Cats Know They Are Scratching You. How to Stop It

Cats do not know when they scratch you. Kittens are still learning and growing, so they do not realize the impact that their sharp claws can have.

As your cat gets older, they may begin to understand the effects of scratching people if you teach them that it is unwanted behavior.

If your cat is scratching you left-and-right, you may be wondering what you did to deserve that kind of treatment. The truth is – your cat doesn’t even think about the fact that they might be hurting you.

Even though your cat is domesticated and might seem like a cute ball of fur who sleeps all day, they are still predators. With their predatory nature comes basic instincts and behaviors, including scratching. 

As kittens, scratching is a natural part of their development. Under the age of 4 weeks old, kittens can’t retract their claws at all. As they grow, they will naturally begin to retract and unretract their claws to navigate the world around them and learn survival techniques.

Even though you provide your pet with all the resources they need to survive, it’s only natural for them to utilize the tools at their disposal – and for a cat, their claws are their only form of offense and defense.

This means that no matter why your cat is scratching you, they don’t seek out to hurt you intentionally. Cats are very predictable and intelligent animals who do everything with purpose – so if they do scratch you, it’s a decision they make in the moment based on the circumstances.


What to Do if Your Cat is Scratching You

If your cat is scratching you consistently, you may be wondering how you can stop this from happening.

There are many ways that you can encourage your cat to put their claws away and settle down, while still allowing them to tap into their instincts.


1 – Redirect your cat to scratch something else rather than you.

Many cats and kittens are playfully aggressive. This means that they use scratching, biting, and attacking you to be playful and have fun.

This behavior is most common in cats that are under 2 years old, as they are still maturing and learning how to be a cat. Unfortunately, while this behavior might seem cute in a kitten, without intervention, it can become a big problem once they’re older.

Cats are very smart, and once they learn that a certain behavior is acceptable or not, they have a better time adjusting.

If your cat is being playfully aggressive by scratching you, one of the biggest ways to help discourage this behavior is to use redirection.

You can redirect your cat’s scratching to:

  • Toys
  • Cat scratchers
  • Cat furniture
  • Cardboard

As long as the new object of their scratching is acceptable, you can redirect their claws from your skin to a different source. By doing this, you encourage your cat to continue using their natural instincts while not supporting behavior that can harm you.

Follow these steps for redirecting your cat for the best results:

  1. If your cat is scratching you, keep toys on hand to redirect the behavior in the moment,  rather than after they’ve already left you covered in claw marks.
  2. When your cat moves to scratch you, immediately intercept with a toy in their face and show them that this is an acceptable outlet to meet their scratching needs instead.
  3. Offer a variety of different toys and forms of enrichment, so that your cat doesn’t feel bored by the interaction and understands that there are many ways they can use their claws in a positive way.
  4. Be persistent and don’t give up. It will take some time to help your cat learn that certain things are okay to scratch, and certain things aren’t.

Redirection is especially effective in kittens, since they’re still learning acceptable behaviors in their home. The younger the better, but an adult or older cat can still learn from redirection as well.


2 – Schedule playtime regularly with your cat to help them get some of that energy out.

While cats are often looked at as animals that lazily sleep all day, when they are awake, they are active creatures that benefit from spending time with you.

As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure your cat’s needs are being met, and this includes playtime.

In order to help your cat to stop scratching you, schedule playtime sessions with them throughout the day so that they can release all of their energy into a positive outlet.

For example, if you offer your kitty two 15-minute playtimes at the start and end of the day, you’ll notice that they will begin to adjust to this routine and enjoy sinking their claws into a toy rather than your arm.

Since we can’t offer 24/7 playtime to our felines, you can also:

  • Leave plenty of extra toys out when you’re gone
  • Rotate your cat’s toys so that they have different things to do
  • Offer toys that are interactive and rewarding such as treat dispensers and puzzles
  • Provide plenty of cat scratchers and furniture

By giving your cat plenty of enrichment, you can help them to recognize that their claws don’t need to scratch you since they have a variety of other things to leave their mark on instead.


3 – Be gentle but firm with your cat and point out when they’re behaving poorly.

When your cat is scratching you, pet owners tend to not always know how to react to this behavior. It’s important to not be mean or abusive to your cat in any capacity, but to still let them know that you don’t appreciate how they’re acting.

If your cat is known to claw up your arms even when you’ve tried to redirect the behavior, try simply telling them “no.”

This can be an effective way to redirect your cat in a different way, but there are a few things you can do to make sure your cat understands what it means:

  • Say “no” or “ouch” in a clear and firm tone. Do NOT yell or scream at your cat, as this will only scare and upset them. The goal is to grab their attention and assert that the behavior is unacceptable.
  • After you have your cat’s attention, remove yourself from the situation so that they know the scratching needs to stop. Be sure to move slowly so that they don’t think you’re trying to instigate more of this behavior.
  • Remember that your cat will need some time to understand the message you’re trying to get across. For some cats, they can catch on quickly, but for others, it will take some extra patience as they understand that you don’t appreciate their behavior.

It’s important to remember that your cat won’t respond well to being punished. Yelling, screaming, or physically hurting your animal is NOT an effective way to deter scratching and will only make them become more aggressive.


4 – In addition to teaching your cat how to use their claws appropriately, you can regularly trim them to keep painful scratches to a minimum.

Trimming your cat’s nails is an important part of caring for them, as it prevents them from getting painful ingrown nails.

In addition to the health benefits, nail trimming also means that your cat’s nails won’t be quite as sharp, so it won’t hurt as much when they do sink their claws into you, even accidentally.

While this might not sound like a magic anecdote to get your cat to stop scratching you, it’s an incredibly important part of keeping up on your cat’s wellbeing.  

By staying up to date on regular nail trims, you ensure your animal’s nails and paws are in good health, while also making it more manageable for you to help correct your cat’s bad scratching behaviors in the long run.


Do not declaw your cat

Nail trimming should NOT be confused with declawing. Declawing is the act of amputating part of the bone on your cat’s toes.

The Humane Society of the United States compares this to what it would be like for a human to have the procedure: “It would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.”

You should NEVER declaw a cat as it is a completely unnecessary thing to do that can be extremely painful for your cat and causes a variety of health issues, including:

  • Dead tissue
  • Arthritis
  • Back and paw pain
  • Infections
  • Nerve damage
  • Lameness


Do nail trimming instead

Instead, nail trimming allows your kitty to keep their claws without suffering through an incredibly damaging and disturbing procedure.

So how do you go about clipping your cat’s nails?

Nail trimming might seem like a nerve-wracking experience at first, but if you take the right steps, you’ll be an extraordinaire in no time.

Before you start the process, you’ll need a few tools on hand, including:

  • A pair of cat-specific nail trimmers (purchasable at most pet stores)
  • Styptic powder (in case you cut the nail too short)
  • A towel or blanket (to wrap your cat in if they are especially nervous)

Once you have your tools ready, you should assess your cat. Some felines will feel more comfortable with the process than others, and cats that have received routine nail trims since they were young tend to cooperate more easily.

No matter if your cat has received scheduled nail trims for their entire life or never has, there’s a few ways you can make the experience go smoothly, such as:

  • Trim your cat’s nails in a neutral area where your pet is free of distractions and is relaxed and calm.
  • Choose a spot to sit where you can comfortably hold your cat.
  • Help your cat to feel acquainted with you handling their paws by gently touching the pads of their toes over the course of a few days prior to trimming their nails and see how they react.
  • Accustom your kitty to the sound of the nail clippers. The metal makes a small snapping noise when it clips off the end of your cat’s nail, so you can imitate this sound before you sit down to do the nail trim.
  • If your cat seems to be a bit nervous, you can try putting a blanket or towel on your lap and wrapping your animal in it so that they feel more secure.

After your cat is ready to have their nails trimmed, you can move forward with the process

  • Hold your cat’s paw with one hand and have your nail clippers ready in another hand.
  • Gently press down on the pad of your cat’s paw just below each toe to extend the nail outward.
  • Once the nail is exposed, take note of the clear part where it’s sharpest – this is the area you need to cut.
  • With your nail clippers, trim the end of your cat’s nail so that the point is no longer sharp.
  • Remember that you don’t have to clip every nail in one sitting, and you should never continue trying to trim a cat’s nails if they are being squirmy as you may accidentally hurt them.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to trimming your cat’s nails is to NEVER cut them too short. There are two parts to your cat’s nail: the clear part and the pink part.

The pink part of the nail is called the quick, which contains nerves and will bleed if you accidentally trim this sensitive spot.

Be very careful to avoid cutting the quick, however if you do and your cat begins to bleed, apply gentle pressure to help stop the bleeding. If it persists, you can apply some of the styptic powder to stop it completely.

In addition to making sure you don’t cut the quick, you should also NEVER attempt to cut your cat’s nails if they are feeling nervous, scared, or anxious. If your cat tries to run away, don’t force them to stay as this can result in a traumatizing experience for you and your pet.

If you’re unable to trim your cat’s nails at home, you can also take them to see a veterinarian or a groomer who will be able to cut them for a small fee, stress-free.


Why Your Cat is Scratching You

Understanding why your cat is scratching you in the first place is an important part of determining the best way to get them to stop.

Scratching is a natural response that your cat does for many reasons, including to:

  • Help relieve stress and anxiety
  • Exercise
  • Sharpen their nails
  • Mark their territory
  • Stretch and strengthen their bodies

Cat scratching isn’t a problem, but when they start to use their claws on your skin, it can become a serious issue. Therefore, it’s important to understand the underlying cause of your cat’s scratching habits.

So, what prompts your cat to scratch you exactly? I have the answers.


1 – Your cat is scratching you because they learned this behavior from a young age.

The most common reason that your cat is scratching you is that they learned how to do it in the early stages of their life.

During their first 2 years, your cat is maturing and learning – which means that this is a critical time to show them how to properly interact with you.

While playing with your cat using your hands and feet can be tempting and seem cute, it can become problematic as they grow older. They will associate your body with toys that can be scratched and bitten, which can be a painful experience for you.

You should NEVER use your hands or feet to play with your cat, as this will only continue to encourage this type of behavior. Instead, you can break the cycle by giving them plenty of toys and other ways to scratch things.


2 – Your cat is scared or upset and is reacting aggressively by scratching you.

Fear can be an incredibly dominating emotion that causes your cat to scratch you.

If something scares or upsets your cat, they may respond by sinking their claws into you to get away from the source of whatever is bothering them.

Triggers that might scare your cat include:

  • Loud music
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Being punished
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Animals, such as dogs or other cats
  • New people / strangers
  • Being handled improperly
  • Entering a new environment

Typically, your cat will only react to these triggers in the moment, and they won’t continue scratching you afterward. However some cats feel scared and upset for prolonged periods of time.

When this happens, it’s important for you to determine the cause of their distress quickly to alleviate those feelings and stop them from scratching you.

If you can’t find the source of why your cat is acting out, you can contact a veterinarian or an animal behavioralist to get to the root of the issue.


3 – Your cat could have an underlying medical condition that should be assessed by a veterinarian.

If your normally friendly feline has suddenly started scratching you, then there could be a medical issue you’re unaware of that need’s veterinary attention.

When a cat feels pain, they might react by lashing out aggressively and scratching you. This can also include:

  • Biting
  • Hissing and growling
  • Shaking/trembling
  • Running and hiding from you
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears

If this behavior isn’t typical for your kitty and appears out of the blue, you should contact your vet as soon as possible to rule out any potential illnesses or injuries.

Cats are excellent at hiding their pain from you, but there’s only so much they can tolerate before they begin exhibiting symptoms. Exercise caution when handling your pet and get them a vet appointment as soon as possible if you suspect they could be in pain.


4 – Your cat is feeling agitated by an outside source and redirecting their frustrations at you..

If there’s a bird that won’t stop chirping outside and your cat can’t reach it, they might just take that annoyance out on your arm instead.

An agitated cat may appear to:

  • Flick their tail back-and-forth
  • Crouch low to the ground
  • Run away from you
  • Meow repeatedly
  • Hiss if provoked

When you attempt to handle or interact with a cat who is feeling agitated, you might end up getting swatted by them. This is a warning sign from your cat that if you continue to provoke them, things could get ugly.

For this reason, you should only try to handle your cat on their terms – in a calm setting where they feel safe and comfortable.

If your cat regularly appears to feel annoyed and uncomfortable with being around you, it’s important to assess if something is triggering this feeling, or if your cat is experiencing behavioral issues.

At the end of the day, if your cat is continuing to scratch you even when unprovoked and after attempting to redirect and alleviate the situation, your best option is to consult a veterinarian’s opinion.

Your vet can provide you with useful information regarding the best ways to help your kitty based on their age, environment, diet, health, and personality.


Writer: Audrey

Read about Audrey