How to Stop a Cat From Biting

posted: 05/15/12
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Has a your cat developed a bit of a biting reflex?
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Your cat is biting for a reason that makes sense to him, even if his behavior alarms you. If he's never bitten before, something has triggered this new behavior. He could be in pain from illness, or reacting to the presence of another pet, human or even an unfamiliar sound he perceives as a threat. If the cat is a new arrival in your home, his habit may be a holdover from something he's learned in the past.

Often a cat bites as a part of playing roughly, especially if he's less than 2 years old. Kittens learn fighting and biting behavior from encounters with their littermates or mothers, grabbing each other in mock battles, swatting and nipping, but not inflicting injury. Through their rough-and-tumble play, they learn to sheath their claws, and not to sink their teeth into the other cat. Orphaned cats or those that were weaned early may never have distinguished the difference between rough play and real fighting. Lonely cats lacking stimulating playtime may alleviate their boredom with aggressive behavior. Cat owners who think it's fun to encourage their felines to attack human hands or feet are giving Fluffy the wrong message.

No matter how angry or scared you are, never ever physically punish a cat that bites. Hitting, slapping, kicking or throwing the cat can injure him, and will not stop the biting. It will cause him to become fearful of you, and he may become even more aggressive. If he's been biting as a form of what he sees as play, the play could turn rougher. Although some cat owners use a squirt of water to get a cat to stop what he's doing, a thorough vet exam first will help rule out or pinpoint any medical issues behind the biting behavior. Read on for some other tips on training your cat not to bite.

Cats' weapons are their teeth and their claws. For a declawed cat, the absence of claws on his forepaws leaves him feeling defenseless. His mouth becomes his main means of defense, and he may react to frustration or fear by biting. Studies have shown that some declawed cats develop behavioral problems, including biting, and that they bite more frequently and intensely. Biting is one reason that many declawed cats end up in shelters, surrendered by owners who thought having the cat declawed would prevent scratches, and didn't bargain for an unhappy cat that bites.

There are many other reasons a cat may bite. He may become fearful or agitated by an unfamiliar human, a dog that harasses him, or a high-pitched noise that assaults his ears. He could be reacting to the presence of a cat he sees outside, and may direct his aggression toward whoever approaches him. He may attack you or your dog, because he cannot reach whatever triggered his displeasure. Cats fighting with each other will turn on a human who tries to break up the battle. Children or adults who tease a cat risk being bitten because he sees such behavior as threatening.

If your cat suffers from an infected tooth or gum disease, he may bite if you try to examine his mouth -- just as you feel like biting the dentist who's about to perform a root canal! Cats with any variety of illnesses or medical conditions, from neurological disorders to arthritis, may feel just plain irritable, reacting to petting or attempts to pick them up by snapping at you. Cats usually signal their intent to bite in these situations, with flattened ears and a low growl or hiss. Ignore the warning at your peril.

Once you've determined that the cat is not biting because of pain from illness or injury, you can begin gently changing his behavior. A cat whose biting stems from play-fighting can be taught that play is fun without the use of teeth and claws. But don't just give him a toy and expect him to entertain himself. Interact with your cat, engaging him with a fake prey -- a mouse or bird tied to a string that you pull and he pounces on and sinks his teeth into. Give him two or three play sessions a day to keep his interest, and praise or reward him to reinforce his positive behavior. If he snaps at your hands or feet, stop the game and walk away. Gradually he'll learn that his actions ended the fun.

If the cat tries to bite when you just want to pet him, he's warning you to "please back off, now is not a good time." Respect his boundaries by slowly removing your hand, speaking softly to him and resisting the urge to touch. Let him come to you for affection if he wants it. If you have only one cat, consider getting a second, preferably a younger one, so the resident cat will have a playmate.

Changing the behavior of a cat that bites from fear or frustration will require extra patience. If the cat is reacting to a dog or another cat in your home, keep them separated to help calm the biting cat. Give the cat extra attention and playtime, including interactive toys, to reassure him and use some of his energy. Your vet may recommend medication that reduces the cat's aggressive tendencies.

For a declawed cat, providing a carpet-covered scratching post is one way to unleash some of his frustration. Some declawed cats enjoy ripping up brown paper bags, tearing the paper with their teeth and pawing the remnants.

How to Treat Cat Bites

A cat's teeth puncture, leaving small deep holes, and his saliva carries bacteria, so if you're bitten by a cat, you'll want to clean the affected area immediately. Infection from a cat's bite can take hold within 12 hours and may cause you to get cat scratch disease or other bacterial infections. Stem the bleeding, wipe with soap and water, rinse thoroughly, and apply antibiotic ointment and dry dressing. Watch for signs of infection, which include swelling, redness, fever and a discharge of pus. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as penicillin or intravenous antibiotics if the injury is serious enough, as they will immediately reach the bloodstream.

If you have not had a tetanus shot in the last five years, get one within three days of the cat bite. If the cat guilty of biting you is current on his rabies immunization, you won't need a series of six rabies shots. But if his rabies certificate is out of date, he will need to be quarantined for 30 days, to ensure that he shows no signs of rabies, in addition to your getting the shots. Living animals cannot be tested for rabies.

If one of your cats has bitten the other, you can clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide, but don't cover it. A visit to your vet is the wisest solution, as the wounded cat may be difficult to handle. Cat-to-cat bites easily become infected, and an expert's touch is safest if the bite has penetrated the cat's muscle tissue, or the injury needs stitches.

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