DON’T PICK A CATFIGHT
Don’t punish your pet if she bites — just freeze
By Dr. Marty Becker
The average housecat weighs about 10 pounds, but boy can she pack a punch when she needs to. Believe me, a lot more veterinarians are injured by cats than by dogs. We do get dog bites from time to time, but dogs don’t have those little bacteria-tipped, hypodermic-needle claws on the ends of their paws, and their teeth are not all razor-sharp like the ones your cat’s got.
A cat can shred your arm in a second, and she won’t hesitate if she thinks she’s in danger. Because cat bites need to be taken seriously, there are a couple of rules every cat owner should always follow:
• Respect your cat’s limits. Many cat bites are simply the result of an owner pushing an interaction just a minute or two too long. Cats almost always give body-language warnings before they attack. You need to know what to look for, so yours doesn’t have to tell you “the hard way” when she’s had enough. Signs a cat is getting edgy include tail swishing, crouch-ing, ears rotated back or lowered, dilated pupils and hair standing on end. Tuning in and ending an interaction before your cat reaches her breaking point will be a vast improvement for both of you.
• Freeze! If your cat does go after you, you need to think fast to prevent serious injury. First, if you are holding her, let go. Second, don’t move a muscle. Your cat’s instincts are to fight until she wins, and your lack of movement tells her you’re not a threat anymore. The worst thing to do is fight back, or to hit your cat. In the short run, you will escalate the conflict and worsen the possibility of injuries for you both. In the long run, you’ll be teaching your cat to fear you. Punishment is controversial when dealing with dogs — trainers argue that there are kinder, more effective ways to get the behavior you want using positive reinforcement. But there’s no debate that punishment is not a match for training your cat.
• Never, ever get in the middle of a catfight. If you have more than one cat, the possibility of a fight is always real, even if it’s a remote one. If a fight breaks out, the last thing you want to do is put your hand in the mess — it’s like reaching into a blender to try to fish something out — maybe you get it, maybe you don’t, but you darn well might lose a finger. Instead of reaching between fighting cats, do something to startle them and redirect their attention. Throw a blanket over them, make a loud noise, or spray them with water to break their focus.
• Get yourself to a doctor. Because cats carry bacteria on their claws, a high percentage of scratches become infected. If you get scratched or bitten, you’ll likely need antibiotics to heal. Better to head things off at the pass by calling your doctor sooner rather than later. Cat scratches and bites have been known to lead to nasty infections and even disease.
If your cat has a hair-trigger when being petted, you can build up her tolerance by limiting your scratches to the underside of the chin and possibly the base of the tail. When your cat’s body language suggests overstimulation, just stop. If you’re consistent, you will build up the amount of petting your cat can tolerate. If the situation doesn’t seem to be improving, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.