Cat Behavior Tip: Avoiding being bitten when handling your cat

Handle your cat gently to avoid being bitten as a “cat play response”.

This is a very straightforward and simple cat behaviour tip but I think that it is a useful one, nonetheless. I don’t know how many, but quite a lot of cat owner-caretakers handle their cats in a way that they would like to handle them. They handle their cats in a way that pleases them and often it is reminiscent of baby handling. This then depends upon the nature of the person. If the person is a gentle person then he or she might handle their cat gently. By contrast, another person might handle their cat in a less than gentle manner.

The first point to make is that people should handle their cats in a way that pleases their cat. How do you know what this is? You will learn through observation and first-hand experience with your cat. Each cat in an individual with his own likes and dislikes.

Above all else, the first rule of handling your cat is to handle him or her gently. This is because if you handle him too roughly it may stimulate the cat to bite, not necessarily in an aggressive way but in a way which is consistent with roughhouse playing. If you watch kittens you will see that they play quite roughly together and they learn how hard they can bite and play.

Cat owners should learn in the same way with respect to what their cat finds acceptable but there is no doubt in my mind that the starting point should be gentleness. And I really mean gentleness; a very soft touch to the point where there is little or almost no possibility that your cat will be stimulated into playing with you with his or her teeth.

A lot of people think that when they stroke their cat and he/she bites the person, the bite is a sign of aggressiveness. Almost always, it is not. The cat is simply playing to the same level of force with which the owner is handling his/her cat.

There is one other factor. The cat lives with giants (us). Their default or fall-back emotion is defensiveness. This emotion can lead to defensive biting more readily and it can make a bite response to human handling more likely.

Cat Scratch – we can avoid them — Photo by Hodowca

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Such good information.
    Even if I can't relate a lot, I do have 3 cats who are completely domesticated. And, they are handled very gently. Vetting them is a joy as opposed to the others.

    • Yes our cats are handled very gently too, we consider it an honour that they share our lives and give us their love and friendship. Neither like to be picked up so we don't do it unless it's necessary for their own sake. The feeling of them choosing to come to sit on us by day or lie by us at night is wonderful, we share our mutual love, trust and respect

      • This is respect for the cat and letting a cat be a cat. That is the way it should be every time. Too many cat owners dictate terms on their cat's lifestyle which is against the cat's best interests.

        • It's as if a cat should be so grateful to have a home they should accept any treatment dished out to them.
          One man even said that his cat was so lucky to be allowed to share HIS home and sit on HIS furniture that losing her claws was surely a small price to pay.
          People like that make me so angry!

    • Gabriel likes to play a lot. If I want to stroke him I have to do it very gently to avoid the play response. He sees me touching him as play. You can see how this could go wrong in some households with kids wanting to touch their new cat and the cat plays scratching the kids. Then the mother complains the cat is too aggressive and declaws the cat.

      • Yes kids need to be taught to respect cats but unfortunately some adults don't even respect them. It's the same old story, lack of education as to how cats are cats and not babies or toys.

  • Too many people treat cats like babies, they are not babies and most don't like being picked up and held like a baby, so why do it to them and then blame the cat if he protests!
    I don't think a cat should be forced to endure anything just because it makes the person feel good, they need to ask themselves how would they like to be whisked up in the air by a giant and held there?
    There is also a right way and wrong ways to pick up a cat.

    • I have to say that if a cat didn't make me feel good for so many reasons I wouldn't be a cat person I would maybe be a Tasmanian Devil person, my cat seeing me as a "giant" doesn't really work, I wouldn't sleep next to a giant...I wouldn't rub noses with a giant to wake him up and I wouldn't go to a giant for affection, of course the Giant feeds you but that doesn't mean you have to like him especially if you are a cat. My cat sees me as a special friend and I see her the same way. We care about each other.

    • We think exactly the same way about cats. We should let cats tell us what they like and do it. Too many people do what they want, which I believe is the source of many so called "cat behaviour problems" of which one prominent one is "aggressive cat". Often this is caused by mishandling.

      Thanks for the excellent infographic Ruth.

  • I think a person can go too far with this, I like cradling my cat, initially maybe she was less than pleased about it but after a while she knows it's o.k and nothing harmful will happen to her and she is happy to be cradled. I really don't see anything wrong in that, it's simply a form of training.

    • I agree that. It is just that a lot of people are not as thoughtful and it only takes a few occasions for a cat to bite for some cat owners to believe their cat is "aggressive". That is the point I am making really.

      • I don't ever remember being bitten by an aggressive cat it has only ever happened in play and never hard, I had a Birman who on occasion used to like holding my finger in his mouth..I don't really know why but he did it but he liked it, I got the impression that it was a comfort to him somehow.

        • Alan, I am the same. Cats like to nibble our fingers in play fighting. The trouble is that some people - dare I say it, ignorant people - think this is cat aggression. They respond badly by disciplining their cat which then leads to genuine cat aggression of a defensive nature. End of relationship and a possible relinquishment.

          • Yes I understand, if I stick my foot out from under the bed clothes and wiggle my toes at my cat I understand fully that it could well end in pain and that it was entirely my own fault...but I just have to see if I am still fast enough...mostly I am not!

          • I can understand that. It can be fun to try and beat a cat but I generally fail. The general tenor of the article is about handling cats in the way they prefer to be handled. In general cats are not that keen on being handled. We like to handle cats because they feel nice, warm and furry. It is pleasurable.

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