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When the hugs come with claws

Published on August 11th 2021

Have you ever been in a situation like this? You're sitting on the couch, your kitty purring at your side as you absentmindedly pet it while watching TV. Suddenly, you feel your feline's teeth and claws tighten on your hand. Ouch!

Did you know that just like humans, our feline companions can have varying degrees of tolerance to interaction? It is up to us, as guardians, to learn to read our cats' body language and to understand and respect their preferences.

So what are the warning signs that your kitty has had enough or is over-stimulated?

  • Its tail swings back and forth rapidly
  • The skin on its back contracts
  • It grunts or hisses
  • Its pupils dilate or contract, which may indicate a change of mood shown either by boredom or by predatory instinct
  • Its body becomes rigid and tense
  • It faces directly at the object - your hand! - that annoys it or starts to move towards it
  • Its ears are flattened and towards the back of its head
  • Its whiskers are pressed against his face

If your cat is showing these signs, or is trying to bite or swat you, it's time to stop your interaction. Giving your cat some space and quiet will show that you understand its signals and are willing to respect its needs.

And if you want to build a comfortable and rewarding environment for your kitty, consider the following:

  • Build trust between you and your companion; you can start with a little consent exercise as shown in a previous blog article:
  • Redirect aggressive play; make sure you don't encourage the association between hands/feet and play and favour the use of appropriate play or structure, e.g., sticks or balls, which will allow your cat to use its instinctive behaviors of chasing, biting, and scratching with its hind legs.
  • Avoid boredom; often aggression is the response to boredom or frustration at being under-stimulated for too long, so use your time together for an appropriate play session.

If you're dealing with changing behaviors that are unsettling to you, know that, just like with dogs, feline behavior experts are here to help. Sometimes it's just a lack of knowledge or understanding of your furry friend that is causing you both stress. The good news is that it can be worked on and corrected!

Just remember that not all cats like to be petted, picked up, carried, or even cuddled. Take the time to get to know your cat, its preferences, and body language, and you can both make the most of your time together!


With information from Ontario SPCA and Humane Society et ASPCA