Pet Connection Q&A:Cat's tail will signal when to stop petting

03/19/2013 12:00 AM

03/18/2013 3:17 PM

We've been adopted by a cat, and he's earned his way from "stray we fed" to "our outside cat" to "sometimes inside" to "sleeps anywhere he wants in the house." He's usually affectionate and loves to purr, but now and then he just gets wound up and claws and bites us when we're petting him, just out of the blue. He never breaks skin with his teeth, but sometimes he hurts with his claws. It seems to be a game with him, but we need it to stop. Advice?

Human stupidity (from the cat's point of view, that is) in misreading or ignoring body language earns more than a few cat lovers a scratch or bite from time to time – the result of misinterpreting a cat's "I've had enough" signs.

The classic example of this phenomenon is the cat who, while being petted, "suddenly" grabs the hand that pets him with teeth and claws, to the shock and sometimes anger of the human doing the petting.

In fact, these "out of the blue" attacks rarely are that. Before the biting or clawing, a cat gives out subtle signs of diminished tolerance. Primary among them: an increase in the stiffness and twitching of the tail.

Often, the problem starts with petting your cat's tummy, a very vulnerable area for any animal. Your cat may even offer his belly out of love, but after you start to pet, he may become increasingly uncomfortable with the attention. Most cats just don't like tummy rubs, although exceptions to this rule certainly do exist.

Watch your cat's body signs: If he's tensing or that tail starts twitching, stop petting immediately. Not only does doing so save you claw and teeth marks, but stopping before your cat strikes also slowly builds up his trust in you and his tolerance for physical attention.

– Gina Spadafori

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