Cat Scratch Fever

| July 26, 2012

It happens to me and my staff all the time when we’re providing care for our clients’ feline friends. If you have cats, no matter how much they love and adore you, you probably have experienced it yourself: The dreaded “Love-bite.”

Since many of our kitty-cat clients want more than just a spotlessly clean litter box, their cat-grass watered and their breakfast or dinner delivered on time (and kitty says not a minute late, mind you) we always incorporate “socialization” into our pet care. We go the extra mile to scratch, pet, brush or play with our cat clients when their pet-parents can’t be with them (if they aren’t hiding out under the bed). Sometimes that mile is a painful journey.

Here’s why:

We sit in the “favorite” chair. Kitty stares imploringly at us at our feet and meows as if to say, “Hey, you have a job to do.” We invite her up into our laps and commence to gently stroking, petting or doing whatever else her pet-parent has told us that Kitty enjoys. Enter the jet-engine purr.

And then…

The purr stops abruptly and the next second we’re left yowling in pain and staring with confusion at puncture holes in our hands, arms or both as Kitty launches herself off our laps and stares at us from across the room with what can only be described as disdain. The indignant tail-flick quickly follows.

Yep. Kitty goes from friendly to feral in a nanosecond.

It turns out that there is actually a scientific term for this conundrum – Petting-induced aggression – and after trying to research why we receive those puncture wounds, it turns out that this is not a very well-understood behavior at all.

Experts don’t exactly agree on the reasons why some cats enjoy being petted, but end up biting. They do all agree that when kitty bites at you, it’s a sure sign that she has decided she’s had enough stroking.

Really? Thank you, scientific cat-behavior trailblazer, for the deep insight.

A couple of possibilities have been proposed to explain why cats might react violently when they appear to be perfectly content.

  1. It may be a manifestation of so-called status-induced aggression, in which cats seek to control a situation. Why can’t they just jump down? It would be too predictable, like dog behavior.
  2. There may be some neurologically significant negative stimulus associated with being petted at length that affects cats in particular.
  3. Cats may be especially subtle at letting humans know when they’re unhappy, so that their change in attitude appears more sudden than it truly is. Basically, Kitty thinks we should be able to read her mind and stop before we can actually tell she doesn’t want to be petted anymore.

The good news is that there may be warning signs that your cat is getting ready to bite you:

If Kitty’s tail begins to twitch in a rolling little flick, watch out! You’re about to be chomped.

If Kitty’s ears start turning towards the back of her head, or flatten against her head, puncture wounds are in your very near future.

If Kitty suddenly becomes restless, or stiffens and stares at your hand, take heed. Don’t. Move. A. Muscle.

My scientific analogy of this behavioral pattern – and all cat behaviors – is that cats act this way “because they can.” After all, they’re cats, and most cats think, or rather know, that they rule the world.

Category: The Weekly Scoop

About the Author (Author Profile)

Beth Green is a Louisville native and owns Paws Pet Care, a local award-winning pet sitting and dog walking company. She is a self-proclaimed “animaniac”. On a typical day you may find her caring for her fur-clients, spending time with her husband and three children, reading, writing, shopping or her two boxer-babies – Maddie and Riley – walking her around the block.

Comments (5)

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  1. Bella says:

    My favorite line of the article: Really? Thank you, scientific cat-behavior trailblazer, for the deep insight.

    I laughed pretty hard at that one :)

    I never knew cats could be so vicious until recently. I think I would rather be bit by a dog than a cat any day. They can be crazy little critters.

    Great article! :)

    • Beth says:

      Every bit of this article was written from experience! LOL….I don’t have cats at home, but we work with them constantly. I have one fur-client that follows me around the entire house the whole time I’m there and just hisses and growls at me. :) I have another where I do overnights and they have a dog and a cat. The dog sleeps with me, and every morning I wake up to the cat sitting on my chest or head and staring at me with huge-blue Himalayan eyes…and a huge fluffy Himalayan face inches from mine. Kinda like a mountain lion. Just staring.

      Good times! :)

  2. I am also a pet sitter Beth and have had cats come to me when their owners have said you will never see them as they don’t like strangers which is wonderful! I have had the same experience as you with the cat that growls and pounces at me every chance it gets. Have also been bitten quite badly when a cat had had enough petting and I took my eyes off her and missed the signals! Never again will I miss the signal! :-)
    Cats do rule that is for sure!

  3. Meghan says:

    My boyfriend keeps asking me if we can get a cat…and I am without a doubt NOT a cat person. Why? Because you just described me to a T…especially when I become restless :)

    • Beth Green says:

      Meghan, I just read the article and inserted “Meghan” everywhere there was a “Kitty” or “Cats” and was left laughing my tail off. Pun intended. :)