Why Does My Cat Attack Me?


Cats possess five lethal weapons: a mouth full of sharp teeth and four paws equipped with needle-like claws. This is an arsenal no right-minded person wants to be on the receiving end of!

Does your cat ever launch at your ankles from nowhere or turn from calm to crazy in the middle of a cuddle session? Does it leave you desperately asking, “Why does my cat attack me?”

Most cat attacks have a trigger and follow a subtle warning. All you have to do is recognize what drives your cat to attack and also spot the signal that it is about to. We list 11 reasons why cats attack and how to deal with the situation.

Two kittens attacking a man's arm

Your cat might attack you for one of many reasons:

  • It’s a kitten and thinks it’s a game
  • Predatory play
  • Territorial behavior
  • Over-stimulation
  • Medical reasons
  • Something scared it
  • Attention seeking
  • Too much attention
  • Redirected aggression
  • Defensive attacks
  • Idiopathic aggression

When your cat attacks you, it can be an act of redirected aggression. The onslaught may appear to be for no reason, but there is always a cause and you, on the receiving end, are usually the innocent party.

It’s best to try to establish what wound your cat up in order to avoid being the target of any future outbursts. In this article, we detail a number of attack triggers and how they can be avoided. By the end, you should definitely know how to stop a cat attacking you.

There are two things I can’t stress enough – NEVER shout at or punish a cat that attacks you. This will only ever make things worse. It will never improve the situation.

Why Does My Cat Attack Me?

Cat Attack Triggers

As mentioned earlier, as random as a cat attack may seem there is always a trigger. Whether your cat attacks your face, legs, hands or feet you need to make a mental note of everything that was happening at the time.

Where were you? What were you doing? What was going on around you? This way you can begin to understand what upsets your cat and how to avoid those scenarios going forward.

The following are common provocations of cat attacks:

  • Play that gets out of hand
  • A scary noise such as a drill or a vacuum cleaner
  • Prey that’s out of reach such as a bird outside a window
  • Hunger
  • Something new placed in the house
  • The appearance of another pet or addition of a new pet
  • Strange people in the house
  • Being woken from sleep
  • Illness, injury or pain
  • Being alone too long
  • A strange new smell
  • The appearance of the cat carrier

If your cat is not usually an attacker you should definitely take it to your vet for a check-up.

Causes of Cat Attacks and How to Avoid Them

1. It’s Just a Kitten Thing

Kittens are learning all the time and most of their aggression is caused by fear or curiosity. When they play they discover how to interact with people and we have to teach them what is acceptable behavior.

If you encourage a kitten to pounce by wiggling your fingers or toes you can’t really act surprised or get cross if your kitten claws and bites you.

Avoid this type of play and your kitten won’t assume it’s OK to prey on your appendages. Instead, encourage your kitten to play by using appropriate kitten toys.

Always have plenty of toys to hand and if your kitten tries to bite or scratch you, distract it with one. Avoid shouting or punishment at all costs.

Here’s the perfect bumper pack of kitten toys to occupy any kitten (click the link to read reviews on Amazon).

Why Does My Cat Attack Me?

2. Predatory Play

Kittens and young cats love rough play, and an attack during playtime is the most common type of perceived cat aggression.

There is no intention to harm, but when such play is directed toward people it can get out of hand and result in injury.

This is one good reason to carefully supervise any children as they play with cats. Predatory play includes stalking, pouncing, ambushing, attacking, running, batting, grasping, and biting.

You may be encouraging this with a toy but i is very easy for a cat to get overexcited and direct this at you.

Playing with their littermates teaches kittens to go easy with their bites and to sheathe their claws as necessary. How cats inhibit rough play varies from one cat to another.

Kittens who were orphaned, weaned too young or separated from their siblings too early might not have learned to ease off on their play behavior.

You can lessen attacks to yourself during play by ensuring you use appropriate toys, have regular play sessions (at least daily) and don’t leave your cat alone and bored for long spells.

Boredom is thought to be a contributing factor to cats becoming a little too excitable and vicious during playtime.

My favorite cat toy, by far, at the moment is the Moody Pet Fling-AMA-String (click the link to read reviews on Amazon).

3. Territorial Behavior

If your cat has a tendency to swipe at your ankles when you enter or leave a room, this could be a sign that it feels you are invading its territory. It is rare as cats only usually behave in a territorial way towards other cats.

Territorial behavior might be leveled at you if your kitten has just reached sexual maturity. This could be a sign that it’s time to speak to your vet about neutering or spaying.

Cats or kittens can behave territorially towards you if you have just introduced a new pet into the household or if you have just moved house or rearranged your furniture.

Using pheromone diffusers can help to calm your cat down in these situations. They mimic your cat’s natural scents and can just take the edge off enough for it to relax.

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why your Maine Coon may often just sit there staring at you – find out here (opens in a new window).

4. Over-stimulation

This can happen if a cat is over-played with, particularly by enthusiastic children. A cat can get so overexcited that it overreacts and goes from attacking the toy to attacking the person in control of it.

If your cat begins to attack after playing for a while, wrap the game up and let it calm down.

Cat with claws out

5. Medical Reasons

Some cat attacks are triggered by pain. Even docile cats can resort to violence if they have a medical condition or a painful injury. You may touch a painful area or your cat might anticipate that you are about to touch it and lash out.

If your usually loving cat reacts violently to your touch and there seems to be no other reason for this, it’s a good idea to visit your vet for a check-up.

6. Something Scary

Some cats are much more nervous than others. They often attack as a defense mechanism if something frightens them or makes them jump.

The best way to deal with a nervous cat is to make sure it always has a route to a place where it likes to hide, particularly if you are having friends over.

Never attempt to make it stay in the room to see if it will calm down as this will cause it unnecessary stress and could result in someone being attacked.

Over time, it is possible that your nervous cat will get used to the things that scare it and stop running at every sudden move. The key is to have patience and keep your home as calm as possible to help your cat come out of its shell.

Here’s a wonderful hiding place for nervous cats (click the link to read reviews on Amazon).

7. Attention Seeking

If your cat attacks when you’re busy in the house, it could be seeking your attention. You may be pounced upon as you work at your laptop or as you pass by with an armful of laundry.

If your cat is prone to launching this type of attack on you, schedule in a play session with it before you go about your business elsewhere.

Be aware that if you give your cat attention when it has just attacked you, it will take this as a signal that attacking you leads to a fun play session and may do it all the more.

8. Too Much Attention

Some cats love to be petted and cuddled, some tolerate it and some just don’t want any of it. Petting-induced attacks occur when a cat becomes irritated by being stroked.

You will probably be given a warning bite that doesn’t actually hurt and as you stop the attention the cat moves quickly away. If you persist, the next bite might actually hurt and be accompanied by claws.

The best way to avoid a petting-induced cat attack is to take notice of the warning nip and cease your attention. Other warning signs are:

  • Ears going flat back
  • Tail starting to twitch
  • Head turning sharply towards your hand
  • Fidgeting

9. Redirected Aggression

If something makes your cat feel angry or fearful and you just happen to interrupt it, it may lash out at you. This occurs because while your cat is stewing over a situation, it builds up energy and you just happen to trigger its release.

Some common reasons for redirected aggression are:

  • Watching another cat or something it likes to prey on through a window
  • Smelling another cat’s odor on you
  • If you break up a catfight it’s involved in
  • Being brought indoors after escaping outside when it’s an indoors only cat
  • Being frightened by a dog

To avoid the likelihood of being caught up in a redirected aggression attack, always approach a cat that is concentrating on something else slowly, be watchful for things that might surprise your cat, and make sure any trance is in is broken before you get within reach.

If your cat is really wound up, and it is really necessary to move it, don’t chance an attack by attempting to pick your cat up – wrap a towel around it first.

10. Defensive Attacks

Defensive aggression occurs when your cat perceives something to be a threat. If its exit route is blocked the situation can escalate. A cat in a defensive mood often crouches low with flattened ears and growls.

It may lean and roll sideways and hiss and spit if you approach. You are very likely to be attacked if you get too close.

The best course of action is to steer clear of your cat, allow it to calm down and make sure it has a way to leave the area where it feels threatened.   

11. Idiopathic Aggression

When a cat attack is spontaneous and for an unknown reason, it is described as idiopathic aggression.

Thankfully this is rare in cats. Cats that are prone to this type of aggression attack their owners and others viciously with their claws and teeth and often behave in this way for extended periods.

If you’ve ruled out any logical reasons, including redirected aggression, your vet may diagnose your cat as having idiopathic aggression. Cats with this condition are dangerous, and can seriously affect their owner’s lives and be a risk to all around them. Because the cause can’t be established, it is very difficult to cure.

Understanding Cat Body Language

In order to prevent your cat from getting to the stage where it attacks you, it’s a good idea to learn how to analyze its body language to know if it isn’t in a receptive mood.

There are four cat body language indicators:

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Body
  • Tail

Here’s how you can read the signals these give off.

Eyes

Cute Kitten on Isolated Black Background

Big, round eyes are a signal that your cat is scared of something.

Ears

Angry cat

Ears turned back along with narrow eyes and teeth showing are all definite signs of aggression.

Body and Tail

Cat with arched back

When a cat is scared or angry, it arches its back to make it appear bigger and its tail hangs straight down.

Grey cat crouching low

A cat crouches low when it is afraid or anxious. It makes itself small and non-threatening and is ready to spring away if necessary.

Cat flicking tail

If a cat’s tail is flicking it is not in a receptive mood so it’s best to keep your distance.

Why Does My Cat Attack Me? – Conclusion

Your cat attacks you for a variety of reasons, many of them inadvertently given by you! But you can learn how to avoid the pain and live in harmony.

If you’re really struggling, try these 10 Tip To Instantly Calm Any Cat

If your cat just doesn’t seem to be your friend, here are 15 Things Your Cat Hates About You!

Jane

I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog, and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences plus those of my family and friends.

Recent Content