Breaking the Biting Habit
Immediately react to any unwanted bite or scratch by letting out an exaggerated yelp or “No!” Do not respond with physical aggression. That will only reinforce the nipping, biting, or scratching behavior of your cat. As soon as she has understood that she hurt you, speak in a calm, soothing voice. If she continues to act aggressively or play rough, yell out another “Ouch!” and stop playing.
Ignoring your cat’s attempts to get your attention with scratching or biting is the best way to get her to give up. If you feed into this need for negative attention, she will learn that this is a great way to be the center of attention. Turn your back on her, and do not make eye contact. Pretend she isn’t there, unless she is hurting you; then make a loud noise or say “No!” If the situation is not solved by these reactions, quarantine the cat in a carrier or the bathroom for a few minutes after one of these aggressive outbursts (like the timeout meted out to a small child who misbehaves).
Cats that seem motivated by sheer nastiness need to have their actions curbed by more than a yelp. A loud noise such as pennies being rattled in a can or clapping along with a shout can be a powerful deterrent. Be sure to make these noises at the moment the aggressive behavior starts, or your cat will not associate the consequence with the action. This is another situation where a spray bottle comes in handy.
When Your New Cat Bites and Scratches
If you have just adopted a cat and find that it is aggressive, and especially if it also does not like to be touched, the cat may have experienced trauma in the past. Give her plenty of time to adjust, and start her out with a small room of her own so that she can get used to the new house and neighbors. Often this initial fear and distrust is a result of the stress of being adopted into a new home, especially if there are other pets.
To make your new cat’s introduction to the new home easier, and to help you bond with her, spend some time alone with the cat in her special space several times a day. Sit in a far corner of the room and talk softly to her. Ask if she would like to come over. Have a toy or two with you, but nothing that requires quick hand movements or a noise more than a quiet bell. If she has experienced abuse, she may be intimidated by a moving hand and by loud noises.
Don’t pick her up or corner her. Let her move toward you on her own. This may take a few days, but it is important to let her make the decision herself. She has already been transplanted to a new environment at least once, so now it is her right to take the time she needs to get used to it.
Offer treats, and when she feels comfortable, pet her lightly. If she scratches or bites out of fear, respond with a catlike screech. She will recognize this as a signal of pain rather than a human threat.