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Positive Cat Parenting™

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS

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Body Language

Famous Quote
A cat isn't fussy - just so long as you remember he likes his milk in the shallow, rose-patterned saucer and his fish on the blue plate.  From which he will take it, and eat it off the floor.

- Arthur Bridges

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Cat Aggression Response Tips

What is it?


Have you ever been playing with your cat and suddenly been attacked? Has your cat been content to sit on your lap one moment only to turn around and slap you the next?  This is NOT unusual for cats. People typically don't tell their veterinarians about these cat attacks until the attacks draw blood.


Why is it?

There are many different reasons why cats show aggression. One common cause is that people do not realize they are teaching adult cat behavior when they allow harmless, cute, tiny kittens to play bite and scratch them during the kitten's critical socialization period which is before 10 to 14 weeks of age.


Another common reason is that people do not teach the kitten to accept and trust gentle human handling before 14 weeks of age.[2]


If you see signs of agitation like  tail flicking, ears back, eyes dilated, or hissing... Warning!  Step away from the cat!  You are in danger of being attacked.

How is it?

Cats typically show defensive aggression with a single, quick bite followed by a quick retreat. Usually the cat shows body posture warnings, sometimes with hissing or batting with a paw before aggressing.

Cats show offensive aggression without warnings by biting and scratching repeatedly  until the victim is no longer available such as behind a closed door.


Aggression can also be associated with petting. Some cats may solicit attention but then turn and bite after just a few minutes of petting. Theories on why this occurs include some kind of impulse control problem or some kind of misdirected sexual arousal.


Any time your cat puts more pressure than is acceptable with a play bite, stop play and all social interaction for at least 30 seconds.

What to do if you cat attacks during petting


1.  If your cat's body language shows any signs of aggression, do not extend your hands unless your cat voluntarily approaches you. 

2.  Determine the threshold of your cat's anxiety prior to the attacks. Make sure you stop petting your cat well before that anxiety threshold is reached.  


3.  If your cat shows no signs of anxiety or aggression, offer your cat a tasty food treat as a reward and increase petting sessions in small increments. The goal is for your cat to eventually learn to tolerate longer petting sessions in anticipation of a food reward.

People accidentally teach cats to be aggressive by allowing and encouraging kittens to chase and bite fingers and toes.


What to do if you cat attacks during play


Provide ample opportunities for your cat to play with toys and for you to be involved. If you see your cat becoming agitated or frenzied, interrupt play with a time out. If needed, make a  loud noise like a clap or throw a magazine away from the cat as a distraction. If possible, do not let your cat associate you with the noise.


Try to identify what "triggers" these attacks so that you can learn to avoid those triggers.  As much as possible, redirect your cat's aggression away from you, to chasing cat toys.


Your cat may see you as a moving target and great big toy. If possible, keep a cat toy ot treats handy to toss away from you if you think your cat is going to attack you. Your cat may be willing to chase a crunched up piece of paper thrown away from you. Some cats even retrieve.


What not to do?


Do not respond to aggression with any type of aggression as this will only reinforce the cat's perception of you as a threat and cause the cat's aggression to escalate.

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