Skip to main content

The real reason cats randomly scratch people

One major reason to own a pet is to stroke them and show them the love that you feel toward them. Cats, however, aren’t always so thrilled with that idea. You may have been completely cautious about it. You may have tried to learn proper cat petting techniques so as not to get mauled. Cats are known for their sass, feistiness, and — ultimately — their inexplicable behavior. They are like little, adorable divas that don’t seem to know exactly what they want. They purr and rub against you until you pet them, but then they’ll scratch you out of nowhere when they’ve had enough. This type of behavior is hard to understand, especially when you compare them to the friendly, loving nature of (most) dogs. Even though cats seem to lash out and scratch people for no reason, there is usually an explanation for their behavior. Luckily, knowing why they behave this way is the best way to prevent getting your arm torn up out of nowhere.

Body language is key

white cat with narrowed eyes resting on bed
Jeanie de Klerk / Unsplash

Your cat typically always warns you before they are about to strike. The only way to see it coming is to be aware of the key body language features that your cat will display. Body language is important to look out for during petting or grooming sessions. While some cats could be petted for hours on end, others have a strict limit. When a cat is stroked for too long, they can become overstimulated. Overstimulation will make a cat want the petting session to end abruptly. They obviously can’t ask you to stop, so they lash out and scratch to let you know they are done. It may not be the nicest way to ask you to stop, but it is the only way they know how. Narrowed eyes, retracted ears, and tail-wagging are key signs that your cat is done being petted. Learn to look out for key signs to ensure a happier ending to any petting session.

Your cat feels threatened

Sometimes, your cat will suddenly feel threatened if they see a person, dog, or another cat through the window or outside. Unfortunately, cats are not the most rational creatures, so they will typically attack the nearest person or animal. Scratching is a defense mechanism they use, and it is important to work with your cat to redirect aggression. You can groom or pet your cat in areas where they can’t see any impending threats. This way, they won’t scratch you out of nowhere, and you can enjoy any and all affection sessions you want.

Undiagnosed medical issues

Feeling under the weather can cause irritation and a bad mood in anyone. The same goes for your cat. If your cat is typically a calm-tempered animal and sudden aggression arises, there may be an underlying medical issue. Medical issues that may cause sudden aggression like random scratching include wounds, mites or fleas, or a hormonal imbalance. It is always important to take your cat to the vet if you suspect any injuries or medical issues with your cat.

Playful scratches are common

black and white cat playfully upside down
Milada Vigerova/Unsplash

Believe it or not, drawing blood can be a playful activity for your cat. When your cat chases a fake mouse or attacks that little red laser dot, they play aggressively, using their claws and teeth. Sometimes, they forget to distinguish between your skin and toys. Because of this, your cat may scratch or bite you, but they mean it with playful love. It is important to teach your cat that hands and other limbs are not toys. Use a firm, “No,” and then positive reinforcement to teach your cat to play safely — you’ll keep your hands and arms safe from unnecessary scratching.

At a loss? Call your vet

If you have tried everything and still can’t seem to crack the code to your cat’s scratching issues, you should call your vet or a behavior specialist. You may be missing some small aspect that is the driving force behind your cat’s problem. Reaching out for help will narrow down the treatment options for a more effective and efficient solution for your cat.

There are many reasons why your cat may be lashing out at you randomly. It is important to understand that this random scratching isn’t actually random at all. Your cat may be struggling with medical issues, overstimulation, or feelings of being threatened. Regardless of why your cat is lashing out, it is important to practice training and positive reinforcement to correct behavioral issues. Also, ensure that potential medical issues are addressed so your cat can be healthy and happy and live a long, scratch-free life.

Editors' Recommendations

PawTracks
Cat panting: 5 reasons behind this behavior and what you should do about it
Cats pant for all sorts of reasons some of which require medical attention
Close up of a cat sticking out her tongue

Just about any cute dog account on social includes plenty of panting pics. But cat influencers? Not so much. That might cause you to panic a little any time your lovable feline sticks out their tongue or breathes heavily, even when you don't have to worry. Cats can pant, too, and many of the reasons pose no danger. So when should you intervene? We'll cover the five most common sources of cat panting.

Why is my cat panting?
Some kitties never pant at all, which doesn't indicate anything bad. It's not necessary for a lot of cats to pant. On the other hand, certain animals are more likely to breathe heavily on occasion. As always, a sudden change in behavior should mean a trip to the vet, but you may have also just landed an animal that wishes to act like a canine.
Heat
Dogs do it. Humans do it. And yes, cats do it, too. Panting from high temps seems to pervade the animal kingdom. Much of the time, your mouser will be able to cool themselves down by lying in a cold spot until they get back to normal. Sometimes though, cats get heatstroke and need you to intervene (more on that later).
Asthma and respiratory illnesses
In the case of a cat cold, you'll likely notice other symptoms that go along with the panting, like sneezing and coughing. A stuffy kitty could pant to get oxygen to their body. Many illnesses work themselves out, but they might need medicine to help it along. You'll also want to check for asthma, which affects many cats. Your vet will help with the right treatment to manage the condition.
Obstructions
Assuming the foreign object is lodged in their upper digestive tract, you can often find a way to take care of this on your own. Don't ever pull anything out of your cat's throat, though, if they aren't able to remove it with a few coughs. Assuming your animal can breathe well enough, take them to the vet or emergency where a doctor can safely remove the obstruction, sometimes after x-rays to diagnose.
Heart problems
Heart problems often lead to breathing problems. An older cat or one with a previous condition like congestive heart failure might develop some tricky issues. Heartworm can cause some coughing or panting as well, but it's completely treatable when caught early on. Your vet will routinely test your pet for this parasite and you should administer preventative as prescribed.
Pain
If you've ever stubbed your toe and then found yourself trying to breathe through the pain, you'll get why your cat might do this, too. Sadly, this reason nearly always necessitates an immediate trip to the vet or pet ER. The only exception is if you discover a minor injury that explains it and can fix it at home; for example, a thorn in their paw that's easy to remove.

Read more
Why do cats spray? This obnoxious behavior, explained
It's important to understand why cats do this
a ffuffy cat in a cardboard box

Cats can be a curious bunch. They attack the holiday tree annually and stare at you until you start questioning what's happening in their heads. The hijinks may leave you thinking, "Cats, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

If you have chosen to shack up with a cat (or keep an indoor-outdoor or solely outdoor kitty), you know you signed up to deal with some potty scooping up. For indoor cats, this means cleaning a litter box. The good news? Cats are pretty reliable about going in the box once trained and not around your home. Why do cats spray, though? You may ask this question if you notice small amounts of urine around your pad. You'll want to get to the root cause (and determine if a cat is spraying in the first place) so you can fix the issue and save your sofa and carpet.

Read more
8 essential tips for disciplining cats
8 Easy and effective tips for training your cat
Two kittens on wooden shelves

Cats may be one of the most popular pets worldwide, but even they have reputations (mostly with non-cat people). Felines are known for indifference, sass, and even attitude. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with, but if you ask a cat owner, they'll assure you cat discipline exists. Here's the catch: you need to know how to discipline your cat -- safely and properly -- for that training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, though, you'll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.

Rule out medical concerns as a cause for misbehavior
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litter box, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places -- all from changes inside their body. So, before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you'll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.

Read more