Many owners of a cat have lamented the dreaded claw and bite that came out of nowhere. It’s the reason you can spot a cat owner by simply looking at their hands.
It’s hard to tell what a cat is thinking a lot of the time. In many instances, that results in a scratched hand or other body part. Even the most loving, playful moments between cats and humans can turn into something else.
The whole situation has left us humans wondering exactly why cats do what they do. Among those things is the seemingly unpredictable instinct to reach out and grab our hands with their paws. The claws dig deep. They even drag you towards eager teeth scarily, sometimes.
Like most things related to cats, the answer is not that simple. There are a number of reasons cats reach out to our hands with their claws. Let’s look into this very natural but sometimes unnerving cat behavior.
Why Does my Cat Grab My Hand and Bite Me? 7 Reasons
Cats grab with their paws and claws purely instinctively, and all cats do it. They also do it for a number of wildly different reasons, from distress to play, from hunting to simple curiosity. Let’s take a look into a number of these reasons, with some insight into what sparks the behavior and how to try to avoid it from hurting you.
1. Love Bites
First, let’s make sure we’re not confusing those gentle little bites with more serious aggressions or accidental nicks. Cats are affectionate beings, and some offer little nibbles and bites that are really about showing that they are trying to tell you something in a gentle way.
In some cases, cats that trust you will opt not to scratch or bite in an aggressive way. But these little warning bites may well still be telling you not to do something. Overstimulation (see below) or sensitivity can be uncomfortable, so a cat will be saying… “Ok, hold on now!”
You might enjoy reading my article on Why do Cats Yawn?
2. You May Be Accidentally Causing Pain
Let’s start with one of the more distressing possible reasons for a cat gripping your hand. If you happen to be reaching for or petting your cat, they may respond in a defensive manner. Especially if they may be hurt or are carrying some condition you may be unaware of.
Cats can carry a scratch or other injury you may not know about. When you pet or scratch them, you may inadvertently cause them pain, in which case, they will definitely scratch or bite. You may actually also be the cause of the injury, perhaps accidentally pulling some hair or scratching their skin with your nail.
Humans tend to want to say sorry by picking up or stroking the cat, but they may not interpret that in the same way. As a result, they will likely try to get you to stop doing what you’re doing.
Owners who groom will also want to be careful, especially with long-haired cats. As fur mattes, it may be painful for your cat to be brushed.
In older cats, the possibility of arthritis or similar degenerative disease might be causing pain when touched. If the grabbing is accompanied by angry behavior, hissing, or biting, then stop. Try to note the reason and whether it may be because of discomfort or pain.
3. You May Be Witnessing Cat Power!
Most people seem to think that cats spend most of their day sleeping. It’s partly true. But sometimes, your cat gets an adrenaline rush, or more accurately, an energy boost. And when that happens, your hands are fair game, especially if your cats haven’t been conditioned otherwise.
When your cat is in this random energetic mood, it may simply run up and grab you. More often than not, it will quickly release and run off again. It seems this is more of a chase and catch scenario than a kill and destroy mission.
4. You Are Being Asked to Play
On to a much more fun reason for grabbing and biting (though no less painful). When cats play, they use their paws and mouths. Sometimes, your cat is simply trying to have fun. Your cat doesn’t necessarily understand that scratching and biting are painful for you.
A young cat may do this more than an older one. The action is pretty much how it learns to hunt and kill. Call it “practice”. The grabbing is often seen in tandem with a biting action and then kicking with its back legs, which are also very capable of scratching.
A cat can do a lot of damage this way, and you should be cautious if your cat exhibits this behavior often. Fortunately, you can eventually train your cat to stop such unwanted behavior. The difficulty is in trying to encourage your cat when licking your hand instead.
One of the ways recommended by experts is to limit play time and act accordingly when that playtime is over. For example, you should play with your cat for up to 40 minutes per day. But break that up into ten-minute sessions, and then stop and walk away. They will learn that there are times to play and times to stop.
That does not mean they have to be somber and moping around. Provide plenty of their own cat toys that they can engage with without you. Catnip mice are great for that. The soft biteable toys will take care of that instinct to bit,kill, and scratch.
Best Toys for Cats Play with on Their Own
Here are some ideas for great toys for cats to play with, to burn off that energy and take their attention from your hands.
- Catnip Mouse or Plush toy – this one is adorably called Turbo
- Puzzle toys – in this case, a circuit toy.
- Scratching Post – cats will scratch. Provide a safe post for that.
- An Electric Flipping Fish – Sure, why not?
5. They Think You Wanted to Play
Sometimes a cat simply mistakes your casual passing petting for a play date. Before you know it, it’s claw city. This is largely related to the previous reason offered, but it’s worth knowing that sometimes you are the unwitting catalyst for the behavior.
Young cats may be persistent when trying to continue, but it’s best to simply walk away and ignore them in this case.
Cats thrive on attention, and when you walk away or ignore their bad behavior, they start to learn that doing certain things won’t get them what they want. In some respects, it’s a battle of wills, but such is the nature of cats.
Shouting or acting aggressively towards a cat is not helpful, as even negative attention is attention, and it may cause anxiety and distress in your cat. This may, in turn, foster even more problematic behavior.
Avoid Playing With Your Hands As Chewing and Clawing Toys
While it is fun and adorable to let your young kitten play and claw at your hands and even bite your fingers, try to remember that it is teaching unwanted behavior. They will learn to regard hands as play toys. This may result in some damage to you as they get older and better at clawing. Worse, well-meaning guests may fall victim to your cat’s innocent desire to play.
Much like limited time to play every day, it’s best not to encourage the biting of your hands too much, even at a young age.
6. You Are Being Told to Keep Petting
When your cat is enjoying your attention, and you suddenly feel it’s time to stop and get on with the day, it simply may not agree. As you try to pull away, it may grab your hand and pull it towards itself. “Why are you stopping, human?”
Your cat may even be trying to direct your petting, with a specific area being particularly pleasurable for you to pet. Again, no two cats are alike, but some do act a little more assertively than others in this regard.
This is fun (and funny_ and usually nothing to be concerned about. But some good advice, in general, is not to pull away from a cat that has grabbed you or is biting you (in a friendly manner).
It seems unintuitive, but if your cat has applied what feels like a serious grip, push your hand into the bite or grip. It will let go more easily. Pulling away might tear your flesh or even injure the cat’s teeth or claws.
7. You Are Being Told to Stop Petting
By contrast, sometimes, your cat just doesn’t want to be bothered. Call it a bad mood or just a particular time of day; honestly, who knows with cats, sometimes?
Cats notoriously only like certain types of attention when it suits them. And that mood may switch in half a second. It may want to play right now and suddenly feel that’s enough and strike out by clawing and/or biting. Now they’re annoyed. And you have no idea why.
What we do know is that when the cat wraps its paw around your hand in an assertive manner, it’s probably time to stop the petting. Observant humans might learn to spot subtle patterns or accompanying behavior. Perhaps the cat gets moany and stops moving. Perhaps you will see the tail shaking and twitching.
In some cases, ears may flatten (this is usually when it gets serious, and the harshest warning of all is hissing and dilated pupils. The bottom line is that when your cat is telling you to leave it alone, best take them at their word.
Grabbing, Biting, and Purring
Purring is usually associated with good feelings and calm behavior, and an all-around pleasant mood. However, purring also signifies stimulation, which can sometimes go overboard, and result in a sudden strikeout, grab, or bite.
The fact of the matter is that cats exhibit emotions differently from humans, and biting or scratching may result from too much happiness. It may be the only way a certain cat knows how to express itself and, therefore, accidentally cause you harm.
The ABC of Cat Emotions
Cats give clearly identifiable social skills and will react to certain tones and sounds, whether another cat makes them or you do. The hiss, for example, is a clear sign of anger and aggression in cats.
Cat emotions are slightly less predictable to humans, although there definitely are signs that will indicate what a cat may be feeling. Cats can feel happy, anxious, fearful, and even depressed.
As you get to know your cat, you will get to know their distinctive personality. You will also learn to identify their specific behaviors and expressions. Doing this is the key to harmonious living and happy pet.
A Note on Purring
The reason we associate purring and cats being happy is that we often observe the purring when we pet them (and we assume they are happy when we pet them). The purr is quite a complex communication strategy, though.
For one thing, some scientists believe that the cat’s purr causes a reaction in humans akin to how a crying baby calls for attention. The purr seems to encourage interaction with us, making us pet them more, or at least want to.
Initially, kittens start to purr to let their mother know where they are. Most kittens are born blind and deaf, so it seems that the sound emanating from a breathing action makes sense. Some believe this instinctual sound is seen later in life when owners are preparing the cat food, and their cats mill about in anticipation, purring away.
Purring has also been seen to calm tension and even assist in healing in cats. there certainly seems to be under the surface of why cats purr.
Final Thoughts on Why Your Cat May Grab Your Hands and Bite
So, while you may not need to be alarmed or distressed if your cat is grabbing or biting you, you may want to take note of possible causes and reasons. In most cases, you can curb the behavior if desired.
Know that most cats will not intentionally want to harm their beloved human, but will also not necessarily be aware of when they do. Also, when in pain or injured, they may simply be defending themselves. In the meantime, enjoy the little love bites, pay attention to when it happens, and happy petting!
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