A Scared or Injured Cat Has the Potential to Bite

Warning, vent ahead!

We recently fostered a lovely cat, but unfortunately, one of our cats took an instant dislike to him and would pick a fight at every opportunity (he has never behaved this way before). As you can imagine, it was a stressful situation. One day after an altercation, my daughter tried to move the foster into a bedroom and was bitten. Not a wise idea, but have not witnessed a cat fight before, she thought she was doing the right thing.

It was a difficult two months, looking for either a permanent home or another foster so this boy could decompress and not be under constant threat. Eventually, a space became available at a pet shop (one of a chain). This gave him the opportunity for much more exposure to potential people looking to adopt a cat. My daughter mentioned to the staff that she had been bitten (once). The following day the pet shop called the rescue group and told them to remove the cat immediately. Not only that, they informed the volunteer that they will no longer accept cats from this rescue group. Because of one cat who bit immediately after being attacked by another cat (the foster was not the instigator)!

I need to say this:

A stressed, scared, agitated or injured animal has the potential to bite. Even the most placid and loving cat can be unpredictable in certain circumstances. My beautiful and sweet-natured cat, Levi, turned into a cyclone of teeth and claws any time I attempted to give him a pill, I would wrap him up burrito-style in a towel, but even then he was scary.

Any article on Cat-World which mentions a cat in pain always cautions pet owners to take great care because a cat in pain may lash out.

I can not repeat this enough times, something as simple as accidentally stepping on their tail, giving them a pill, or breaking up a cat fight can cause it to lash out.

We must not judge a cat based on how it behaves in a high-stress situation. I have four cats, all of whom are sweet-natured (to humans at least), but I do not kid myself that they don’t have the potential to bite or scratch in times of stress or pain. That does not make them dangerous animals, just like the foster boy was not a danger.

Warning signs:

The cat below is a classic example of a cat who should not be picked up; she is agitated and defensive. If you swoop down to pick her up and rescue her, there is a very high chance she will take a bite because she is in fight or flight mode and is not aware you are trying to help.

Hissing Singapura cat

  • Growling
  • Hissing
  • Flattened ears
  • Puffed up hair on the back and tail
  • Arching the back
  • Lashing tail

What to do if a cat fight breaks up:

Do not put yourself between two cats fighting, because you run a very high risk of a bite or scratch. Instead, try the following:

  • Use a broom to break them apart
  • Squirt them with some water
  • Make a loud noise
  • Throw a towel at them

Once you have broken up the fight, proceed with extreme caution, an aggravated cat is at high risk of lashing out. Try to get the cats into separate rooms and give them some space to calm down. Now is not the time to pick up a cat or try to stroke it.

If you do need to pick up a cat (for example if it is outside), wrap it in a blanket, towel or jacket to avoid being bitten.

Once the cat has calmed down, carefully examine it for signs of trauma. Cat bites have a high risk of developing into an abscess. Symptoms of an abscess include:

  • Firm, painful lump
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

If the abscess has ruptured, there will be a foul-smelling discharge from the affected area.

What to do if a cat is injured:

Approach the cat slowly and calmly. If possible, wear protective clothing (a jacket and gloves) and keep your face away from nails and teeth. Where possible, put the cat in a cat carrier and cover it with a towel and proceed to the nearest veterinary hospital.

Use care around young children:

It doesn’t matter how placid and mild-mannered a cat can be, if hurt or startled it can lash out. Young children don’t know their strength, can not read cat body-language and certainly don’t always know appropriate boundaries around pets. Always supervise young children around animals and enforce boundaries.

  • Don’t ever use your hands to play with a cat (ie: allowing a cat to stalk and bite your hands). Teach children that hands are for stroking, not playing.
  • Leave a cat (and dog) alone when eating.
  • Provide the cat with a safe place to go when it wants some space and tell children that when the cat is in its safe place, they must leave it alone.

What should you do if you are bitten or scratched by a cat?

Cat bites, in particular, run the risk of causing an infection.

  • Wash the wound immediately with soap and water.
  • Use pressure to slow down the bleeding.
  • Apply an antiseptic.
  • See your doctor who may want to prescribe antibiotics. See here for photos of a minor cat bite wound that resulted in an infection that spread from the site (on a finger) to the hand and arm in just 12 hours.

I am disappointed it came to this; an entire rescue group has been shown the door based on one cat who was being targeted by another cat. Having sung the praises of this particular chain of pet shops, I now find myself extremely disappointed. I understand their concerns; they need to protect their staff, potential adopters and avoid lawsuits. But…to punish any future rescue cat seems to me like they are trying to kill an ant with a flamethrower. I sincerely hope they think about this and reverse their decision. Pet shops have the potential to do so much good by working with rescue groups.

I have reached out to the pet shop to explain the situation but was informed the manager was busy with a customer and would call me back. I am still waiting.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

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