’s body language and either walking away or trying something like a game will help to build a more understanding relationship between you and your cat.
Pet cats come from various backgrounds, some lack socialization and the positive experiences that are needed to become social with humans.
As stated above, we are much larger than cats, we make weird noises, and we smell different to them. We can be intimidating to cats, especially if they were not exposed to positive interactions with humans during their socialization window as kittens.
Most of the aggressive behaviors are manifestations of fear and insecurity, so it is important to discuss your cat’s behaviors with a trainer or behavior consultant if they are exhibiting fear or aggression.
What to do
It can be a slow process to modify their behaviors when fear is involved, so the sooner that you work with a professional to create a plan for your cat, the better. In the meantime, cat calming pheromones such as Feliway, may be useful in reducing your cat’s anxiety.
If your cat is scratching you in a different scenario, let us know! We would be happy to discuss.