Anyone who’s owned a cat carries scars on their hands and fingers — literally. But that’s normal for feline owners, as almost everyone will talk about how they got those scars with adoration rather than scorn. If you’ve ever wondered, ‘Why does my cat attack me out of nowhere?’ this guide is for you.
In many cases, cats offer claws in return for fingers. Who doesn’t know the sudden claw-first grab after a tummy rub that’s gone on too long? Sometimes, however, even though your cat isn’t an aggressive breed, occasionally, they may exhibit fierce behavior.
Behaviorists have determined a few possible causes for why cats attack their owners. These attacks are not always defensive and can thus inflict unexpected and occasionally severe damage.
If you find living with your cat increasingly stressful because of aggressive behavior towards you, keep reading. You may be able to identify one of these eight reasons as a cause.
Why Does My Cat Attack Me?
If you find yourself asking, ‘why does my cat randomly attack and bite me?’ you’re not alone. These eight reasons might possibly shed some light on your feline, which has become so fierce lately. Not only that, but it will also shed some light on how you can soothe their aggressive behavior.
1. Kitty is Over-Enthusiastic When Playing
It is common knowledge that cats sleep a lot. And, while they do, they are also dynamic balls of energy, especially when they are younger. When cats are in a playful mood, they enjoy bounding about, playing, and demanding activities.
Part of play is learning to hunt and deal with prey. So it’s natural that claws and teeth come into the equation. When cats are not conditioned into appropriate play, they can learn problematic and aggressive behavior, even when they don’t intend to inflict damage.
The best advice is to play with your cat as often as possible and provide toys that stimulate them with enough activity to burn off that excess energy. You may also want to make a game of acquiring food. Several ingenious chewy toys and devices on the market make food a part of cat play.
Young kittens and juvenile cats should also be conditioned into acceptable play. Change up their toys from time to time to keep the kitty interested, too. At least when it comes to playing, your cat should be able to play safely – for it and you.
2. Your Cat Attacks You in Fear Mode
Like many animals, a cat experiencing extreme anxiety or fear can turn to aggression. This is purely defensive and usually occurs when they feel trapped or threatened in any way. Whether they are in actual danger is irrelevant. What is important is how they feel in the moment and how you handle it.
Several things can cause fear in a cat. It might be another animal, a noise, a trip to the vet or a visitor — anything, really. What’s important here is that your cat doesn’t feel like it can escape or evade the threat. So how do you avoid these situations?
- Introduce new pets or spaces to them at a slow pace – If you know that a new situation may cause stress, preparing both the cat and the space is important. Go through the process of introducing new pets properly.
- Create a “safe space” where your cat can retreat to – Sometimes, a fearful or anxious situation is unavoidable, for example, a new pet, baby, or a big move. If you feel that their reaction is inevitable, a safe space might be as simple as creating a high perch or an isolated room. You should also provide escape routes and let your cat know they’re there as an extra precaution.
- Take them for a vet check-up – In extreme cases, a cat may need veterinary help as their behavior is a symptom of a bigger problem. In this case, medication may help a cat with hyper-anxiousness. However, there are some things to be tried first. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re worried about your cat’s behavior.
3. Your Cat May Have a Medical Issue
Speaking of vet visits, there is a possibility that your kitty has an underlying medical problem. While it’s not fun to think about, as a pet owner, you must realize that cats have their way of communicating pain or injury.
So, a sudden jab or bite is an immediate red flag if your cat is usually calm and joyful when touched. There could be several different ailments that provoke an attack and don’t have to be physical ailments.
For example, long-haired or fluffy cats often develop knots or catches in their fur that cause discomfort when touched. If this is the case for your pet, a drop or two of olive oil can do wonders for loosening mats. However, be sure to use very little oil. This process can take a few days to do its job, and you don’t want your pet ingesting too much oil while grooming.
An elderly feline may develop cat arthritis, making it on edge and sensitive to touch. Other symptoms of the illness include stiff joints, reluctance to play, and limp legs. While not curable, thankfully, arthritis is treatable.
In most cases, pain or even just the anticipation of pain may be causing your cat to strike out. The best advice is to seek help from a vet, especially if this behavior is new or out of character.
4. There May Be Latent Sexual Aggression Behaviors
Did you know that by only four months old, cats can reach sexual maturity? You can tell your pet is going through puberty based on their behavior. They might start exploring further from home, fight with other cats, or spray strong-smelling urine to mark their territory. (www.bottomlineequipment.com)
Because of this, it’s not unheard of for cat owners to neuter their kittens from as early as four months. However, even if they’re neutered, male cats may still exhibit aggressive behavior. This is because males have the instinct to grab and bite during mating.
Sometimes this behavior persists instinctively, causing unwanted damage to owners. So, if you have a male cat and keep wondering why my cat keeps attacking me, this might be a good reason.
When petting your cat, you may experience a sudden clawing and biting that may have its origin in this sexual instinct or even incorrect sexual imprinting. Often, when a cat grabs your arm or leg in this way, you can cause more damage if you try to remove the cat forcefully.
Likewise, female cats react to this behavior with claws of their own. It may mistake your affectionate petting as unwanted sexual behavior.
Experts advise thus that you learn to recognize this behavior and then avoid it by leaving the room or area. You may also distract the cat with a toy. Either way, the idea is to nullify the aggression target, which is you.
5. Your Cat is Being His Natural Predator Self
Going back to basics, cats are predators that hunt things. And when they’re young, much play is focused on learning to hunt. Often, mother cats will play fight to teach and practice this instinct in their newborns.
But, unfortunately, sometimes the only prey available is you. So what do you do? There are a few safe ways to practice your kitten’s predatory instincts, even if no other cats are around to help.
Firstly, this is where toys are invaluable, especially stringed toys that you can manipulate. Even a laser pointer is handy here. These toys exercise your kitty’s mind to stalk things other than your arms and legs and can even give them some physical exercise. Which is a plus as this helps to burn their pent-up energy.
You can also help them by setting up treasure hunts outside or within your living space with the help of obstacles and cleverly hidden treats. These hunts don’t have to be incredibly intricate, but as long as it’s fairly tricky, it should be enough.
If you’re not as creative with finding hiding spots, consider getting a cat treat ball toy instead. This makes it easy for your cat to play and out of clawing distance from you for a while.
6. Your Cat is Looking for Attention
It’s not pleasant thinking this, as it often feels dismissive, but sometimes a simple answer is right. So, why does my cat keep attacking me? They’re practically screaming: “Pay attention to me!”
Kittens and even mature cats tend to need your focus at inconvenient times. And when you least expect it, you might get pounced on with claws and teeth. Not playing or interacting with them while they’re still very young can cause socialization issues later on if they don’t meet humans within the first eight weeks of life.
And, as pointed out earlier, fear is a good opportunity for defensive scratches and bites. But, if your pet has been introduced to humans, these attention-seeking attacks are often paired with other actions to help you discern its intention.
If your cat is displaying attention-seeking behavior, it may meow loudly, gently nudge you, lay in front of you, or wait outside your door for you to return. This last point also goes hand in hand with another reason for their aggressive behavior — anxiety.
If your cat has separation anxiety, they may become destructive and aggressive. Thankfully, you can leave cats alone for a bit longer than dogs, but they get lonely too. So, if you notice them being a bit clingy and acting out lately, it may be time for some quality time with them.
To sum it up, there are two things to remember here:
- Firstly, make time to play and interact with your cats, especially young cats.
- Secondly, if and when a cat randomly attacks for attention, ignore them (more on this later). More accurately, do not reward them as doing so will reinforce the behavior.
7. You Are an Innocent Victim of Redirected Aggression
You know what happens if you walk in on a tense situation and try to calm it down, only to have the conflict turn on you? Cats can do that, too.
A situation may arise where your cat is fearful or aggressive, and you inadvertently interfere or get in the way. It is quite conceivable that your cat turns that aggression onto you. It’s not malicious, necessarily. It’s just that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Your cat may be agitated because it’s seen another cat or animal that triggered anxiety. Maybe it was a bird outside that he couldn’t reach.
8. Your Cat is Alarmed by Noise
Cats like to be aware of their environment. They want to be assured of what’s going on. Unexpected noises are not on their favorite lists, given their heightened senses.
And if a loud, random noise alarms them, they may act aggressively and fearfully.
Some also believe that high-frequency sounds trigger a hunting instinct, as it sounds similar to rodents or birds. Even a crying baby might cause a cat to react.
Some experts recommend trying to counter-condition your cat with rewarded behavior for staying calm as you play with the noise. Start with a low volume and reward. Over time, increase the volume and continue to reward as long as the cat remains calm.
You could also try to minimize these loud sounds in your home. Be aware of the TV or radio for this approach.
How to React When My Cat Attacks Me
Now that you know there is no such thing as ‘my cat attacked me for no reason’, it’s essential to know how to react when this happens. Here are a few guidelines for de-escalating the situation and returning everyone to a calm and safe space.
Firstly, physical discipline is a definite no-no. Besides you possibly injuring the cat, there’s also a significant risk of possibly damaging yourself because this will only send your cat into defense mode. This will only cause them to attack back harder and more fiercely. Instead, do these things.
Make a Loud Noise
In your confusion of thinking, ‘Why is my cat attacking me?’, you can use that confusion to your advantage and confuse your cat back. Do this by distracting your pet by making a loud noise or throwing something against a nearby wall.
This distraction gives you a few seconds to leave the room, which is actually what you should do.
Isolate Your Pet in a Safe Space
Tensions are high, so spending time apart to cool off is best for you and your cat. They may only be attacking because they feel trapped or claustrophobic. Once both of you are calm, you can consider interacting again and work on building back trust.
Clean any Injuries
After you’ve separated, it’s a good idea to clean any scratch or bite marks you may have done up in the scuffle. It’s easy to forget to do this after you’re shaken up, but it will help clear out any possible bacteria (if your cat is sick) and avoid further infection.
Final Thoughts on Why Your Cat Attacks You
There’s no need to resign yourself to living in fear of a cat attack. In most cases, one or more of the above situations is to blame.
Take some time to analyze the behavior and try some of the suggestions provided. With a bit of luck, you’ll have it sorted out quickly.
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.