The Humane Society of the United States

My Cat Bites or Is Upset by People

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My Cat Bites or Is Upset by People

Sharing a home will always include a few conflicts. Issues that crop up between cats and people range from unwanted aggression to differing views about the pleasures of being picked up to adapting when a baby joins the family. You can keep your home happy by being patient, understanding your cat’s motivations, and following our advice. (Note: In cases where a cat's bite has broken the skin, seek medical advice; a cat bite can be a serious matter.)
Click on each title to read the section.

Why Is My Cat Biting or Scratching Me?

Cats bite and scratch in many ways—from playful nibbling, to over-excitement, to outright aggression. The first step to stopping biting or scratching is figuring out the cause.
Asking yourself the questions below will help you home in on what is triggering the biting or scratching. Check off each one that you can answer with "no."

If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • That furry belly looks wonderfully touchable, but beware: Most cats will bite or scratch if you give in to that temptation. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

How to Stop Your Cat from Biting and Scratching

General guidelines

Biting or scratching while being pet
If your cat becomes overexcited during petting, follow this plan to help her stop uncontrollably lashing out:

Pouncing or swatting when you when you walk past

Kittens who bite or scratch

If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • Let your cat calm down after an exciting play session before you try to pet or pick her up. Mike McFarland/The HSUS

My Cat Suddenly Attacked for No Reason

If your cat begins hissing, growling, and/or attacking you or one of your other pets—perhaps with her hair puffed straight up—for what appears to be no reason, she’s probably displaying "redirected aggression."
Redirected aggression is usually a reaction to one specific frightening experience: He may have seen a cat outside, heard a sudden loud noise, had his tail stepped on, or smelled or heard something that you aren’t even aware of. It can take your cat several minutes or hours to return to her normal self.
Caution: Sudden and unexpected aggression from your cat may also be a sign that she may be experiencing a medical problem: pain or an illness such as an issue with her thyroid. If your cat’s behavior shows a sudden or drastic change, take her to your veterinarian.
Here's how to react to redirected aggression:

• Once your cat is in her “safe room,” listen to her through the door to see if she is still growling. If so, keep her in the room longer. She should be in the room for a minimum of one hour. • Before letting your cat out of the safe room, talk to him through the door for a few minutes in a calm, happy voice. Toss a treat into the room only when he’s stopped growling, and only enter the room when you detect no signs of stress. • Don’t attempt to pet or hold your cat until you’re sure she’s feeling calm and safe again.• Protect your cats from situations that upset them. For example, keep them away from the windowsill or block their view if they are stressed by outdoor cats in the neighborhood. • Play more interactive games with your cat.• If one cat continually shows redirected aggression to a cat or dog she usually likes, consider reintroducing them slowly as if they never met before using the steps laid out in the Start the Relationship(s) Off Right section.

If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • Sudden aggression could mean your cat is suffering from a thyroid issue or other health problem. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

My Cat Doesn't Like Being Picked Up

Like lots of people, many cats adore affection and cuddling but still don’t like to be lifted by someone. This usually won’t change. One reason may be that cats can have very sensitive spines and tails—and once middle age begins, they often develop arthritis—so it can hurt them to be picked up.
However, if being able to pick up your cat is very important to you, or you’re concerned that you’ll need to be able to carry your cat to safety in an emergency, here's a technique that might work. Gradually try each of these steps one at a time. Do not progress to the next step until the cat is comfortable with the previous step and showing no signs of tension. This may take weeks, so you'll need to be patient.

You’ll know that you’ve managed to change your cat’s mind if she doesn’t tense up or try to run when you reach for her but instead stays relaxed and even nestles into you.
But if your cat never grows comfortable with being picked up, don’t worry: He still loves you.

  • Although some cats love being picked up and held from the start, don't take it personally if your cat doesn't feel safe in your arms. Mike McFarland/The HSUS

Help Your Cat Adjust to a New Baby

Cats find sudden changes difficult, so the arrival of a baby in the home can cause your cat a lot of stress. Use the checklist below to make your cat more comfortable with your new baby and to keep your baby safe around your cat. You can tick off each step as you go.
Before the baby arrives

• A while before bringing the baby home, try to figure out how much time and at what times of day you’ll be able to devote your attention to your cat.• Gradually shift into this new schedule so that it’s established before the baby’s arrival.

Once the baby is home

• Start this process by helping your child hold out his index finger, then letting your cat approach and touch her nose to the finger.• Reward your cat with praise and treats during these lessons.• Make sure your baby or toddler never touches a cat unless under the strict supervision of an adult, who is guiding the child’s hand when petting the cat.

Important safety precaution: Never leave any baby, toddler, or young child alone with a cat or any other pet for any period of time. An adult should always be present, for both the pet’s and the child’s safety.
If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • With patient preparation, reliable attention, and rewards for good behavior, you can help your cat accept your baby as another member of the family. istockphoto

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