Cat Bites Seemingly Randomly

11 | Posted:

By Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

1968-2014 R.I.P.

Question:

We have a 2 year old female cat (Kachina) who is fully declawed and spayed. She will jump on the bed or sofa with my wife (Liz) and want to be scratched behind her ears/head. She purrs while this is happening then all of a sudden she will turn and bite Liz in the arm. This used to happen 1-2 times every month or so and now it is a few times a week. Kachina usually comes back to lay with Liz in about 30 minutes as if nothing happened and curl up with Liz. Liz was in bed last night and Kachina bit her arm and blood was flowing from the entry wound. I closed the door to our bedroom last night but we need to do something so Kachina stops biting Liz. Kachina does not do this to me.

Any suggestions?

–Doug

Answer:

Doug, as you already know, unlike dogs who generally read like an open book, cats are a little more subtle and come with interesting quirks. For instance a hungry dog will follow you around the house even barking and whining until you give in. Hungry cats sometimes meow from their comfortable place, until you deliver the food to them. One thing about cats is that they don’t necessarily like being petted endlessly the way many dogs do. This could be the root of Kachina’s issues with Liz. So even if the cats solicit the petting, they may get tired of it after several seconds or minutes.

It’s like they’re saying, “Pet me now.” And then after a set time point, “Ok, I’ve had enough,” or ,”But not that way.” The signs meaning stop may be subtle-a tail flick, ears bent to the sides. When, we humans are blind the cat has to give a bigger cue-namely a bite. In essence the bite says, “Hey! I told you to stop!” After this the cat may just figure out that the subtle signs don’t work. Better to go with the neon sign, a big chomp, first. Or it may be that the cat gets more irritated with each event. Like. “Geez, doesn’t she know I can’t stand being petted that long?”

In cases where the humans just can’t keep their hands of their cat or pet the cat in a way that their cat more aroused, cats have been known to proactively hiss or swat any time the human walks by. Or they bite and scratch seemingly randomly. To them it’s not randomly, they’re biting when they think the human may approach or try to pester them. Overall they become more irritable around people they deem bad petters.

So what if this is Kachina’s issue. What can you do? Safety first. Keep Kachina out of the bedroom at night. Next Liz should only pet Kachina for short bouts of petting, short enough so that Kachina will, for sure enjoy it. These short bouts should be paired with feeding so that Kachina comes to associate the petting with things he likes. For instance, Liz can either pet Kachina will simultaneously feeding cat treats or canned cat food for about 5-10 seconds and then stop both the feeding and the petting. Alternatively Liz could pet for 5-10 seconds and then follow immediately with a treat to reward Kachina for behaving well. I frequently start with method 1 and then move to method 2. In both cases, systematically increase the time that Liz is able to pet. The goal is that Kachina associates the petting with good thing (food /treats) and remains in a positive emotional state rather than becoming agitated.

If these techniques don’t clearly help, then it’s time to see a behaviorist. A list of veterinarians practicing behavior can be found at http://www.AVSAB.org

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11 responses to “Cat Bites Seemingly Randomly

  1. By fully declawed I take it you mean Kachina is 4 paw declawed ?
    Biting is a well known result of being declawed even on the front paws and is because the cats first line of defence has been taken from her.
    Kachina knows she is disabled and vulnerable so she gives out these ‘warning’ bites which many declawed cats do.
    Declawing is the amputation of the cats last toe joints and causes many problems. Biting (as you’ve found out) litter box avoidance, stress illnesses, depression, aggression, and later in life painful arthritis. Cats need their claws for not only self defence, even indoor cats need them for walking, grooming, playing and exercise. Digging the claws in to a scratching post stretches the leg, shoulder, back and stomach muscles. Claws are essential to a cat’s health.
    You can’t have her toe ends put back on but you can understand why she bites and that it’s not her fault and be patient and gentle with her.
    Declawing is banned in many countries as animal abuse but sadly in the USA and Canada it’s still legal and vets break their oath to harm no animal by doing this cruel surgery.
    Vet nurse

    1. I agree. Very well put. Declawing should be banned in all countries. It’s cruel and inhumane. It’s like removing half of your fingers and leaving you disabled.

  2. I was reading a book and my male 4 month old cat, max, randomly walked up and bit me. I hadn’t petted, touched bim, or otherwise seen him all day (he is in for outdoor). Why did he bite me at randome. He is uselly a very sweet cat and sleeps on me whenever he is inside. (He uses the doggy door).

    1. Mine does the same thing. He just turned a year old. What is the problem? He comes and sits on my lap and sleeps. We have had him since he was 4 months old.
      He is an indoor cat.

  3. I have a weird scenario when it comes to cats randomly biting. So, I have two cats, they are indoor cats, and one dog, which is an indoor dog. (Why I mention my dog will be brought up later) My cat’s names aren’t important so they will be identified by their physical appearance. I have a cat that’s is fat and yellow in color, the other one is grey and average weight. Whenever I pet the grey one anywhere for any period of time, she doesn’t bite me or give any signals, but the fat one does. Now I’m going to get to why I mentioned my dog. Why I mentioned my dog is because the yellow cat and my dog seem to be okay with each other, while the grey one has quite the rivalry with my dog (My dog never hurts her, she just swats at him whenever he’s too close) Now what I’m getting at here is that my yellow cat biting me is most likely not related to my dog. My yellow cat DOES have a spot where if you pet him there for too long he will bite you. But my family and I understand this and actively avoid this spot. So the whole point of this is I don’t understand why my grey cat doesn’t bite or scratch me when I pet her, but my yellow cat does bite me when I pet him. Now you may be saying “Why did you need all that information for a simple question?” and why I put in a lot of details in is because my yellow cat biting me and my grey cat not biting me could be linked to some of the details I put in the comment.

  4. Question: we have a cat, just over a year. For quite some time he’s had issues with biting. As soon as my husband leaves for work, he turns to me as I walk away and grapples my legs and will scratch and bite them (scratches with his back claws as his front are declawed). I have scars and blood has been drawn quite a few times. He will bite my husbands feet at night and also bit my hip when I was sitting down. We’ve tried the clapping, were tried the water spray bottle and nothing is working. Suggestions??? Please! ?

  5. My cat is a sweetie but he will jump and bite us for no reason. When I pet him bad he done he walks away but will cuddle with me. He also will bite during the night at any time. He is twelve years old and I love him but I have grandchildren and friends. He has not bit anyone else but I’m getting worried because he does it often. Can you help me.

  6. Hi, so I am baby sitting a cat for a week now. He is a really good cat but there are times when I’m playing with him (with his toys) he will suddenly grab my ankle and bite or scratch me. Mainly bite and I’ve tried distracting him but it was useless.

    Help is truly appreciated.

  7. We just adopted a kitty from the shelter who had been abused for 8 years as far as we can tell. Xrays show old wounds & the previous owner had gotten him declawed & his larynx removed. We were so appalled at this that we decided to adopt him & make the rest of his live as happy & safe as possible. We have five other cats & over the few weeks we’ve had him, he’s made friends with them all. However, he bites us. VERY hard!
    At first we thought it was due to his past treatment & he didn’t trust us but now a month has gone by, he is treated with extra gentleness & he appears to love attention.
    This is not petting aggression. This is when you offer your hand to him to scratch his chin or cheeks, he bites viciously! Yet other times he will allow cuddling & kisses on his head etc…
    Can we expect that he will perhaps grow out of this with time? Because we don’t want to take him back to the shelter, but we also don’t want to be mopping up blood all the time & not be able to relax around him.

  8. I’m living with a (approximately) 1.5 year old neutered male cat. He was a rescue, he had a rough start in life, we know he had a broken leg that was surgically repaired. Think he was abandoned too young and he doesn’t know how to “cat”.

    I’ll be sitting or standing and he’ll run at me at the speed of light and just attack my ankles with claws and teeth. Or I’ll go to pet him and he’ll attack my arm. Yesterday was my breaking point. He came up on the bed and cuddled. I wasn’t petting or even touching him. He had his head tucked under my chin, one arm across my neck, purring and being ever so loving. Out of nowhere he looked up at me, grabbed hold, clawed my face on the left side just missing my eye and bit my right cheek along with a nice scratch on the right side of my neck. Yeah I yelled, it hurt! And then he just went and lay down on the other side of the bed. He’s now on 10 day quarantine because of the facial bite and the shelter I got him from wants me to surrender him back to them. I’m living with a cat I adore, but I’m living with a cat I’m afraid of. He’s completely unpredictable. It’s not petting over-stimulation, it’s not lack of playtime or toys or his cat tree or run of the apartment, he has all that. He just attacks, no rhyme or reason. I’ve been working with him for the last 7 months and if anything, the attacking is now escalating. Seems to have started getting worse as the weather got colder. But he’s fully indoors, he’s not cold or exposed to the elements. I can’t stand having to surrender him back, but I can’t live with a cat I’m afraid of. It’s a mess. I’m a mess.

  9. I have a cat and he’s 7 months old. He’s neutered and I got him as a kitten from a foster. He was raised without a mother and was bottle fed. He is likely feral, his litter was found outside. I’ve tried to break him of the biting since I brought him home. He doesn’t always bite, but when he does he bites hard. He doesn’t hiss, he’ll wag his tail sometimes but he does this when he plays also. It seems that he doesnt understand I don’t want him to bite me. I slap him in the head or tap him on the nose and I’ve even tried spray bottles. He attacks me and bites my arms, but he seems to think it’s a game. I guess maybe he plays too rough? But he does snuggle up to me at night and get under the covers and purr. So I guess you could say he really just bites during playtime(which is often). But he fails to understand that mommy doesn’t want him to bite her. He does scratch when he bites sometimes, but all cats scratch here and there. I really don’t think he understands he’s hurting me. Is it possible this is because I played too rough with him as a kitten?

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