Biting and aggression

You need to do a little detective work and figure out what's causing your cat to bite or claw you. Aggression takes many forms, and the solution depends on the cause, some of which may be as follows:

Fear or pain: If your cat is striking out because he's afraid or hurting, your best bet is to leave him alone and work on the underlying problem. A cat in pain or fear has his ears flat back against his head and his body rolled into a defensive posture low against the ground with claws up and ready. This cat is saying, "Don't come near me!" You need to let your cat calm down - hide if need be - before you can get your veterinarian to check it out. Often under these circumstances that carrier your cat seems to hate will seem like a haven. Place the carrier with the door wide open in the room with your cat. Your cat may choose to go in there and this may save you the "fight" of trying to force your cat to enter the carrier for the trip to the veterinarian. Remember: Don't fight with your cat. You will lose.

Over-stimulation: You're patting your cat and suddenly he grabs you with his claws and teeth. Not a full-powered attack, but you've still got those sharp tips around your hand. What to do? In the short run, freeze. Don't fight your cat or you may trigger a real bite. Sometimes smacking your other hand hard against a hard surface - a tabletop, for example - may startle your cat into breaking off the attack. If you stay still, however, he usually calms down and releases you. That's the solution if you've gotten to the attack stage. The better option is to be familiar with your cat and his body language and stop patting before he becomes overstimulated. Cat lovers often think such attacks come without warning, but the fact is that they missed the warning signs of a cat who has simply had enough. The tail is the key: If your cat starts twitching his tail in a jerky fashion, it’s time to call off the patting. If you watch your cat's body language, you can slowly build up your patting time. Three pats, then four, then five. Push up to, but never over, your cat's level of tolerance and build slowly on your successes.

Warning: often these "I've had enough" attacks come if you've been patting your cat's belly. This is a very sensitive area for cats, and even if yours offers it to you, you're better off patting somewhere else. One reason is sexual in nature: Your male cat becomes aroused when his belly is rubbed, and reacts with a bite because that's what feline mating behaviour involves.

Play aggression: Sure, it hurts all the same, but the cat which pounces on your feet and then careens off the wall isn't trying to hurt you; he's playing! You need to increase your play sessions with your cat with an appropriate toy, such as a cat fishing pole or toy on a string - not one of your body parts - to help your cat burn off his excess energy before you try for a quiet pat session. Let him know that attacks on you are not permitted by letting him have it with a blast from an air horn or a spray bottle with water.

Redirected aggression: Your cat sees another cat, an intruder, outside your living room window. He becomes enraged. You walk by, and he nails you. Why? You were just the victim of redirected aggression. This one's tough to fix. Try to discourage strange cats in your yard: thump on the window or put the air horn out the door and give them a blast.