Cat in Pain
My 8 year-old-cat seems to enjoy being petted most of the time, but occasionally she will turn suddenly, bite my hand and jump off my lap. Why does she do this? Is she in pain?
Cat owners sometimes have trouble understanding how their cats, which seem so friendly and content one minute, are suddenly biting or scratching them the next. Unfortunately, it is very common for cats to suddenly bite while being petted. Not even experienced animal behavior specialists understand this well. For some reason, petting that the cat was enjoying apparently becomes unpleasant. The bite is the cat's way of saying that she has had enough petting. Owners often describe that their cats' biting comes without warning, or out of the blue, but cats generally give several clues that they are about to bite. If you learn to become aware of your cat's body postures, you will be able to stop petting your cat before a bite occurs. Watch your cat carefully for any signs of restlessness. You may notice your cat's tail start to twitch. Dogs wag their tails to tell you they are willing to interact with you. Cats, on the other hand, move their tails as a sign of irritation. Annoyed cats may also turn their ears back, or flick them back and forth. You may notice your cat looking at your hand or moving her head toward your hand. When you see any one of these signals, stop petting your cat immediately and let her either stay on your lap or move away if she prefers. Punishing your cat will not help and actually makes a bite more likely since your cat will now be afraid of you. Petting is even more unpleasant to your cat if she is unable to predict what you will do next. If you would like to increase your cat's tolerance of petting, try some food rewards. Give your cat a favorite tasty treat at the FIRST sign of any irritation. At the same time, decrease the intensity of your petting. This teaches your cat that petting is associated with pleasant things and it may help her enjoy petting for longer periods of time. Start very gradually and each time you work with your cat, you can spend just a little longer petting her. Make sure you stop before she shows an aggression. Each time in the past when she has bitten and you have stopped petting her, she has learned that her unacceptable behavior works and gets you to do what she wants. It will take time to overcome this. If your cat used to enjoy being petted and just recently shows signs of aggression during petting, check with your veterinarian. It may mean that your cat has a medical reason for the behavior such as arthritis or other painful medical problem. Also, remember not to handle your cat if she seems fearful or aggressive. Cat bites and scratches become infected easily, so if your cat breaks the skin, clean the wound carefully and call your physician.