National Dog Bite Prevention Week is celebrated May 20-26 this year. Dog bite prevention is important, of course. But cat bites and other cat-related injuries can also be dangerous and, in many cases, just like dog bites, injuries from cats are preventable.
- Many cats frighten easily. They may be afraid of strangers and can sometimes be scared by sudden movements, even from people they know. Never try to pick up a strange cat. Don’t try to pet, kiss, or hug a cat that seems frightened, even if it’s your own cat. Cats should not be chased or cornered either.
- Learn to recognize the signs of fear in cats. Even your own cat, no matter how friendly he is normally, may bite or scratch if he’s scared. Easily recognized signs of fear are hissing, growling or swatting. Cats that are afraid may crouch or may arch their back. (Think of the stereotypical Halloween depiction of a cat with its back arched.) They’ll also put their ears back. Dilated pupils are another sign of a scared cat. In cats, pupillary responses are tied to emotions as much as or maybe even more than they are to light levels. Avoid handling a cat that is exhibiting signs of fear. If handling is absolutely necessary, proceed with care.
- Be cautious approaching a cat that is exhibiting aggression toward another object. This includes cats that are fighting with one another. When a cat is agitated, he may mistakenly redirect his aggression toward you and injure you without meaning to do so.
- Some cats become overstimulated when being petted or stroked, or are otherwise sensitive to being petted on certain parts of their body. Learn to understand your cat’s body language and watch for signs of irritation, such as laying the ears back, hissing, growling and swishing the tail. Stop petting as soon as your cat starts to show signs of irritation.
- Young children should be supervised around cats — even their own cats. They should not be allowed to chase or otherwise harass a cat that is seeking privacy or trying to avoid the child.
If in doubt about whether a cat is frightened, assume that he may act aggressively and may be capable of inflicting injury. Avoid contact if possible. At a minimum, move slowly and cautiously when handling the cat.
Most injuries inflicted by cats are a result of the cat acting defensively in an attempt to protect itself. Very few cats are maliciously aggressive.
Dr. Lorie Huston