September 5, 2019

What to do When Your Cat Won't Stop Scratching You

Some cats nuzzle. Some cats purr. Some cats chase. And some cats scratch. What’s the deal with this seemingly aggressive behavior, and is there anything you can do to stop it? No one wants to get scratched in the face every time they go in for a kiss. Here are your options for a cat that just won’t stop scratching.

Why Do Cats Scratch People?

First, it’s good to understand exactly why your cat might be scratching. There are two primary reasons. Some cats scratch as a form of social play; it’s how they show affection and get their kinetic energy out. Other scratching behaviors can actually be a sign of aggression. Cats often lash out through scratching when they feel threatened, anxious, or otherwise uneasy.

What to do If Your Cat is Scratching During Play

If you think your cat is actually just “playing” rather than trying to hurt you, you’re in luck. This kind of scratching behavior is the easiest to un-train. It’s a good idea to give your cat a variety of toys so she can touch, push, knead, and yes, scratch them all. Cats get bored incredibly easily, so rough play can actually just be a sign she’s got too much energy to burn. Also be sure you’re spending enough time each day playing with your cat. You should devote at least half an hour a day - preferably in intervals - to giving your cat attention through play. If necessary, consider adding a second cat to the family to give your cat some extra playtime. If your cat scratches you during playtime, give her a “timeout.” This actually doesn’t mean what it sounds like - don’t ever attempt to touch or pick up your cat after she scratches. Instead, remove yourself to another room after the scratching and eventually she’ll learn that when she scratches, playtime stops. It's less of a timeout for your cat and more of a timeout for, well, you. 

What to do If Your Cat is Scratching from Aggression

Cats aren’t generally just “mean” for no reason. An aggressive cat usually has something else going on - an anxiety, a feeling of being cornered, an undiagnosed chronic pain - that serves as the root of her agitation. If your cat suddenly starts scratching out of aggression, talk to your vet about what the behavior could indicate. Cats don’t like to feel backed into a corner, so never approach yours in a way that feels physically imposing. Don’t use your feet or body to block her in a room or try to hold her in a forced “hug;” these are surefire ways to illicit aggressive behavior. You can use some of the same techniques for aggressive scratching that work for rough play. When your cat scratches, simply remove yourself from the situation. At the very least, this will help de-escalate things. Resist the urge to shout, clap, or point “No!” at your cat after scratching as this could activate her fight-or-flight response even further.

Scratching isn’t just annoying, it can actually be harmful. Cat scratch fever is a real thing, and kids and other pets in the line of fire could become infected as a result of a cat’s claws. If your cat’s behavior has changed significantly over time, it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet about what’s going on.

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