When your tiny tiger targets people...
Triage the injury and treat as needed
Take a deep breath and remove yourself from the situation. Assess the injury, consulting with your doctor if necessary. Bite wounds should always be evaluated by a physician, no matter how minor they seem. Clean the area promptly with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection.
Mitigate damage through protection
Dress appropriately for sharp surprises. Physical barriers give you more time to react and reduce the risk of injury. Depending on your cat’s preferred target, plan to wear socks, shoes, pants rather than shorts, long sleeves, etc. Being well protected helps you to react calmly to incidents and train effectively in the moment. If you have reacted out of reflex and regret what happened, do not beat yourself up. We are all creatures of instinct and sometimes fight or flight takes over. It is important to learn from any incidents and set yourself up for success in the future.
Keep a cool head and watch body language to determine whether scratching is motivated by play or fear. Video is an incredibly helpful tool for reviewing interactions yourself or with a behavior consultant. Monitor patterns of when and where incidents occur in order to look for triggers and even record preemptively. Do not try to instigate an altercation, simply set up surveillance where one is likely to occur.
Toys or food can be used to redirect attention. Chase is a fun game that channels hunting instincts in a direction that is healthy for both of you. Whether you use kibble or toys, the concept is the same.
Toss small toys across the room for diversion and to increase distance between you and your kitty. Introduce the game when they are calm and collected in order to make it a regular part of their play routine, then start surprising them with the game in different settings. Practice the behavior so that you can rely on their participation when you really need it.
Keep fun stashes of tossable toys and treats where scratching tends to occur. Throw the target if you see that your kitty is in a hunting mood, before you become the target. Tossing fun things after an attack has already started risks rewarding the unwanted behavior, increasing their excitement to attack you! Cats who tend to wrap around arms or legs and bunny-kick often require bigger targets. Provide large toys, such as stuffed animals, for intense wrestling.
Use a collar with a bell on it to disable sneakiness. This advanced warning allows you to prepare redirecting options before you become a target. Some cats may be stressed by wearing a collar or bell, so it is important to introduce them with a positive experience and monitor comfort.
Trim claws to dull the nail and prevent snagging. Cats can be taught to accept regular nail trimming through patience and positive training. Nail caps add another level of protection by covering the nail with a vinyl sheath. Nail trimming and cap application are services that are often offered by vets and groomers.
Provide a scratching sanctuary. Allow free access and seclude your kitty in sanctuary when interaction with children or other vulnerable individuals cannot be directly supervised. Ensure that all needed and desired resources are available including ample enrichment; the key word is sanctuary.
Why not use punishment?
It can escalate the situation.
If your kitty is trying to play, punishment may be mistaken for participation. Rough play may increase and escalate into a physical altercation.
It can be scary.
Teaching your cat to stay away from your hands and feet with punishment can cause a fear of handling. This can make simple things like nail trims and medicating extra scary in the future.
It is not fair to fearful pets.
There are many reasons that cats scratch. If your kitty is scratching to defend itself or out of frustration, punishing this will increase anxiety and is not humane.
Keeping resources handy is an important part of effective first aid. Our handout is helpful for quick reference as well as sharing with family and friends. It summarizes the above information for a one page read.