Animals

Why Cats Scratch People — And How to Get Them to Stop

Yikes! No cat owner ever wants to become a scratching post. But if you keep finding yourself on the receiving end of kitty’s claws, there are ways to convince your pet to cut it out. Renowned cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy spoke to WomansWorld.com about the most common reasons why cats scratch humans — and how to get them to stop.

The number one reason why cats break out the claws is that they are overstimulated, says Jackson. “That can come from you petting too vigorously and for too long and not seeing the signs of physical overstimulation,” he explains. These signs may include: the tail twitching or wagging, back spasms, pupils getting larger, and ears going back.

Overstimulation can happen to kitties very quickly, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to your cat while you’re petting it to catch any warning signs that it wants to be left alone. As a general rule, you’ll also want to avoid a full head-to-tail pet. “Stick around the cheeks, the head, the chin, the neck,” Jackson says. “They love that feeling anyway.”

Another common reason why kitties scratch their owners is that they’re not getting enough playtime. (Psst: This is also a big reason why cats bite their owners.) “Cats need regular play,” Jackson says. “They need it every single day. And that’s you playing with them, you getting the hunter energy out of them.” 

As cute as felines are, it’s important to remember that they are natural predators — even after they’ve been domesticated. It’s a misconception that a cat diving from under a table and scratching a human’s ankles is being aggressive toward that person. “That’s play aggression,” Jackson explains. “If you’re not playing with them and you walk by, your ankles might as well be a squirrel.”

If this keeps happening to you, it may be time to buy some new cat toys to help your pet unleash its hunter instincts in a healthy (and painless!) way. Some popular options include feather teasers ($9.95, Amazon) and interactive circle tracks ($9.57, Amazon).

But even if your cat hasn’t scratched you lately, you should still be mindful of how often you play with your pet and how it responds to you on a regular basis. One last tip from Jackson? Make sure you trim your cat’s nails.

“I know that people are just afraid of doing it,” Jackson says. “But if you don’t, you’re going to bleed at some point.” Another reason to invest in some trusty clippers ($7.49, Amazon)? Avoiding this task is bad for cats, too; their nails start to curl under, leading to snags on the carpet and lots of pain for the paws.

“It’s a great two-person job, really,” Jackson says. “But trimming nails at least once every couple of weeks is very important. It’s something that just needs to happen.”

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