Out of nowhere your cat will lunge at you like the kitty version of Jaws. She’ll wrap her paws around your leg and sink her little fangs into your skin… Ouch!
Or perhaps you’re sitting back enjoying a nice cuddle session on the sofa in front of the TV. All is going well but then suddenly it’s like you flipped a switch. You must have touched the wrong place because all in a flash, Mittens has darted off down the hallway and you are left with a burning red scratch across your forearm…
You’re frustrated, confused and frankly a little bit hurt. If you find yourself asking the question “why does my cat attack me?” read on as we identify why some cats behave this way and how you can prevent it.
Angry Tiger - Courtesy of Guyon Moree - Wikimedia Commons
Understand your cat’s triggers
It may feel as though your cat is attacking you for no reason but in your cat’s mind you have done something to deserve it. Keep a physical diary or a mental note of the times and the circumstances when your cat bites or scratches you.
Look out for the following situations that may provoke an attack:
- Before or after eating
- Visual stimuli such as birds outside or the vacuum cleaner
- Being alone for periods of time
- During playtime
- Night time
- Guests in the home
- Around other pets
- Certain sounds or smells
- New objects in the environment
- Being disturbed when resting
Being aware of these triggers will help you to understand why they attack you and what you can do to stop your cat from biting and scratching. Listed below are some common reasons why you may be turning into a human scratching post:
- “I’m still learning”
- “I’m just being playful”
- “I’m fearful or defensive”
- “It’s my territory!”
- “Something stirred me up”
This is commonly referred to as ‘redirected aggression’ but can also be known as the ‘something annoyed me and now I’m going to take it out on you’ effect. It basically occurs when your cat becomes agitated by a strange person, animal or situation and then the anger is unleashed onto you.
A common stimulus for this could be a passing cat or bird outside the window.
How to stop it:
Veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines offers a solution for this behaviour. He suggests removing the cause of the aggression by closing curtains/blinds or moving them to another room where they cannot see outside.
If the cat is being aggressive with other animals in the house, place each animal in a separate room and turn out the lights until they have calmed down.
Good products for cats with redirected aggression
- “I got carried away whilst you were petting me”
- Encourage your cat onto your lap with a delicious cat treat.
- Lightly stroke and pet her in the way that she finds most comfortable.
- Well before any signs of anger are shown end the petting session by placing her on the floor.
- Give her another treat to reward the peaceful petting session.
- Each time make the session a little longer until you’re confident that your cat won’t show petting-induced aggression again.
- “I’m in pain”
Kittens play all the time. Of course it’s for fun but it also teaches them a lot about the world around them. This includes how to interact with people and what is acceptable behaviour.
If you are waggling your fingers or toes in front of your kitten in an attempt to start playtime then you are setting yourself up to fail. How is your cat meant to understand when is the ‘right’ time to pounce on your hands or feet? If you never use them to play then she won’t be able to get confused.
How to stop it
In order for your little hunter to safely exercise her hunting skills, you’ve got to ensure all family and visiting guests know the rules for interacting with your cat. Make sure you teach your kitten how to play nice by only using toys and avoiding rough-housing, which encourages aggression.
If she tries to play with something that isn’t one of her toys, calmly and assertively say ‘Nuh-Uh’ and replace the object with a cat toy.
Good toys for kittens
Hartz Just For Cats Mini Mice Toys
These are just the right size for kitty paws and they come in a multipack so it doesn’t matter if one gets lost under the sofa!
Kong Swizzle Bird Cat Wand
The Swizzle Bird is great for younger members of the family because their fingers are safely out of the way when playing with the kitten. The soft material also makes it safe for small kittens.
It’s great when cats are playful - after all having a pet is meant to be fun. Sometimes however, what’s fun for your cat isn’t so enjoyable for you. According to the ASPCA play aggression is the most common type of aggressive behaviour that cats direct towards their owners. It’s particularly common in kittens and cats under two years old, especially if they were orphaned or weaned too early.
This is because cats learn how to balance their rough play by interacting with other cats at an early age. Those who weren’t able to haven’t learned how to control their behaviour.
How to stop it
The ASPCA also say that play aggression is amplified by long hours spent alone without opportunities to play and also by pet parents encouraging their cat to play with hands and feet. So, once again only play with toys and try to get in as much interactive play as possible with your cat whilst at home.
As much as they’d like to, most people can’t spend all day at home playing with their cats. Ensure you leave behind a fun toy that you know they’ll play with when you’re gone.
Good toys for playfully aggressive cats
Catit Senses Food Maze
The food maze will keep your cat entertained whilst you are out. Simply put food in the top and they have to paw it down the bottom to eat it.
Kong Wubba Hugga Cat Teaser
Make time to play with your cat every day. A toy like the Kong Wubba allows you to control the toy and encourage your cat to pounce and attack it.
Most cats will probably run for the hills when they see or hear something that scares them. There is however some cats that will turn to aggression as an outlet for fear. This could include guests in the house, other animals, loud sounds or situations that they feel are threatening.
How to stop it:
The best thing you can do is to avoid the unpleasant things that scare her. Of course you don’t have to stop inviting guests over – just isolate your cat to another room and tell guests not to bother her.
But no… If your cat is scared of the vacuum cleaner, you can’t stop cleaning your house! Sorry.
Good toys for fearfully aggressive cats
Bono Fido Cat Scratcher Flexi Tube
This cat scratcher has plenty of places for your fearful cat to hide. It is also good because it still allows her to see out and the height should make her feel more at ease.
Karlie Feline Cruiser Tunnel
A cat tunnel like this one is great for fearful cats because it gives them a place to hide and watch the world go by.
The Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS) suggests that normally territorial aggression is only between two or more cats when one feels as though they have to defend their territory. Some cats that are extremely dominant may show aggression towards a human by attacking them when they try to enter or leave a room.
The common times for territorial aggression to happen include; when a kitten reaches sexual maturity, when a new cat is introduced or enters the environment and changes such as moving house.
How to stop it:
In order to show the dominant cat who is boss in the household the HSUS suggest squirting your cat with a light mist of water. Another option is to put a few coins inside a can or glass bottle and shake it to startle your cat.
Good products for territorially aggressive cats
Feliway Diffuser Cat Calming Aid
Feliway is a plug in tool that emits a synthetic copy of the cat facial pheromone. This helps to calm and distress aggressive and anxious cats.
Sentry Cat Calming Collar
Your cat wears this collar around her neck and pheromones are dispersed. This helps to calm and modify stress-related behaviour.
You know that feeling when someone is tickling you – at first you laugh and then it’s so unbearable you get angry? It causes you to shout “stop it” and flail around until the person that’s tickling you gives up.
It’s the same thing that happens to cats during petting-induced aggression, except instead of shouting at you, they’ll scratch or bite.
How to stop it:
The best way to stop this sort of aggression is to be aware of your cat’s body language. If you can tell that they might be getting fed up with the attention simply stop interacting with them.
To try and train this behaviour out of your cat Cornell Health Centre suggests the following:
Good products for cats with petting-induced aggression
Purritos Shine Vitamin Cat Treats
Some tasty treats like Purritos will help with the training process mentioned above.
VitaRapid Feline Tranquil Treats
These are treats that taste good but have the added bonus of including Calmaphan technology. The scientific formulation has been developed to help cats to maintain calm emotions.
Cats are very good at covering up illnesses and ailments therefore you might not be aware your cat is in pain until you touch the sensitive area. If it seems as though your cat show aggression when you touch a certain area of their body, you should take them to your veterinarian for a check-up.
How to stop it:
Pain induced aggression isn’t your cat’s fault – she is just lashing out because of the pain. The best way to stop this is to tackle the root of the discomfort and get her treated by a vet.
Good products for cats with pain related aggression
Advocate Fleas, Heartworm and Worms Protection
Ensure your cat is always protected from painful parasites with an all-round flea, heartworm and worm treatment. Remember - always give the correct dose at the correct time.
Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline j/d Mobility Cat Food
Depending on your cat’s symptoms, your vet may suggest a special diet to help manage their issues. Remember - never feed your cat a prescription cat food without consulting your vet.
Recognising the warning signs
Recognising your cat’s behaviour is important when understanding why your cat attacks you. Take a look at the infographic below for some tips on decoding your cat’s body language. Reading the signals your cat gives and implementing some of the tips in this article should mean you never have to ask “why does my cat attack me?” again!
Cat Body Language Explained - An infographic by the team at My Pet Warehouse.
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