Why does my cat attack me?


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Does your cat randomly attack your ankles and hands? Or does your cat sometimes suddenly lash out when they’re happily sitting on your lap? Find out why here...

This is a very difficult question to answer without seeing the cat first-hand because there can be numerous reasons why our feline companions might launch an attack.

However, what we should remember is that cats are not aggressive for the sake of it. At all costs, cats prefer to avoid confrontation, and engaging in an aggressive outburst is not the norm.

The first piece of advice I would give if your cat attacks you out of the blue is to get them checked by your vet to rule out any underlying causes for this behaviour. Various medical reasons could lead to a cat’s sudden change of behaviour. If your cat gets the all-clear, the next step would be to seek the advice of a certified feline behaviourist. Please see the following organisations:

  • The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC).
  • The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB).
  • Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC).

Here are some of the common causes of aggression towards people:

  1. Redirected aggression — this occurs when a cat becomes reactive, aroused, and frustrated as a result of seeing or hearing something that they cannot access. An example of this is when an indoor cat sees another cat in the garden. This can sometimes lead them to attacking the closest thing to them — whether that is a companion cat or you!
  2. Petting aggression — this happens when you are stroking your cat when they’re happily sitting on your lap, and then, suddenly, they lash out for what seems to be no apparent reason. It often occurs when the petting goes beyond the cat’s tolerance levels, or when it leads to over-stimulation.

    However, often with this type of aggression, your cat will give you lots of warning signals before the attack, such as a swishing of the tail, a stiffening of posture, and skin twitching. It’s always good practice to pay attention to your cat’s body language, learn their tolerance levels, and cease what you’re doing before it leads to an attack.
  3. Fear aggression — many types of aggression are rooted in fear. When a cat is backed into a corner, it's ‘flight or fight’ for the cat, and they will often have no other option but to lash out. Fearful cats will usually crouch down, have dilated pupils, and tuck their tail tightly around their body. If your cat displays any of these signals, it would be best to leave them alone until they’ve calmed down.
  4. Predatory play aggression — if your ankles and hands have been the target of an attack, then your cat could be displaying predatory play aggression. This is more common when a cat is confined to the indoors and has no outlet for their natural predatory drive. It might also be an indication that your cat’s environment is lacking in environmental enrichment and stimulation. If this is the case, try providing your cat with several daily interactive play sessions to give them an alternative outlet.
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