It’s 0230 on a Tuesday morning and you have to get up for work in just a few hour’s time. You’re fast asleep, dreaming that you’d won the lottery and you’re sunbathing on your $1m yacht en-route to the Caribbean in the glorious sunshine. Then, all of a sudden you look down at your toes and a giant crab has grabbed them and is somehow pulling you into the sea.
Then, suddenly, you wake up to discover that the giant crab is actually your cat and you are still as poor as you were when you went to sleep. What is it about cats that make them want to attack your feet?
Cats attack feet and toes as they are practicing their hunting skills. For the cat, seeing something move in an unpredictable way that is quite small (like your toes) is an invitation to be ‘got’. There are some things that you can do about this if it’s causing you a problem.
Are the cats attacking or playing with feet?
When a cat decides to attack your feet it is primarily playing but there is also an element of hunting involved in it all. You may have noticed that when a cat catches a little mouse or a bird, it typically doesn’t eat it.
They like to hunt and the thrill for them is to stalk it before pouncing and attacking it. This is almost like a game to them and once they’ve got it, it almost seems like they don’t know what to do with it!
When a cat attacks your feet it is practising those skills. Whether they actually associate the thing moving under the bed covers with you and your toes is unknown, but probably unlikely.
So, your cat is actually doing both – they are playing and attacking your feet, it’s like training for them which they can use when they’re outside and need to do it for real.
What is it about feet that cats like?
The way feet (and particularly toes) move is of great interest to cats. They move in a way that could perhaps be likened to big fat worms or maybe the tails of a mouse. They can move in a way that’s unpredictable to a cat and this excites them. As far as the cat is concerned, it, therefore, needs to be ‘got’!
The excitement becomes unbearable if your foot is under some bed covers. Then, all the cat sees is something moving that appears unconnected to you in any way.
They most likely find it quite strange that every time they ‘get’ the mysterious thing moving under the covers the big human screams. In fact, it’s quite fun when that happens so they do it again and again.
Cats like to play, from the moment they’re born to their last days – give them an opportunity to stalk something then they will show interest. This behavior can be encouraged but not with your feet!
Should you encourage cats to play with your feet?
The cat doesn’t really know that they are attacking your feet. As far as they are aware it’s just some ‘thing’ that’s moving in a bit strange way that is inviting them to get it.
In a slightly similar fashion, this is what happens when you put your hand under the carpet and wiggle it around until they jump on it with all four paws!
I remember when I was growing up I used to play with the cat I had at the time. I thought it perfectly okay to pretend my hand was some kind of little animal and allowed it to chase after it.
Most time it would eventually manage to stick a claw or two into it and my school pals would wonder why I would go into school with hands that were ripped to shreds!
Although it’s tempting to do this, especially when they’re kittens and they can’t hurt you – it should be discouraged. Although it won’t hurt when they’re kittens, it most certainly will when they grow up.
By this time they think that this behavior is perfectly acceptable, so there’s no reason for them to not do it.
However, there are some other things that you can do instead to keep them occupied!
What should I do instead?
There isn’t any need for your cat to chase your feet around the house. There are many other things that you can do to keep them occupied.
Arguably, one of the best (which happens to also be one of the cheapest) is to use a Cat Charmer (the link goes to an example on Amazon – which I have and can recommend, opens in a new window).
However, you don’t have to actually buy anything if you don’t want to (however cheap it is). Let me give you some examples of things you can use instead to distract them from using your toes!
- A bit of string – obvious I know but tie some bits to the end of it (like a bit of paper) and you’ll keep them happy for ages.
- Marbles – flick one across the room and watch them dart after it, don’t expect to find it again though.
- Paper – scrunch up a little piece of paper and watch them bat it about for half an hour. You’ll soon regret paying hundreds of dollars on all those toys they don’t show any interest in!
- Paper bag – as you probably know, cats like anything that they can get inside. Give them a paper bag and watch the jump into it at full speed. Do keep an eye on them with this though to ensure they don’t get stuck!
If a cat is entertained they won’t even think about running after your feet, well most of the time.
Can I stop them attacking my feet when in bed?
Not really. You see, the problem isn’t so much when you’re awake as during this time you can consciously keep your feet and toes still. The problem comes when you fall asleep. It’s at this point that you move around without really being aware of it.
The only ways you can stop your cat from attacking your feet when you’re in bed is to either not allow them into the bedroom with you at night (in which case you may have them meowing outside all night) or have such a thick quilt over you that it doesn’t show so much when you do actually move your feet.
Don’t worry though, over time they do calm down just a bit. Although they will always want to play, they will attack your feet and toes less often as the years go by.
So, rest assured with the knowledge that if you have a little kitten doing it now, then just in 6 or 7 years there’s a good chance they won’t be.
What did you expect? You have a cat!
Should I shut the cat out of the bedroom?
The trouble is with doing this is that you’re setting a precedent. I think if you’re going to go down this route you should probably decide to keep them secure at night in a single room where they have their litter tray, water, food, etc. and a nice warm bed.
The problem with deciding to just shut them out of your bedroom is that for them, this will be somewhat confusing. They aren’t stupid – they know you’re in there and they will think there’s been some kind of terrible mistake as they can’t get seem to get in with you.
As you know, cats are incredibly inquisitive and there’s nothing that irritates them much more than a door they can’t get past. What lies behind that door and why is it now shut?
As this has obviously been some kind of horrible mistake, they will need to let you know what you’ve done. So, they may scratch at the door or meow – whichever has the best result.
Don’t think that by shouting at them this will prevent them from doing it – it will just confirm to them what they already know, that you’re in there and they are not.
Either let them into your bedroom or keep them nice and cozy in a separate room during night time.
Conclusion – why do cats attack feet?
I would have liked to have provided you with a scientific answer as to why cats attack feet and toes but actually, there’s nothing complicated about this. Cats attack feet because it’s fun.
They are instinctively programmed to learn these skills at a young age and continue to develop them throughout their life. This is just one way that they do it.
As I said above, although they can be discouraged from attacking your feet and toes there are many other ways you can engage with them so they are less likely to feel the need to.
If your cat is biting you though and you think this is more related to aggressive tendencies rather than play – this is something altogether different. For information as to what you need to do about this, take a look at my article as to why cats might bite you.