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How to Stop a Cat From Scratching — Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy’s Best Advice

It turns out playing with your cat can go a long way toward stopping scratches!


Every cat owner has been there: Your cat seems perfectly calm, so you try to pick them up or give them some pets only to suddenly be met with their claws. Yikes! No cat owner ever wants to become a scratching post, but being scratched regularly is an unfortunate reality for many of us. Even if we always forgive our cats for scratching us (they’re so cute they can get away with anything, right?), it’s still worth trying to find a solution to this pesky behavior. Woman’s World got pro tips on how to stop a cat from scratching you from none other than famed cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. Read on to learn about the most common reasons cats scratch humans — and how to get them to stop, according to one of the internet’s most beloved pet pros.

Why cats scratch humans

The number one reason cats break out their 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 to Woman’s World. Signs of overstimulation may include your cat’s tail twitching or wagging, back spasms, pupils getting larger, and ears going back.

Related: Why Do Cats Wag Their Tails? Vets Decode the Secret Messages They’re Trying to Send

Overstimulation can happen to kitties very quickly, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to your cat while you’re petting them to catch any warning signs that they want 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.”

Woman petting tabby cat's chin

The power of playtime

Another common reason kitties scratch their owners is that they’re not getting enough playtime. Lack of playtime may also cause cats to bite, so by playing with your cat and keeping boredom at bay you just might be able to save yourself from scratches and bites. “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.” 

Related: How to Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture: Experts Reveal the Tricks That Really Work

As sweet as felines are, it’s important to remember that they are natural predators (yes, even after they’ve been domesticated!), so they need active play that appeals to their predatory instincts. And a cat that scratches and bites isn’t necessarily angry — it’s actually 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.”

Kitten scratching woman

How to stop a cat from scratching you

If your cat keeps scratching, it may be time to buy some new cat toys to help your pet unleash their hunter instincts in a healthy (and painless!) way. Some popular options include feather teasers and interactive circle tracks. 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 they respond to you on a regular basis.

Cat laying on floor playing with feather toy

One of Jackson’s most trusted tips for how to stop a cat from scratching you may sound intimidating, but it’s worth doing. Make sure you trim your cat’s claws regularly. “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 pick up some trusty clippers? Avoiding this task is bad for cats, too; their nails start to curl under, leading to snags on the carpet and painful paws.

Related: How to Trim Cat Nails: Vets Reveal the Secrets to Make It Stress-Free for Everyone

“It’s a great two-person job, really,” Jackson says — one person can do the clipping while the other holds the cat in place, but it takes practice. It’s best to attempt to cut your cat’s claws when they’re sleepy, rather than in zoomie mode, and it’s important to go slow and err on the side of caution so you don’t cut off too much of the claw. Even if your cat doesn’t let you cut all of their nails, which may well happen, something is better than nothing here. Ultimately, “Trimming nails at least once every couple of weeks is very important. It’s something that just needs to happen,” Jackson says.

Woman trimming cat's claws

It may seem impossible to keep your cat from scratching, but looking out for signs of overstimulation, giving your cat adequate playtime and trimming their nails regularly can all go a long way to keeping a cat parent scratch-free.

Read on for more about cat behavior!

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