Monday, January 18, 2010 10:35 AM

How to Avoid Getting "Nailed" by an Angry Cat

Cats, well known for their independence, grace as well as loyalty to their humans, are also known for being a bit mercurial. Able to change moods as quickly as a New England weather system, it behooves those who love them to learn how to read their emotional signals so that we don't wind up with arms and hands full of scratches and scars. While we all know that a hissing, growling cat with hackles raised is dangerous, there are subtle signs one must recognize, as well. Here are some tips for avoiding injury at the paws of your own cats, as well as those you don't know as well.

For your own pets, training is key. Teach your kittens (or adult adoptee) right away that swiping with claws extended is not acceptable. Take their paws each time in your hand and gently hold until the claws retract, all the while saying "No" (or some sound they will associate with this behavior) firmly. If you have been playing with them, stop. They'll get the idea, as long as you are consistent and don't react angrily. Another tip: Don't over-stimulate your cat during playtime so that he gets out of control. Just as children need to be taught by their parents to control their emotions in order to function in society, pets need to be taught this as well, so that owner and pet can develop an mutually trusting relationship.

As for other people's cats, I have learned to believe owners who tell me that their cat may scratch, although I don't necessarily trust when they tell me they don't! I remember years ago, while J. and I were visiting a friend of his, their cat jumped onto my lap. The woman told me, "Be careful! She'll scratch you when she's had enough." I immediately stopped petting the cat, who soon grew bored and left. I hear this often from people. I never assume that I know enough about cats to read the signs of discontent before getting nailed. I just leave the cat alone.

Some friends of ours took the fourth kitten from the litter I found at work all those years ago. While our three are sweet and never bite or scratch, they did not train their kitten and he became a monster. Neither J. nor I ever touched that cat. One day as she and I were sitting on her front porch, the cat came along all lovey-dovey, rubbing against my legs. Naturally, I ignored him. "Go ahead and pet him," my friend said. I demurred, and she insisted he wouldn't scratch me. I knew this not to be true, although she never seemed to "get it". I told her to go ahead and pet him herself, then. As she bent down to do so, I saw what she did not: The sudden stare, flick of the tail and quick pulling back of the upper body. Then, whack! He scratched the length of her arm, and she was his owner! I'd seen him do this to others, as well. He never scratched me, though.

Of course, accidental scratches may occur, which is why you should keep your cat's claws clipped. If you do find yourself with a curved claw in your arm, don't pull away. Calmly pull the cat's paw toward you while lifting the claw out. Of course, if you follow my advice, you should never find yourself in this situation!
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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